Thursday, July 3, 2014

5 Qs for Patrick Hogan ~ "Mr. Bebop"

5 Qs for Patrick Hogan ~ "Mr. Bebop"

Patrick Hogan joined SFJAZZ for the 2013-2014 year, easily winning a spot in the SFJAZZ All-Star Jazz Orchestra (under director Paul Contos) and the SFJAZZ All-Star Combo (under director Dann Zinn) his first time auditioning.  Very rare.  As is Patrick.  He knows what he likes and quickly developed a persona in these groups; hearing him referred to as "Mr. Bebop" (a term coined by Paul Contos) testifies to his penchant for straight-ahead jazz compositions.  His own compositions run this way, but his improvisations are also replete with quotes from songs by The Beatles.  Writing about him brings to mind an article I recently scanned by Dr. Phil McGraw where he states, it's important in life to "pick a horse and ride it to the finish line."  If this is a metaphorical way of saying, "know your strengths" and "strive for focus," I couldn't have picked a better line (unless it was either music or baseball-related, another subject on which he is quite versed).  I have heard long, detail-laden discussions with Patrick and SFJAZZ Combo director Dann Zinn about the sport.  Zinn supports and recommends that musicians watch sports; I believe it has to do with noticing non-verbal communication in groups requiring split-second decisions and perfect physical execution.

Patrick is supremely confident, states his beliefs and backs them up like someone with much more experience, and is very comfortable with who he is.  You will see this in his answers, which he elected to speak instead of write.  Here is our discussion.



Primary Instrument:       PIANO

Music you play:            
     Classical:         No
     Jazz:                  Yes
     Pop:                   No, except the Beatles
     other:                No

Music you listen to:            
     Classical:        No
     Jazz:                 Yes
     Pop:                  No
     other:               Soundtracks

Private Lessons?  Yes

Year You Will Graduate HS: 2014

5 Qs for Patrick:

1. How do you approach improvisation?

"I start with melody, that's always very important to me.  My favorite soloists, their solos are like new tunes.  Each chorus they play, you can write it down, and play it.  It would sound a lot like a Bebop head, like Anthropology or something, where it's not quite like a Tin Pan Alley standard, but they're very melodic and very memorable.  There are passages or phrases that are almost like they're written by hand with care.  So, I'm always tying to play melodically.  It's also important to be cohesive, so you're not just throwing random stuff out there or random licks out there and not putting anything together.  You gotta build it, start small and end it big, which I actually do.  What I tend to do is actually a formulaic thing, I actually do it too much, where I'll go to block chords at the end.  I have guys like Dann Zinn getting on me for that [mimes Dann Zinn saying, ' gotta change it up'].  I try to work in the Blues now and then; I guess [listening to] Horace Silver helps with that.  And dissonance.  Because the basic vocabulary I'm working with is Bop and Hard Bop: guys like Red Garland, Bird, Bud Powell.  I try to work in elements of the Blues: Thelonious, a little bit of Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal, you know the spare thing that Ahmad did.  So, very rooted in Hard Bop, try to keep it rooted, but interesting.  I think that sums it up pretty nice."     

2. What makes you play the way you play? (Influences? Where do you find inspiration? Group vs. solo?)

 "My mom and dad, especially my dad, have always listened to jazz so I've been hearing it since before I was born.  So, I've been absorbing it since I was very young.  I wasn't consciously thinking about it.  I'm told that at age 2, I wanted to hear Barry Harris.  I think I absorbed it whether I knew it or not, because as soon as I started playing, and I started pretty late [about 10 years old], that's immediately what I wanted to play.  It was an immediate thing:  I want to play jazz.  Now I'm interested in this stuff, now I'm getting out his Thelonious Monk records and playing them, and absorbing them, and hearing the licks those guys are playing, and trying to copy them.  So, I think my mom and dad shaped it a lot, based on what they were listening to."

"Influences:  I mentioned Red and Thelonious, Horace Silver, there's a lot...Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, Bud.  As far as horn players, well, Charlie Parker influences everyone.  Because he, Dizzy and Thelonious developed the Bebop vocabulary.  A lot of it can be attributed to them."

"Inspiration:  I practice by myself because I don't have the opportunity to play with others much where I live.  I think listening has been my inspiration.  Sometimes I'll be inspired by something non-musical, maybe a particular memory or nostalgia, or something like that.  I can get fairly nostalgic about places I've been.  Mostly, I'd say inspiration comes from the music itself."

"I'm always down to play solo piano, but group playing is what I really thirst for and what I really need to advance and get better.  It can be frustrating, because now I have all these wonderful opportunities with SFJAZZ and I get gigs, but it can still be frustrating not living right next to guys you can play with all the time, like a school environment.  It's kind of interesting being home-schooled.  On one hand, I can practice more, but on the other hand, living where I live and not going to a public school, I don't have a built-in way to play with guys that way.  So, it has it's pros and cons.  I'm cool with either one, but as far as improvement, I need combo playing and group playing and group interaction."       

3. When you're frustrated & want to quit, what makes you come back to your instrument?

"First of all, I am religious, I believe in God and I go to church every week.  The thing that gets me going is that I feel that God has been kind enough to give me a gift.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying 'I'm the greatest.'  But, he's allowed me to do what I'm doing and I won't squander that.  It would be foolish, it would be throwing something away.  Also, sometimes I get frustrated, I'm tired of hearing myself.  But, I can't stay away.  I'm constantly thinking about something related to it.  Literally constantly.  If there's a new composition I'm working on, or even just a recording of someone else I'm listening to, it's stuck in my head.  I don't think I could get it out if I wanted to.  It's such a part of my life now.  I'm obsessed. 

