Jay Hoggard, the 28-year-old vibraphonist widely regarded as his generation's master of the mallets, has deep Washington roots. He was born at the old Freeman's Hospital in 1954 and lived here for five years before his family moved to Mount Vernon, N.Y. "I have kin down there and I still have kindergarten pictures from John Burrows Elementary school," Hoggard says warmly by telephone. "And people tell me the way I speak sounds like I'm from Washington, though I've spent the bulk of my life in New York." Hoggard performs at Blues Alley tomorrow with a quintet of top young musicians from New York.
It was another Washingtonian, Duke Ellington, who made a dynamic impression on the 12-year-old Hoggard. Hoggard's father is a bishop in the A.M.E. Zion Church, and it was at Mother Zion Church in Harlem that he met the Duke during the premiere of Ellington's "Second Sacred Concert." "It was an awesome feeling to be around him," Hoggard recalls. "He seemed at least nine feet tall. I was aware of who he was--my parents had his records lying around--but seeing him and all the cats in the band, I was really affected by my first exposure to that kind of music in that kind of environment."
After starting on piano and saxophone, Hoggard switched at 16 to vibraphone; in college, he majored in ethnomusicology and eventually joined New York's swelling stream of vanguard musicians. Although he has made several acclaimed experimental albums, Hoggard has surprised some people with his occasional excursions into the greener pop pastures (his latest album, "Love Survives," is admittedly a calculated play for the Grover Washington crowd). "All the musicians dig it," Hoggard laughs. "It's the critics who are paranoid. For performers the splits between schools of music just aren't there anymore."