Contemporary virtuoso pianist, collaborator, composer, arranger, producer, educator, Yamaha Artist, multiple Grammy® nominee and 2010 Grammy® winner Laurence Hobgood has enjoyed a multi-faceted and dynamic career. Recognized for his dazzling piano technique and his signature style of composing and arranging, he’s been transporting audiences both at home and abroad for over thirty years.
Coming from an arts family (his father was a celebrated teacher of theater and his mother an accomplished Appalachian folk artist), Laurence started playing piano before he could walk. He began formal classical study in first grade in Dallas, Texas, where his dad was chairman of the Theater Department at Southern Methodist University. When his father accepted the equivalent position at University of Illinois the family moved to Urbana; this is when Laurence transitioned to studying jazz — and never looked back.
It would be an understatement to say that the jazz/music scene at U. of I. during these formative years was amazingly fertile and had a huge impact on Laurence’s musical direction and philosophy. Highlights include three years in the #1 U. of Illinois Jazz Band led by the iconic John Garvey; private classical study with British classical pianist Ian Hobson (from whom Hobgood learned his technical system/approach); study and close friendship with Sicilian-born master 20th century composer — and ultimately Hobgood’s compositional mentor — Salvatore Martirano; and countless nights at the still renowned Nature’s Table, the small, 7-night-a-week jazz club where Hobgood cut his teeth. Hobgood first heard many of his main early influences perform there, including Chicago saxophone legends Ed Peterson and Ron Dewar and pianist John Campbell.
Urbana’s proximity to Chicago led him there in 1988 and he was quickly absorbed into the scene, playing in groups with legendary Chicago musicians such as Von Freeman, Paul Wertico, Ed Peterson, Fareed Haque, Wilbur “the Chief” Campbell and Eddie Johnso,n among others. (It was also there in 1993 where he encountered a young, yet unknown singer named Kurt Elling.)
Hobgood was awarded three consecutive fellowships (’90, ’91, ’92) to perform in the Aspen Music Festival. The Chicago Tribune honored him as a 1995 Chicagoan Of The Year in the Arts. That same year, Elling’s first CD, Close Your Eyes, released by Blue Note (and which Hobgood produced, played on and wrote for) garnered a Grammy® nomination, a pattern which continued with every project Elling released throughout their eighteen-year collaboration. 2009’s Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane and Hartman, recorded live at Lincoln Center, won the 2010 Grammy® Award for Best Vocal Jazz Record, with Hobgood receiving one of the coveted statues for his work as producer.
In 2003, Hobgood received ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award, given for outstanding music journalism, for his article ‘The Art Of The Trio’ published by JazzTimes magazine.
His 2007 CD When The Heart Dances (Naim), a duet recording with iconic bassist Charlie Haden, has received worldwide critical acclaim, garnering 4-star reviews from Downbeat and the UK’s Mojo magazine among others. From the Mojo review:
Alert listeners have known for years that Kurt Elling’s long-time accompanist- collaborator Hobgood is one of the best pianists of his generation. He’s joined here by bass legend Charlie Haden on a sumptuous, elegiac set of duets, beautifully played.
Hobgood’s February 2012 release, PoemJazz (Circumstantial), is an adventurous collaboration with poet Robert Pinsky, the only three-term U.S. Poet Laureate. It features Pinsky’s energetic readings of his poems, with an emphasis on musical phrasing rather than dramatic phrasing, coupled with Hobgood’s engaging, thematic improvised accompaniment, played live in studio simultaneous with Pinsky’s recitations. (A second PoemJazz CD, House Hour, was released in 2014.)
Hobgood’s 2013 release Christmas (Circumstantial) was chosen by both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune as one of the top Holiday CDs of the year. In the New York Times, Nate Chinen wrote:
For most of this beautifully recorded album, he’s alone at the piano, unspooling solemn reveries after the example of his north star, Keith Jarrett.
And the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich wrote:
Can overplayed holiday repertoire be transformed into art? It can when Hobgood is at work, the pianist turning in one of the most appealing recordings of an already distinguished career with ‘Christmas.’