By Ron Scott
Jazz is my beat and when I learned Mayor David Dinkins was the father-in-law of vibraphonist, composer, and educator Jay Hoggard, I jumped at the opportunity to talk with Jay. What resulted was an engaging Zoom conversation about their relationship and Jay’s music. “When we first met, he was more concerned about my being able to take care of Donna [his daughter] and keep her happy. At that time, he wasn’t mayor. I think he was Manhattan Borough President,” Hoggard reminisced.
Fortunately, Dinkins didn’t seem to mind that Hoggard was a musician. Actually, Hoggard’s musicianship may have worked in his favor since Mayor Dinkins was a pure jazz connoisseur. “He was organically into jazz of his era; he was a jazz guy listening to Count Basie; Duke Ellington; Johnny Hartman; Billie Holiday; Ella Fitzgerald; Dinah Washington; Sammy Davis, Jr.; and Nat King Cole,” said Hoggard. “He was close friends with Dizzy Gillespie, Dr. Billy Taylor, and Lionel Hampton.” Their separate bonds with the same musicians added to the cohesiveness of their relationship. Hoggard met Hampton in the early 80s but it was during a 1988 duo gig with Bobby Hutchinson at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City, when he got the opportunity to jam with the master. The elder vibraphonist eventually became a mentor and friend.
Hampton’s health began to deteriorate and he asked the then young gun to sit in for him at various gigs. Hoggard’s most memorable gigs include the Carnegie Hall Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and playing at Jazzmobile’s summer festival at Grant’s Tomb. “Hamp was actually at that gig and sat next to me as I played. He eventually got up and played. It was an incredible gig I will never forget,” Hoggard said with a big smile. Dinkins often attended his son-in-law’s concerts, including several when Hoggard subbed for Hampton. “I am sure he came to the Jackie Robinson Jazz Festivals in Connecticut, where I played and Robin Bell Stevens was the producer,” recalled Hoggard.
Hoggard’s album Swing’em Gates is a tribute to Hampton, the iconic master vibraphonist. “Eight of the compositions on this recording are tunes that I played when Hamp sent me to sub for him with his band in the 90s,” Hoggard explained. “Once when Hamp called me to play for him, I asked what tunes he wanted. He replied, ‘Just swing’em gates.’” That conversation inspired the composition/album title and direction of this musical tribute with Hoggard’s own interpretations.
The recording features a guest appearance by composer and pianist Dr. Billy Taylor on three tunes. It was recorded on his own label, JHVM, in 2007. He credits Hampton for influencing him to start his own record label in 2001 and has recorded seven albums on the label thus far.
He has recorded 22 CDs as a leader and over 50 as a collaborator. His most recent CD, 2016’s Harlem Hieroglyphs, a two-disc JVHM recording, features the often underrated but accomplished alto saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Gary Bartz; pianists/organists James Weidman and Nat Adderley, Jr.; bassist-Belden Bullock; and drummer Yoron Israel.
When Dr. Taylor co-founded Jazzmobile in the 60s, Dinkins was one of its first board members. Hoggard not only played on the original Jazzmobile, the same one where Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Clark Terry performed, but he also taught there. He recalls the sum-mer day he arrived at Jazzmobile’s office in Harlem, parking in front momentarily to take his vibraphone out of the car. A man standing there helped him, but after finding a parking space and returning, the kind man was gone. He inquired about the person who helped him and was told, “Oh, Lee Morgan, he left.” To this day Hoggard remains almost lost for words when he thinks about that incident, “Wow, Lee Morgan helped me with my vibes, that’s incredible.”
Beginning in 1993, former Mayor Dinkins hosted a local talk show with guests on WLIB-AM a. His theme song was “The Little Tiger,” a com-position that Hoggard had penned a few years prior for his young son, Jamal, who was about six years old at the time. On the album by the same title (Muse Records 1991), Hoggard is accompa-nied by bassist Marcus McLaurine, pianist Benny Green, and drummer Yoron Israel. What proud grandfather wouldn’t want to have a theme song written by his son-in-law for his only grandson? That sounds like a double-plus to me. Donna and Jay also have a daughter, Kalila.
Hoggard said he hasn’t had a gig since last March, the same horrendous situation all musicians are in since the pandemic. Fortunately, he is a tenured professor of music at his alma mater, Wesleyan University. For over 25 years he has been the director of the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra and has been conducting both live and Zoom classes. Jay is hoping to get back into the studio by summer; only time will tell.
“I’ve lived long enough and have access to such a large reservoir of music to share,” Hoggard re-flected. He continued in his self-deprecating way, “I know a little bit more of what I’m doing, not much but a little.” Jay Hoggard’s music covers the spectrum of music of the African diaspora.
A memorial for David Dinkins is planned for August 2021. You can bet “The Little Tiger” played by Jay Hoggard, will be part of the program.