I’m not sure precisely when I first encountered vibraphonist/composer Jay Hoggard’s music. There were a few peripheral encounters, from watching the PBS broadcast of Bill Barron’s memorial concert to checking out the movie “Twin Peaks: Fire, Walk With Me” and not realizing I was listening to Jay with Bill Mays, Rufus Reid and Grady Tate (the soundtrack’s still in print, check out “Don’t Do Anything (I Wouldn’t Do)”). Then in 1992 Kate told me about going to the Village Vanguard to hear the Jay Hoggard quartet. At the time I mostly dismissed it, mainly because at that time Kate was not only not my girlfriend (much less wife) yet but had, in fact, gone with another dude. But soon thereafter she turned me on to his “the Little Tiger” record and I was won over.
Since then I’ve gotten to know Jay as a musician, educator and human being (down to the small-worldly circumstance of winding up with a daughter to whom he was simply “Kalila’s dad”). I have enormous respect for him on all of these levels and was inspired to come up with this list due to my excitement over his concert tonight at Wesleyan, where he’ll be premiering a new work inspired by and dedicated to Wangari Mathai, called Sonic Hieroglyphs from Wood, Metal, and Skin.
1 ) “The Little Tiger” from The Little Tiger (1990)
Go ahead, I challenge you to sit still while you listen to this. Marcus McLaurine and longtime colleague Yoron Israel were also members of Kenny Burrel’s group with Jay at the time, and pianist Benny Green rounds out the infectiously grooving quartet. This record is out of print but well worth seeking out, and this tune also warrants a listen as re-recorded on Jay’s recent Soular Power album.
2 ) “God Will Guide” from Rain Forest (1980)
This is debatably the best-loved of Jay’s early albums. I have always had a particular fondness for the vocal tune “God Will Guide,” which is a potent and extremely soulful demonstration of Jay’s gospel roots and the enduring spirituality that are central to him and his music.
3 ) “In A Sentimental Mood” from Guiding Spirit by Kenny Burrell (1989)
This track demonstrates both Jay’s important musical relationship with guitarist Kenny Burrell and his extremely nuanced approach to playing ballads. The band plays with great energy throughout the album, but a real highlight is hearing the gentler side as they render this classic Ellington ballad as a duo.
4 ) “Uhmla” from No Time Left by Chico Freeman (1979)
Another important and long relationship for Jay was with one of his contemporaries, saxophonist Chico Freeman. This tune has a number of different moods, from free time to up-tempo “freebop” to driving backbeat. The solos by Jay and Chico are great, as is Jay’s inventive comping as the sole chord-playing instrument in the quartet.
5 ) “Worship God in Spirit, Truth and Love” from Solo from Two Sides (2009)
In its first recorded form (on Love Is the Answer from 1994), this is another soulful vocal tune with a strong gospel flavor. That spirit translates to this track, but in a much different context, an ethereal “duet” with Jay playing vibes and marimba.
6 ) “Song for the Old World” from Song for the Old World by Anthony Davis (1978)
Jay and pianist/composer appear on over a half-dozen records together, including 3 by Davis as a bandleader. As is typical of their work together, this is intellectually rigorous and compositionally meticulous but at the same time soulful and exciting. This is also a good example of Jay doing one of his favorite things, wailing on an upbeat Latin-vibed groove.
7 ) “Blues Bags” from Soular Power
Jay has a real fondness for the textural combination of vibes and organ, and in that sense has an ideal partner in James Weidman, a collaborator for over 20 years. Weidman is best known as a pianist (with long-term stints in groups led by Abbey Lincoln, Cassandra Wilson and Joe Lovano, who currently employs him in his Us Five group) but in recent years has also contributed organ to numerous recordings of Jay’s. This is one such example, and it also exhibits Jay’s approach to swinging blues and his reverence for the tradition of his instrument (in this case paying tribute to Milt Jackson).
8 ) “La Tierra Hermosa” from The Right Place (2003)
Jay’s fondness for Latin music has already been mentioned and his association with pianist Hilton Ruiz (one of the major pianists in modern history to fuse authentic Latin music with authentic jazz) was a great match on that and other levels. This Hoggard original is one of several infectiously grooving tunes on this album record to feature Ruiz as a guest.
9 ) “Afro Blue” from Basic Traneing by Yoron Israel (2003)
Here is drummer Israel once again, this time serving as bandleader on an album dedicated to John Coltrane. This version of “Afro Blue” is soulful and full of textural nuances, including Ed Cherry’s acoustic guitar work. Jay is featured here on a harmonically creative marimba solo.
10 ) “Song for Jay” from Talkin’ Stick by Oliver Lake (1997)
This is an appropriate tune with which to wrap up as a) it is “Song for Jay,” after all, b) it features several of his longtime colleagues (including Belden Bullock on bass and pianist Geri Allen, with whom he recorded multiple times dating back to the mid-80s) and c) it is soulful and hard-grooving, which for all of Jay’s sophistication is still fundamental to his conception.