Denver composer Derrick Hodge brings his sound to the nation’s biggest stages

Not everyone watches the end credits of the Grammys or the Oscars. And most Colorado football fans are too addicted to craft beer to notice who’s leading the music before the Super Bowl starts. But Centennial Staters who pay attention to the fine print may have noticed one name that popped up at all three of these events in 2022: Derrick Hodge. Hodge, 42, is not yet a household name in Colorado, but the Denver-based bassist and bandleader has a gig this month that would be a career highlight for most musicians: co-directing at the legendary Hollywood Bowl, a century-old concert hall in Los Angeles.

Hodge may have been destined to lead the Bowl’s June 19 celebration since childhood. Raised in New Jersey, Hodge accompanied his mother to church, where she served in the choir. From the pews, Hodge got a VIP view of a bassist named Joel Ruffin, who often played during services. “I wanted to be like Joel my whole childhood,” Hodge says. “The bass was too big for my body, so I started on guitar.”

Hodge would, however, become the bass. He began studying music in 1997 at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he bonded with emerging local R&B artists such as Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and Floetry. He often recorded with them, and in 1999 he started making his own music. He doubled for composer and Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard, contributing director When the Dykes Crumbled: A Requiem in Four Acts, and joined the electro-jazz ensemble Robert Glasper Experiment as bassist. In 2013, the group black radio won the Grammy for Best R&B Album. “As a bassist, he can effortlessly glide from R&B to jazz to rock ‘n’ roll,” says Don Was, president of Blue Note Records, Hodge’s label. “He can compose and conduct for a symphony orchestra and conduct and compose for his own groundbreaking, genre-defying band.”

Photo by Kevin Mohatt.

In 2015, Hodge moved to the Denver area and received an unexpected education in the high-profile jazz scene. The Five Points neighborhood, he learned, was once called the Harlem of the West and was home to legendary entertainers such as Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington at the Rossonian Hotel. “I love the energy in Denver,” he says. “The creative force, the juices, the inspiration, the story.” Hodge wants to add to this tradition. His last solo album, noise color, was released in 2020 and, like its creator, skillfully mixes jazz, R&B and hip-hop. Hodge hopes to build on sound through events such as a festival, party or fashion show in Denver.

This month, however, he is focusing on the story. The Juneteenth Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl will be headlined by the Re-Collective Orchestra (which performs the work of overlooked black composers), the Roots and the Robert Glasper Experiment (he will play bass for the group). It’s the first time an all-black orchestra will play the Bowl, but Hodge knows he’s building on the legacy of black performers who came before him. “We sit,” he says, “on other people’s hopes and dreams.”

More June 16 celebrations

Denver has been hosting a Juneteenth party for seven decades. This year’s Juneteenth Music Festival will join familiar favorites, such as the parade along 26th Avenue, with these new attractions to celebrate black culture. —Spencer Campbell

Atmosphere in the park

On June 19, the Juneteenth Music Festival (JMF) is partnering with Vibes in the Park, which hosts meet-ups in City Park on summer Sundays that serve as safe spaces for black people. The Vibes on 29th festival will feature live DJs on a stage erected on 29th Street.

Denver Fire Department Youth Boxing Matches

On June 18, the Denver Fire Department will host fights between amateurs ages 8-18.

The street party

Headlining this year’s two-day lineup are rappers Dave East (June 18) and Twista (June 19).

Juneteenth Eats at Chēba Hut

Through June 19, Colorado-based Chēba Huts is offering a beer and shot special, $2 of which will benefit JMF. On June 16, a portion of the sandwich maker’s total sales will go to the nonprofit.

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