Derrick Hodge prefers to let his work speak for itself, and lately, it’s been a chorus heard ’round the world.
“I try to latch on to the spirit of the project,” said Hodge, who moved from Los Angeles to Denver in 2015, during a Zoom interview from his basement studio last week. “I just get out of the way.”
Despite (or perhaps because of) that humble approach, Hodge has produced, written for and played with some of music’s biggest names, including collaborations with Kanye West and Herbie Hancock, while winning a pair of Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album in 2013 (with the Robert Glasper Experiment, for “Black Radio”), and in 2014 (“Black Radio 2”). He’s got four nominations total.
This year, he’s been no slouch, either, arranging music for the Super Bowl and, now, the Sunday, March 27, Academy Awards telecast.
The 42-year-old quietly nabbed the latter job a little over a month ago, and has mostly been finishing it from his home in Denver before heading to Los Angeles for rehearsals.
Even as he will appear on stage, conducting the Oscars orchestra, all that work was prepared “right here off I-70,” he said. It’s the same for the “Lift Every Voice” segment he arranged for Super Bowl LVI, which was performed by Mary Mary and the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, during the pregame (prior to the national anthem) on Feb. 13.
Still, the Oscars is one of his heaviest jobs in a career larded with them. Hodge has been given free rein to find his own way to honor the music of 2022’s nominated films as he chooses, and that’s more important than ever, he said. There will be lush strings and brass that evoke Oscars history, but also modern touches that keep the ceremony relevant in the 21st century.
“Composing during the (pandemic and quarantines) has meant these Oscar-nominated composers feel like they’re doing a lot of these things in secret or silence, so it might mean more to them this year,” said Hodge, who also has composed for several documentaries and narrative features.
Hodge has plenty to work with, between nominated scores from Hans Zimmer (“Dune”) and Germaine Franco (“Encanto”) and original songs by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Dixson (the “King Richard” song “Be Alive”) and Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell (the title track for the latest James Bond flick, “No Time to Die”).
The breadth and depth would intimidate some producers, but much like Hodge’s hectic schedule, it’s a comfort zone. Even as he comes off producing shows for Christina Aguilera and H.E.R., and arranging music for the 2022 Oscars telecast, Hodge has begun work on the Hollywood Bowl’s 100th-season opening show on June 3. The massive showcase will feature Gwen Stefani, Branford Marsalis, the Los Angeles Philharmonic (premiering a new, custom-written John Williams piece), ballet dancer Roberto Bolle and more.
“What’s motivating right now is having the ‘No Time to Die’ and ‘Parallel Mothers’ themes in my head and writing at 2 a.m.,” he said. “I want there to be some surprises that make people say, ‘Oh, he really went there with it!’ But I’m always working on the next thing as soon as I get it.”
Born just outside Philadelphia in Willingboro, N.J., Hodge’s musical life began at age 6 as he explored gospel, jazz and other musical styles, he said. His larger career was sparked at age 18 by working with musician Jill Scott, whom he idolized, in Philly while helping pioneer the neo-soul sound. He followed his instincts and left Scott’s tour, however, to attend Temple University, where he studied jazz composition and performance.
He’s since collaborated with not only Kanye West and Common (on the latter’s album, “Be”), but also Quincy Jones, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Timbaland, Lupe Fiasco, Andre 3000, Sade and Terence Blanchard.
Hodge, who also served as artist Maxwell’s musical director for a decade, was the first musician to bring hip-hop to the National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center, and has been a fierce advocate of documenting and highlighting Black musical history. Since 2013, he has been on the roster at storied jazz label Blue Note, where his third solo album, 2020’s “Color of Noize,” continues to seamlessly fuse record scratching, vintage synths and double-time percussion, along with mellow, hypnotic grooves.
“Noize” was produced by Don Was — head of Blue Note, and a musician and producer who has worked with The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, as well as late Denver jazz legend Ron Miles, who died last week. Granted, Hodge isn’t the only Blue Note luminary to ever call Colorado home, but he’s still invested in learning more about Denver’s growing music scene.
It’s just that, between the pandemic and his typically busy schedule, he hasn’t been able to dive into it as much as he wants. He held a party in December that turned out dozens of local musicians, and that overflowed into an impromptu jam session outside his Green Valley Ranch home.
Being more rooted has allowed Hodge to find an “innocence and abandon” the past couple of years, throwing out preconceptions about work and creativity as his travel obligations melt away. He’s ignored his studio setup at times to compose simple melodies on his piano, a 1901 Ludwig that belongs to his wife’s family.
“Honestly, being at home has allowed me to work out so many things I probably couldn’t have otherwise,” he said. “It’s been a blessing, because the more you try to be yourself, the more people latch on to that. … I tend to work in the moment of being honest about what the universe brought my way, whether that’s a performance right here in the city, or playing on (Glasper’s) ‘Black Radio,’ or producing something millions of people are watching.”
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