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Vibraphonist Jay Hoggard Explores the "Sonic Hieroglyphs" of His Jazz Mentors

Apr 14, 2016

On his new CD, Harlem Hieroglyphs, jazz vibraphonist Jay Hoggard pays tribute to musicians who have influenced him -- giants like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Milt Jackson.

The Wesleyan University adjunct professor performs selections from the CD at Wesleyan, first this weekend, when his music will be set to dance, and then later in the month, as part of the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend.

I met recently with Jay Hoggard, and we talked about how he got his start on the vibraphone, and why he chose the name Harlem Hieroglyphs.

"It’s kind of a complex concept," he said. For Hoggard, hieroglyphs imply symbols relating to a specific place on the "mythical isle of Manhattan."

"This enchanting, complex, and small area of four to five square miles has been much of a magnet, specifically for African American culture, and so it’s something that I’m proud to have been a part of, on many levels, for all of my life," Hoggard said. "In this record, I was trying to give some sonic representation of those multiple levels."

Hoggard said the song "Harlem Jazzbirds Swingin' and Swayin'" represents the imagery of a rent party in the 1930s. It imagines that James P. Johnson, Thomas Waller, Duke Ellington, and Eubie Blake are all hanging out together.

Hoggard talked about how he got started on the vibraphone.

"When I was 15 years old," he said, "I actually had a dream that I was playing the vibraphone. I got up the next day, and asked my dad if we could find a place to rent an instrument. There actually was a place in the town, and I found out later that it cost $5.00 a month to rent it -- which was a little pricey at that time -- but that original instrument is sitting right here."

"People don’t necessarily know to call it a vibraphone," Hoggard said. "People say, oh that xylophone, or that thing, or: yeah, I really like the way that thing sounds; do you have to practice it? Ha! Did you ever have to ask a saxophone player, did they have to practice?"

Jazz vibraphonist Jay Hoggard will perform this weekend, and again later this month at the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan. 

Ray Hardman, Mary Lou Cooke, and Heather Brandon contributed to this story.