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Flutist Hofmann Comes Home for the Holly-Days for Three Concerts with the CJO


It’s pretty common these days to find jazz instrumentalists who were classically trained before beginning to improvise. Not Holly Hofmann. The Painesville-born flutist who will appear this weekend with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra studied with the legendary Walter Mayhall at Youngstown State University and with former Cleveland Orchestra principal flutist Maurice Sharp at the Cleveland Institute of Music. But her first teacher was her father, Nelson.

“He worked at a chemical plant for his daily Monday-through-Friday, but he was a jazz guitarist,” Hofmann, a Painesville native, said by phone from her San Diego home. “We played every night after dinner, by ear. He had a Freddie Green style, and I got a very good sense of time from him. When I was 10, I already knew about 12 standards. I started jazz way before I was classically trained.”

That unusual inversion of the usual jazz education trajectory is just one way that Hofmann has bucked tradition. Most flute players in jazz double on other instruments, usually saxophones, but Hofmann plays flute exclusively. And despite recent progress in gender equity for female musicians in the traditionally patriarchal world of jazz, the presence of a woman headliner is still all too uncommon.

Perhaps as a response, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra engaged composer and 2019 NEA Jazz Master Maria Schneider and violinist Regina Carter, a MacArthur fellow, to bookend its 2021-22 “Women in Jazz” season.

The theme for the 2022-23 season is “Hometown Heroes & More,” and Hofmann  joins clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski who returned for two concerts in November and Joe Lovano, who will front the band’s season-ending concerts in May. Perhaps inevitably, her series of three concerts with the CJO are billed as “Home for the Holly-Days,” and seasonal fare will dominate.

Favorites such as “The Little Drummer Boy,” “O Tannenbaum” and four vocal arrangements for Barbara Rosene are on the program, but so are jazz standards, such as Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born,” Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” and the Dizzy Gillespie classic “Bebop.” Pianist Mike Wofford, who is Hofmann’s husband, is bringing his arrangement of “Snowfall,” the band theme for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and as appropriate a piece of music for Cleveland in December as you could hope for. CJO artistic director Paul Ferguson wrote an arrangement of Hofmann’s “Flutopia,” a blues tailor made for her incisive, highly rhythmic style of playing.

“It’s a very diverse program for a holiday show,” CJO executive director Scott Garlock said. “Playing different styles and doing that at a high level is always a great thing. Sitting on stage looking out and seeing that people may be as enchanted as I am. is a real kick.”

A real kick for Hofmann and Wofford will be a visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art. “[It’s] one of my very favorite art museums, and it’s another reason Mike is coming because we love it there and we haven’t been there since the work was done,” she said, referring to the Museum’s $350 million expansion and renovation project that was completed in 2014.

Hofmann recorded two albums for Cleveland label Azica Records in the Museum’s Gartner Auditorium during the 1990s, and the city continues to hold fond memories. “A lot of times you get eye rolling when you talk about Cleveland, but you know, they don’t realize what gems are here.”

“Home for the Holly-days” with Holly Hofmann and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Friday, Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. at the Maltz Performing Arts Center, 1855 Ansel Rd., Cleveland. $25-45  available here.

Trading Fours

Four musical events in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Holly Hofmann and the CJO will also present concerts on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18 at Blu Jazz+ in Akron and the Lorain Palace Theatre respectively. Tickets for the Akron performance are available here and tickets for the Lorain performance are available here.

Vanessa Rubin
Saturday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
Edwin’s Too, 13220 Shaker Square, Shaker Heights (tickets available by calling 216-400-6091)

Holly Hofmann isn’t the only Clevelander coming home for the holidays. At Shaker Square’s Edwin’s Too, a holiday-themed concert by the cashmere-voiced Vanessa Rubin and her trio deftly combines two holiday traditions: food and music.

Carpenters Christmas with Helen Welch
Sunday, Dec. 18, 4 p.m.
E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St., Akron (tickets)

The Carpenters might not be your immediate musical Christmas association, but the duo’s 1978 “Christmas Portrait” record has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. and that record’s hit single “Merry Christmas Darling” is a standard. Ventriloquizing Karen Carpenter’s voice and style is a fool’s errand and Helen Welch is far too savvy a performer to try. Instead, expect her to bring her own flair–a jazzy sense of time and sparkling stage presence–to this performance.

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.