PICTURED: Pianist Mike Wofford and flautist Holly Hofmann perform at the Ojai Art Center on Nov. 17.
If you are a jazz aficionado, you might want to fly, not walk, to Ojai to hear flautist Holly Hofmann and pianist Mike Wofford perform on Nov. 17 at the Ojai Arts Center.
The San Diego-based, globetrotting duo recently returned from their “fifth or sixth” tour in New Zealand. Just prior to that, the couple performed at the Oregon Coast Jazz Party, in Newport, where Ms. Hofmann, aka Mrs. Wofford, has been the festival’s music director for the past 13 years.
And in the small-world department, the pianist’s son (also with the sobriquet Mike Wofford) is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Mr. Wofford the Younger is hopefully predicting clear skies in Ventura County ahead of the Sunday evening performance.
Hofmann and Wofford will have been married 20 years in January. They gigged together a decade before they tied the knot and Wofford accompanied his wife on her first album.
The octogenarian (Wofford turns 82 next February) has also accompanied many other heavy hitters in the jazz world, including some of the best singers of the last century, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.
Wofford is quite famous in the national jazz scene — and a great get for Ojai Jazz Concerts promoter Rich Tell. Nevertheless, the more reclusive half of the couple never had any interest in being a “leader,” Hofmann said.
“The Sarah Vaughn-Ella Fitzgerald thing is big! Every singer wants to work with him and they want Mike to make them sound like them (Sassy and Ella) but that’s not possible! When you’ve worked with the best, it’s hard to work with those who don’t sing in tune,” Hofmann explained.
After playing together for so many years, Hofmann and Wofford have developed a huge duo repertoire. They tend to gear the tunes they play “towards the audience,” but audience members can expect standards and a handful of original tunes.
In addition to touring “down under,” Hofmann also promotes other jazz acts and big bands in New Zealand. Despite the long flight, Hofmann trills when talking about the NZ tour: “There are wonderful people and audiences that don’t get a huge amount of American jazz artists down there!”
Additionally, in her role as jazz promoter, Hofmann has been booking national and local jazz artists to the long-running jazz series at San Diego’s Handlery Hotel, where musicians play to an appreciative crowd in a 75-seat listening room.
To make a decent living as a jazz musician often means moonlighting. In addition to Hofmann’s work as a promoter, she and Wofford also did studio work to help pay the bills, and have earned residuals from television work.
“Both of us have had amazing recording careers,” said Hofmann. “Mike has been on over 100 recordings as a sideman and was recording in the days when the American Federation of Musicians was monitoring. He earns royalties from TV shows like Hawaii Five-O, along with a nice pension.”
It’s been a struggle to be a promoter for Rich Tell, who has been curating jazz in Ojai since 2011. Most of his concerts were held at the Ojai Art Center, although there was a brief run in a church. (I did find it a bit odd watching Denise Donatelli scat in front of a cross, but her 2012 performance with her trio was terrific.) Happily, things have taken a turn for the better since the early days.
Tell is jazzed to be back at the art center with monthly concerts. Other guest artists have included guitarist Bruce Foreman performing tunes (mostly standards and the blues) from his “red guitar program” as well as saxophonist Tom Scott, percussionist Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Chuck Berghofer and Ojai’s very own monster jazz pianist, Roger Kellaway.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes after the Thomas Fire, the revitalized series is going strong; this is the 16th or 17th consecutive concert since the spring of 2018. Hofmann and Wofford are typical of the exceptional talent Tell has been consistently booking. No surprise, then, that for lovers of the genre, this concert promises to be jazz heaven.
Mike Wofford and Holly Hofmann perform for the Ojai Jazz Concerts series on Sunday, Nov. 17, 7-9 p.m. at the Ojai Art Center, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. For tickets and more information, call 805-746-0936 or visit Ojai Jazz Concerts on Facebook.