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Holly Hofmann Quartet returning to the Beehive State

Holly Hofmann
Holly Hofmann
Holly Hofmann Collection

Award-winning jazz flutist Holly Hofmann is no stranger to Utah.

She has played the Jazz at the Sheraton series a few times, including a fundraiser for the GAM Foundation, the series producer. And she respects the foundation's co-founder Gordon Hanks.

"He's one of the guys who tries to book the right stuff for the series," Hofmann said during a phone call from her home in San Diego. "It's not about 'how many big names I can get all the time.' He's really about the music. It's a nice thing and a rare thing."

Two years ago, Hofmann performed an Antonio Carlos Jobim tribute with string orchestra performance at the Sheraton.

"That sold out and was a big hit," she said. "So I thought two years later I could do a similar program."

Hofmann chose to do a Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn with string orchestra tribute in honor of February, which is Black History Month.

Ellington and Strayhorn worked so closely together that at times it is hard to separate who wrote what from who published what, Hofmann said.

"I thought honoring two, in a handful of phenomenal African-American composers and musicians, that the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook is right on the top," she said.

"I just feel so strongly that the African-American population, especially the young people, don't always know about these forerunners who've been a huge part of the music. They're icons in the jazz and writing field.

"Billy Strayhorn is the kind of writer where you need very little improvisation because all the best notes are in the melodies," she said. "That's how spectacular the writing is."

When deciding what songs out of the catalog to play, Hofmann had one criterion — which of the pieces would sound good with string arrangements.

"What strings do for harmonies is make (the compositions) lush and round out the harmony, which makes it more special," she said. "That's why I chose this particular performance rather than just coming with a quartet or a quintet."

Like Hofmann's bassist Christoph Luty, the strings who will accompany Hofmann, pianist (and husband) Mike Wofford and drummer Jeff Hamilton, are all local strings.

"They are all from three different musical organizations based in Salt Lake," said Hofmann.

All the arrangements for the show were custom-written for flute and jazz trio by Wofford, New York writer Christopher Hughes and Grammy Award-wining arranger Bill Cunliffe.

Still, Hofmann said, just because she uses a string section in the performance, it doesn't mean the show is an orchestra pops show.

"Challenge for me is to make sure I'm giving a good jazz performance and combining a classical sounding group with a jazz group effectively," she explained. "I want to make it a jazz performance, but I want to make it beautiful because the strings add that beauty quality to it.

"But I'm first and foremost a jazz artist.

"Jazz and classical are closely related," she said. "When you combine classical elements with a jazz quartet, you get a balanced and unique sound. It's very natural. Strings can provide a pad for you to lay your jazz rhythms down on.

"This is our music," Hofmann said. "We have no other music that is indigenous to our country. Even country western came from European song forms — Irish and English melodies. (Jazz) is our classical music. This alone is American, and all of us can't support Gordon and the GAM Foundation series enough. This is the only series I've ever played where 1,000 people come out on a Monday night."

If you go…

What: Holly Hofmann Quartet

Where: Salt Lake Sheraton, 150 W. 500 South

When: Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $25

Phone: 801-278-0235