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Keeping downtown quiet with Hofmann & Wofford

“When you need to use a microphone, it makes it less intimate”

Holly Hofmann, hotel hit.
Holly Hofmann, hotel hit.

Under normal circumstances, flute virtuoso Holly Hofmann and her pianist husband Mike Wofford would be touring the world. (Hofmann, who is also a concert impresario, most recently curated a Sunday series at the Handlery Hotel in Mission Valley.) Then Covid hit, and the musical couple had to develop a Plan B. When the marketing director for Downtown’s Westgate Hotel approached her about establishing a weekly Saturday residency in the acoustically pristine Plaza Bar, she was ready for the return of a steady gig. “I realized that our out-of-town work had really dried up because of the pandemic, and this would be a great opportunity to get back to performing. I had already started playing a lot at the Westgate, but that was outdoors on the veranda, and when you are playing a wind instrument outside in January, it can get uncomfortable.”

Holly Hofmann

Hofmann began her Plaza Bar residency towards the end of January. She even moved her own grand piano into the room, much to the relief of everyone who plays there (Gilbert Castellanos has the Friday night slot), since the old piano was pretty much shot. The room seats only about 40 people, but the sound is intimate enough to justify getting there early for prime seating. “It’s great,” says Hofmann, “because I get to play acoustic without a microphone, which is a huge advantage. When you need to use a microphone, it makes it less intimate and less spontaneous.”

Hofmann married Wofford in 2000, and often works with him in ensembles such as Flutology. (Wofford has played with everyone from Sarah Vaughan to John Lennon; he’s appeared on over 200 albums as a sideman and more than a dozen as a leader.) Their Westgate quartet mostly features Rob Thorsen on bass and either Duncan Moore or Jim Plank on drums. Marshall Hawkins and Antar Martin will also sometimes man the bass chair.

The couple kept busy during the pandemic. “Mike did some writing for a variety of quartets we play with. I played enough to teach on Zoom, but I wasn’t really practicing enough, so when I started playing in public again last October, I needed to dust off the chops and get my fingers moving again. Mostly, we spent a lot of time doing what I call deep listening. We pulled out LPs and CDs and threw big pillows on the floor and really got into it.” They also decided to devote a substantial amount of free time to learning Spanish, as a device to stay sharp. “The school is called Pura Buena Onda; they teach conversational Spanish,” says Hofmann. “It’s online, we have our own instructor. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about it.”

Hofmann came into jazz when it was notorious as a “boy’s club.” In some ways, that’s changed. “Women instrumentalists still have a harder time than vocalists, but it is changing for the better now. There are a lot more opportunities than when I came up. When I first started playing gigs, I was always the only female in the band.” She got a huge sense of validation when she and violinist Regina Carter were hired by renowned bassist Ray Brown. “He was expected to bring a tenor saxophone and trumpet player, but he was hearing something different, so he hired us, and he liked it.” She’s still wary, however, about claiming unconditional victory. “I would have hoped to have seen a bigger change happen during my lifetime. It isn’t equal yet, but it is getting better. I have students coming along that are committed to it. And I think they’re going to make it.”

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Holly Hofmann, hotel hit.
Holly Hofmann, hotel hit.

Under normal circumstances, flute virtuoso Holly Hofmann and her pianist husband Mike Wofford would be touring the world. (Hofmann, who is also a concert impresario, most recently curated a Sunday series at the Handlery Hotel in Mission Valley.) Then Covid hit, and the musical couple had to develop a Plan B. When the marketing director for Downtown’s Westgate Hotel approached her about establishing a weekly Saturday residency in the acoustically pristine Plaza Bar, she was ready for the return of a steady gig. “I realized that our out-of-town work had really dried up because of the pandemic, and this would be a great opportunity to get back to performing. I had already started playing a lot at the Westgate, but that was outdoors on the veranda, and when you are playing a wind instrument outside in January, it can get uncomfortable.”

Holly Hofmann

Hofmann began her Plaza Bar residency towards the end of January. She even moved her own grand piano into the room, much to the relief of everyone who plays there (Gilbert Castellanos has the Friday night slot), since the old piano was pretty much shot. The room seats only about 40 people, but the sound is intimate enough to justify getting there early for prime seating. “It’s great,” says Hofmann, “because I get to play acoustic without a microphone, which is a huge advantage. When you need to use a microphone, it makes it less intimate and less spontaneous.”

Hofmann married Wofford in 2000, and often works with him in ensembles such as Flutology. (Wofford has played with everyone from Sarah Vaughan to John Lennon; he’s appeared on over 200 albums as a sideman and more than a dozen as a leader.) Their Westgate quartet mostly features Rob Thorsen on bass and either Duncan Moore or Jim Plank on drums. Marshall Hawkins and Antar Martin will also sometimes man the bass chair.

The couple kept busy during the pandemic. “Mike did some writing for a variety of quartets we play with. I played enough to teach on Zoom, but I wasn’t really practicing enough, so when I started playing in public again last October, I needed to dust off the chops and get my fingers moving again. Mostly, we spent a lot of time doing what I call deep listening. We pulled out LPs and CDs and threw big pillows on the floor and really got into it.” They also decided to devote a substantial amount of free time to learning Spanish, as a device to stay sharp. “The school is called Pura Buena Onda; they teach conversational Spanish,” says Hofmann. “It’s online, we have our own instructor. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about it.”

Hofmann came into jazz when it was notorious as a “boy’s club.” In some ways, that’s changed. “Women instrumentalists still have a harder time than vocalists, but it is changing for the better now. There are a lot more opportunities than when I came up. When I first started playing gigs, I was always the only female in the band.” She got a huge sense of validation when she and violinist Regina Carter were hired by renowned bassist Ray Brown. “He was expected to bring a tenor saxophone and trumpet player, but he was hearing something different, so he hired us, and he liked it.” She’s still wary, however, about claiming unconditional victory. “I would have hoped to have seen a bigger change happen during my lifetime. It isn’t equal yet, but it is getting better. I have students coming along that are committed to it. And I think they’re going to make it.”

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