"My practice habits are not great.  And often, if I'm having a day where I'm just not feeling it, I'll stop for a day.  But, that's just for the day.  I rarely go a day where I consciously decide, 'I really don't want to do anything.'  If I have a day where I don't play at all, it's usually because it's not my choice, because I'm busy.  I play every day, but sometimes for whatever reason, I have to get up, but I'm still thinking about music.  I'm thinking about it all the time."  When asked how much he does practice daily, he replies, "A lot of people ask me that and I always have trouble answering because I don't know.  It varies.  Sometimes it's extremely short, about 30 minutes, probably because I'm not playing very well that day.  In spurts, I can play for hours.  It all depends.  Usually, I'd say it comes to, 1 to 2 hours, but not all in one sitting."

4. How does pressure ('good' or 'bad') affect your performance?

"I definitely still feel pressure.  Even though I've got lots of experience, I've done a lot of gigs at this point, I still get nervous.  Especially for the bigger things.  You know, butterflies and 'I gotta play this part perfectly.'  In a big band, if I've been working on something, I really think 'don't screw this up!'   Sometimes I think the bigger the gig, the better I sound to myself.  I think I can rise to the pressure.  I still get nervous but I also think I feel more satisfied, I'm more confident for the bigger gigs that I'll sound okay, that I'll rise to it."  I agree wholeheartedly, he is a crowd pleaser, this pianist. 

I ask if after listening to performance recordings, if his assessment of the record equals what he felt about the performance at the time.  He says that sometimes there is a disparity, but usually, "if I thought it sounded decent, it'll sound like that on the record.  That seems to be the case more often than not.  And, I do think it's beneficial to listen to recordings of yourself.  I think it's good to transcribe yourself."  Great idea.

As far as so-called bad pressure, Patrick says, "99% of the time, if somebody says I didn't sound good, I agree with them and I know what they're talking about.  I think that helps too because I'll be [mad] at myself  and I want to make sure it sounds good this time.  It doesn't adversely affect me.  Well....that's not quite true.  Sometimes, it won't be somebody telling me something.  Sometimes I don't like how I sound, so then I think, 'now, I really gotta nail it.'  But, whether it's me or someone else, I think it helps."  When asked if he is his own worst critic, he replies, "Yea, I think most musicians are." 

5. Parent support directly affects musical achievement.  How does parent support look in your family?  How does it affect your ability to succeed? 

"My parents are extremely supportive, to the point where they go out of their way to help me along.  And, we're talking about more than just getting me to gigs and stuff like that.  I think it can be indicative of something, when parents go out of their way, tying themselves in knots to get you where you need to be, to get you opportunities in music.  I think it's indicative of something."  I believe he is saying that all that support may be indicative of his student success.  "As far as something higher than that, they just love it.  I think that if they have any sort of worry, it is that jazz isn't very lucrative.  It is true for most people that the music business is not very lucrative.  Obviously there are lots of people making lots of money, but for most, they won't be raking it in.  That's just out of concern, wanting to see me do well.  But they are 100% down with it.  In fact, they push me to do more.   To make sure my audition stuff is done and taking care of my responsibilities related to it.  They help out and they make me more business-like, in a good way.  I think that when parents are doing that, I think that's a pretty good sign that they are 100% down with it."

Patrick is quick to point out that this in no way makes them the dreaded "stage parents," whom he has encountered and calls "unfortunate."  He clarifies by saying, "when they push me to do stuff, it's really when I'm dragging, like stuff related to colleges and auditions.  I'm not being pushed into it.  I'm either doing it because I want to do it or because I know it's important and I know it's going to help.  To put it bluntly, they help me get off my ass and do it.  They never tell me to do it; their pushing is good pushing." 

With a big smile on his face, he adds, "My Dad just loves it!  He just loves being able to hear the music."  This is true.  I tell Patrick that his father, who digitally records and shares every performance, is fairly glowing the whole time.  The Hogans and I have a mutual admiration society, in the way that we both get joy from watching each other's sons perform.  Imagine how it must feel to be a jazz lover your whole life.  Imagine then, your child also develops that love and pursues an instrument.   That would be quite lovely, just as is, hearing the music in the home, sharing an interest.  But imagine then, that you come to the point of watching your child win an audition and then play in one of the highest level jazz ensembles for students of his age, in a world-class city, San Francisco.  It makes my heart sing.

Part of parent support is putting your child with suitable mentors like the aforementioned directors at SFJAZZ.  Though it wasn’t part of our discussion questions, I wanted to add his comments about those directors.  The SFJAZZ All-Star Combo is unique for performing student-written charts in a small band format; a group of 6 as opposed to the 25-man Big Band puts the players square in the spotlight, with nowhere to hide.  Combo director, Dann Zinn,* has a reputation for being brutally honest and bringing his groups to unprecedented heights; when you get a compliment from Zinn, you know it's sincere.  Many students are not comfortable with this dynamic.  But, of Zinn, Patrick says, “I welcome the pressure and his bark is worse than his bite.  He has a heart of gold!”  Of  SJAZZ All-Star Jazz Orchestra director, Paul Contos,** who discovered Patrick in the Monterey area and encouraged him to audition for SFJAZZ, he considers at length and simply says, “…words fail.”  Well said, Patrick.

*   Dann Zinn Interview, see:

** Paul Contos Interview, see: