WERE A PERIODICAL TO OFFER ME reasonable remuneration to write full time about music and musicians, I would be tempted. Here is my latest piece in print, on composer Larry Hoffman.
Here is how the piece opens:
Larry Hoffman does not mind being teasingly called the blackest white guy in Baltimore. He is likely to take it as a compliment. All his life, he has been besotted by music, especially one of the two great African-American musical forms, the blues. He has played blues guitar, performed with some of the great old bluesmen, studied the blues with a scholar's rigor, produced blues records, and been nominated for a Grammy for his blues liner notes. For the last 30 years, he has worked at composing original blues music, not quotes or transpositions, for the classical stage, for string quartets and other chamber ensembles. What Bartok and Janáček and Copland did with folk melodies, what Gershwin did with jazz, Hoffman has been doing with the blues, to scant notice. He was 10 years old when he discovered he would rather play the ukulele at summer camp than swim with the other kids in an icy lake, and if the great question of human existence is how to live, then Hoffman's great question has been how to live through music. He is now 68 years old and living in a tiny, overstuffed, shabby apartment because he has never made a dime as a composer, and he does not care. Everything in his life is as it is so he can create music. Asked if he is happy with that life, he shoots back an unequivocal one-word response: "Thrilled."
Hoffman says he feels guilty when he is not composing, though he admits that after attending a chamber concert he will invest many hours in writing an unpaid review of it for the Ticketmaster website. It does not take much to launch him on a passionate and frequently profane disquisition about the injustice of white blues imitators making the money that should have gone to black bluesmen, or about the vapidity of minimalism or how the Pulitzer Prize in music no longer means anything or how jazz-rock fusion killed jazz. Once in conversation about his creative process, I made the mistake of saying "when you're messing around with part of a new composition—" and Hoffman cut me off. "I never mess around," he said. "Wrong words, buddy." What has marked his life is a decades-long uncompromising search for what feels like his own authentic music. He believes he has found it. Now if only he could find an audience.