By Sabina L. Lilly
Baritone saxophonist and woodwind doubler Ted Hogarth is an accomplished musician’s musician. A highly regarded performer, composer, and educator/clinician, he has worked with artists ranging from Slide Hampton and Cedar Walton to Frankie Valli and Ten Thousand Maniacs. For four of the last eight years, he has been named a Rising Star on Baritone Saxophone in the Annual DownBeat International Critics Poll. He has also been named a Rising Star on clarinet for the past two years.
Chicago Jazz Magazine has wanted to catch up with Ted for quite some time. Now that he is off the road after six and a half years of touring with Jersey Boys and A Bronx Tale—splitting his time between his residence in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois—we finally have the chance!
CJM: As part of an army family you grew up, literally, all over the world. Talk about your early exposure to music as a kid—was your family musical?
Although I wasn’t an “Army brat” my family moved around quite a bit. My dad was a computer programmer and landed a job with Aramco in 1977. The whole family moved from North Branch, Michigan to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where I attended grades 1 through 8. My mom played clarinet and my dad played trumpet at Argo High School in Chicago in the 1950s, and they loved big band music. I grew up listening to Glenn Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Duke Ellington, etc. . . . I picked up my mom’s clarinet in 4th grade to play in the school band and would come home after school and play along to big band records. I had heard the melodies so many times and was excited to try to play with the records. I was thrilled when I could actually play along and sound like I was part of the band. The band director asked me to play tenor sax because there were too many clarinets in the band. I was thrilled because now I could play tenor and clarinet along with the records. I’m grateful to my music teachers in the Dhahran schools (Bud Winward, Jim Neibor, and Jack Schaar) for their enthusiasm, guidance, and encouragement.
CJM: How did you come to play baritone saxophone?
I was fortunate to attend Interlochen Arts Academy [in Michigan]—now Interlochen Center for the Arts—all four years of high school. I was really focused on tenor and clarinet and wanted to play those in the studio orchestra. Instead I was put on baritone, never having played one, and immediately fell in love. I began listening heavily to Duke Ellington and dove into the world of Harry Carney. The baritone became my instrument of choice when playing in big bands in high school and college. I considered myself a tenor player in all other jazz and R&B groups. I had always played baritones owned by the schools I attended so when I moved to Chicago from Arizona in 1993 I started to miss playing the big horn. I went to the Woodwind & Brasswind in South Bend, Indiana one afternoon to try tenor mouthpieces with my good friend Brian Sjoerdinga. He bought a soprano and I lugged home a brand new Selmer Series II baritone. That’s when I began my professional career as a baritone player.
CJM: Was there a specific recording, performance, or moment that first ignited your interest in jazz?
While living in Saudi Arabia my dad was transferred to the London office for a year. We moved in to a lovely cottage in Beaconsfield, an hour outside of London. My folks were big fans of Glenn Miller and the touring band happened to be playing in the neighboring town of High Wycombe. The concert was in an old movie theater and our seats were close to the stage. I was eight years old and knew the recordings. Now I was hearing it live. I soaked in every note and decided that I wanted to be on stage with them. I began playing clarinet the following year.
A few years later I was introduced to the music of Chuck Mangione by my brother, Bill. He’s seven years older and played trumpet in high school. I had never heard small group jazz and was instantly captivated by the textures, solos, and group interaction. As an aspiring woodwind doubler I was awestruck by Chris Vadala.
CJM: So, you attended high school at Interlochen Center for the Arts, followed by undergraduate studies at Arizona State University and Northeastern Illinois University. Were you mainly studying classical music prior to pursuing your master’s degree in Jazz Composition at DePaul University, or how did things take shape?
My musical passion has always been jazz, though I’m glad I studied classical saxophone. Classical studies gave me a fantastic foundation concerning technique, tone production, and musical interpretation. While at Interlochen I was privileged to study with Dr. Fred Hemke, Ron Blake, and Bill Sears. I spent my time at ASU as a jazz saxophone performance major then took a brief break from school to move to Chicago. I completed my undergraduate studies at Northeastern Illinois University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I had always enjoyed composing and arranging and decided to study formally. I chose DePaul because I wanted to study with Tom Matta. I’m grateful to Bob Lark for giving me the opportunity to be a graduate assistant at DePaul. The knowledge I gained and the friendships I made there continue to be invaluable.
CJM: Who are your significant teachers and/or mentors?
I’ve been fortunate to have so many wonderful teachers and influences over my career.
Jack Scharr is a wonderful saxophonist and woodwind doubler, he was my junior high band director in Saudi Arabia. He saw my desire to play woodwinds and encouraged me to learn as many as possible. He inspired me to seek a Broadway pit career.
Ron Blake taught me that mastering the classical repertoire would strengthen my technique and help in my development as an improvisor.
I was a member of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble under Bill Russo for eight years. Through him I learned how to organize, rehearse, and lead a big band. His meticulous attention to detail, as well as his desire to bring the most out of the musicians to serve the music guides me as I lead my own ensembles.
Ron Kolber was my most significant mentor. He heard a cut of a record of mine on WBEZ back in 2001 and invited me over to his place to play and swap horns. He said he liked what I played though he thought my sound was lacking, like the horn had a cold and was stuffed up. I’d met him a few years before and was privileged to sit next to him and play second tenor in the BBC a few times. I, like everyone else, was enamored with his sound. I wanted to have a rich and vibrant sound like Ronnie and Harry Carney. I took my shiny new Selmer Super Action 80 Series II to his place and we swapped horns and mouthpieces. I played his 1932 Conn with whatever mouthpiece and reed he had and could barely make a sound. He had the same issue with my setup.
