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Jazz group to hear flutist, pianist

By The Mercury

TOPEKA—Holly Hofmann’s first memories as a musician are some of her fondest.  At age 5 she would spend evenings playing a child’s flutophone, accompanying her father, a jazz guitarist, on standards from the Great American Songbook.

Today, Hofmann has taken the flute from its middle-of-the-orchestra origins and made it a front-line jazz instrument.  She has earned the respect of musicians and jazz aficionados for her bluesy, bebop-based improvisations and technical prowess on an instrument that many once regarded as definitely not a jazz horn.

Hofmann and her husband, pianist Mike Wofford, will present the next Topeka Jazz Workshop concert in its current series on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Topeka’s downtown Ramada Inn. The duo will be backed by Kansas City musicians Tommy Ruskin on drums and Gerald Spaits on bass. Admission is by season ticket, which is available at the door.

Critics have labeled Hofmann the most authoritative, swinging flutist—male or female—in jazz today.

Born in Cleveland, Hofmann always had her head in music.  Although jazz fans themselves, her parents insisted she have a solid foundation in classical technique.  After high school at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, she gained her formal education through studies with the Cleveland orchestra’s principal flutist Maurice Sharp. 

She then earned her bachelor’s in music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and her graduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado.

During summers away from school, Hofmann would travel to New York to study with Frank Wess and Slide Hampton and began sitting in at jam sessions .  It was largely the encouragement given by Wess and Hampton that convinced her to pursue a career in jazz flute. 

In the mid-90s she started working with the legendary Ray Brown, which she credits as one of the major turning points in her career.  She also began collaborating with Kenny Barron, Cedar Walton, John Clayton, Houston Person, Terell Stafford, and Bill Cunliffe.

In the late 1980s, Hofmann moved to San Diego and began working with pianist/arranger Wofford and bassist Bob Magnusson, both stalwarts of the California jazz scene.  In 2000, she and Wofford married and they have been playing together ever since.

A native Texan, Wofford was raised in San Diego.  His mother was a professional singer and he began studying piano at age 7.  At age 19 he moved to L.A. and entered the jazz scene there in the early 1960s. 

He appeared with the Lighthouse All-Stars,  the bands of Art Pepper, Red Norvo, Chet Baker, Bud Shank, Zoot Sims, Shorty Rogers, and Maynard Ferguson,  for a while accompanied June Christy, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald , and began a long association with drummer Shelly Manne. Wofford continues to be one of the most in-demand pianists in jazz.

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