Vocalist Hinda Hoffman first hit the Chicago jazz scene back in the early 1990s when she began performing at local venues displaying her incredibly swinging and versatile style. Recently, she has become more visible on the scene after the release of her latest recording Driftin’ At The Lake. We thought this was a perfect time to catch up with her and talk about the latest recording, her influences and how she got started in music.
1 When you were growing up, tell us about how you were first drawn to music. Did you grow up in a musical home?
My family never took vacations, but my parents took us to see musicals as a family and we had all the albums, so I learned a lot of show tunes. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I was at a friend’s house whose father used to listen to the jazz radio station WSDM that featured all women DJs. This was in the mid ‘60s and I heard Cannonball Adderley with Nancy Wilson and thought if I ever could sing, I would sing those songs.
Was there a person or experience that drew you to start singing?
My dad was an amateur tenor who would sing at friends’ weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. I find that a lot of musicians and singers are playing out one of their parent’s unfinished dreams.
3 Who were some of your early music influences?
In my teens, my older brother’s friend turned me on to a lot of jazz musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Lloyd, Willie Bobo, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and many others. That was when I fell in love with the music!
4 Was there a specific performance or experience that stood out?
When I was an adolescent, my music teacher in public school heard something in me and wanted me to sing for the PTA meeting in front of parents, teachers and my peers. That was the year People came out by Barbra Streisand.
The music teacher played piano and I got about four bars into the song and threw up on the stage! I quickly ran off and barricaded myself in the bathroom. I was so humiliated. I never thought I’d be able to sing in front of people again after that terrible stage fright. I began working as a court reporter in my early twenties and in my late thirties I decided I wanted to try and sing this music that I loved so much.
Did you go to school for music?
I went to the Bloom School of Jazz and took the same class three times because I had so much stage fright. I was even scared to sing in front of the class at the school, even though I was 38 years old.
Was there a specific performance or moment that you had which helped you turn music into a career?
I finally decided to go to jam sessions, and at that time there were several almost every night. I would come home after work and then go out to a jam session at night and sit in. My stage fright was crippling, but I had to keep going! Something was pushing me. I finally conquered my stage fright and in the last 25 years I have recorded three CDs and have performed at hundreds of clubs and festivals.
Who were some of your musical influences and why?
I was inspired by so many great jazz musicians and singers. Mostly, I listened to singers in my twenties, thirties and forties: Sarah, Ella, Carmen, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Blossom Dearie, Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams, Shirley Horn, Etta Jones, all the greats. It’s important to me to keep the standards alive. It’s our classical music.
Tell us about the new recording Driftin’ At The Lake. Where did the concept for the title come from and how did you select the repertoire?
I wrote a lyric to Herbie Hancock’s tune “Driftin’” on this latest CD. I live on the beach in Roger’s Park and that’s another passion of mine and gives me inspiration. The way I picked the repertoire for the CD is I first pick songs that I love and then I think about how I want to mix them up by tempo, feel and rhythm. I also work the repertoire around mixing up keys and rhythms, taking into account the many different styles such as swing feels, ballads, Bossa Nova, etc.
Who are the other musicians on the recording?
The band consists of the guys I love working with and who have become good friends over the years. I met Ron Perrillo when I first started singing and he had just moved here from Florida. Back then, Bop Shop had a vocal jam session on Sundays and he was the keyboard player. I thought he was a genius then and I think he is a genius now. He formed a trio with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas. They were so far ahead of me musically and they were, and still are, incredibly talented. George had already played with a lot of famous people, so I knew the three of them would make me sound better than I could.
I knew that by playing with people who were much better than me, I would grow as a musician. Although I was petrified on stage, I managed to walk through my fears. Now I have been playing with them for the last 25 years. Early on, I still had to work a day job for insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition, so I couldn’t go full-throttle into the music industry. But now after 34 years, I’m retired and I want to be able to perform at festivals, jazz cruises and most importantly, sing with the guys whom I love to perform with!
Do you have any performances coming up where people can experience your music live?
I will be at the Hyde Park Jazz Society’s Sunday night Jazz Series at Room 43 on Sunday, December 10, at 7 p.m. It’s a wonderful venue, and that night I will be performing with the Soul Message Band, which has a great organ groove feel. Then on Wednesday, December 20, I will be back at Winter’s Jazz Club with Ron Perrillo and Dennis Carroll at 7:30 p.m.
Also, I should mention that if anybody’s interested in buying any of my CDs, you can get them at HindaHoffman.com.