I went over to his place many times after that; he showed me exercises to improve my sound and wind production that I still practice and use in my teaching. We also listened to countless recordings of him, Harry, Mulligan, and Pepper. Ronnie gave me valuable insight to the musical world in which he grew up. He sold me his 1932 Conn, and I play it to this day. Ronnie and that horn changed my life.
CJM: Through the years, you’ve worked with a diverse array of musicians in a variety of contexts. Can you talk about one or two artists of any genre, as well as a specific experience, that helped define your playing?
I played in a quintet with Richie Cole on a ten-day tour of the Czech Republic in 2010. I had toured Europe playing in big bands, and this was my first experience touring with a small group. Our first gig was at the Prague Castle for the President of the Czech Republic and five hundred of his closest friends, and it was being recorded for release. I was a bit intimidated. I was comfortable being a side-musician but now I was out front. Richie was great to work with. He showed me how to engage an audience through playing and talking. I stepped up, gained confidence, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Castle Bop was released the following year and I’m very happy with the results.
I’ve played in a variety of pop and R&B bands which helped me explore different styles of improvisation and rhythmic feel, as well as the need to change mouthpieces and reeds in order to play with the appropriate tone. Playing in pit orchestras for musicals definitely helped shape and strengthen all of my abilities, including improvisation. Performing for two-plus hours on multiple woodwinds in a variety of styles at a high level eight times a week can be very challenging. It taught me to how to approach each performance as though it were the first in order to stay fresh and keep things exciting. For me playing music is pure pleasure and I want to project that so the audience enjoys themselves, too. Performing any piece of music can get stale over time, the key is to find something in the music, the instrument, or the overall act of performing the piece to keep things fresh.
CJM: The Mulligan Mosaics Big Band, which you founded in 2006, is once again performing on a regular basis. Can you tell us how the band came about?
That’s a long story, which is fully told on my website [tedhogarth.com]. Here’s the short version. In 2005 I heard, for the first time, a recording of Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. I was mesmerized by the writing, the layers and textures, as well as the artistry. I wanted to know how one could write for a thirteen-piece jazz ensemble that didn’t include piano or guitar. I’ve always loved big band music and this was new sonic territory for me. I looked for scores online with no luck and was encouraged by Chris Weller, a saxophone student of mine at the time, to contact Franca Mulligan [Gerry’s widow]. The rest is history.
CJM: How would you describe your compositional style and process, and do you tend to write for larger ensembles?
I always seem to have a lot going on so I’m not a disciplined writer. I carry a manuscript notebook and jot things down as they come in to my head. When I sit down to compose I either have a specific melody or concept in mind, or I improvise and see if anything presents itself. My compositions tend to be jazz based: a melody with thematic development and sections for improvisation. The size of the ensemble depends on the concept of the piece. A few years ago I had a six-month contract on a cruise ship and wrote an album’s worth of songs for quintet and sextet. I’m currently focusing on writing for my thirteen-piece big band as well as writing arrangements for the more traditional eighteen-piece big band. I love the process of exploring form, tonality, and how different combinations of woodwinds and brass, with or without mutes, blend. The challenge I face is composing the melody first and then figuring out the arrangement—though sometimes they reveal themselves simultaneously.
CJM: What kind of teaching are you doing at the moment: private lessons, ensemble instruction, classroom teaching, workshops, master classes . . . ?
After a few years on tour I realized how much I enjoyed and missed teaching. My last tour ended in early August of 2019 and I was fortunate to begin teaching private saxophone lessons at Puzon’s Musical Instruments in Lansing, Illinois, in September. In the past I’ve conducted jazz combos and big bands, taught jazz theory and improvisation, master classes covering the baritone saxophone as well as Gerry Mulligan, and taught private saxophone and clarinet lessons. Teaching is as important to me as performing and writing so I’m looking for more teaching opportunities.
CJM: What performances, recordings, and/or projects are on your horizon?
I have so many projects that I want to pursue: I’d love to reform my sextet THC to explore all the new music I’ve written; I’m interested in writing for woodwind quintet; I’ve been playing clarinet in a Gypsy jazz group in Kalamazoo called the Birdseed Salesmen which is fun and challenging. My artistic focus for the foreseeable future is my big band, the Mulligan Mosaics. I’m continuing to edit pieces from Mulligan’s library and add them to our repertoire. I’m also interested in having pieces written for the band. It’s a unique instrumentation that should be further explored. Bassist and co-leader, Joe Policastro, will be adding some of his originals as his schedule allows. There are many wonderful composers in Chicago that we will eventually be contacting for commissions. We’ll be returning to The Outta Space on Wednesday, February 5, and Winter’s on Sunday, February 16, and we’re submitting for jazz festivals. In addition to performing we offer educational outreach which is explained further on the website.
For the latest news, follow Ted on Facebook, Instagram, or visit tedhogarth.com.
Chicago Jazz Magazine content manager (and sometime-contributor) Sabina L. Lilly has been a professional musician for over three decades. Contact Sabina at email@example.com.