After working as a bassist,
for some of the biggest artists
in hip-hop and R&B,
merges his many talents for an
album of his own.
WHEN DERRICK HODGE SET OUT TO MAKE A NAME FOR HIMSELF AS A MUSICIAN
in Philadelphia, he knew that he never wanted to limit his scope to mastering just one thing. Rather than
focus solely on electric bass, Hodge also picked up upright and keyboard bass at a young age. Instead
of developing a repertoire based around his ample gospel chops, he studied jazz and classical composition
while playing lots of R&B and hip-hop. And instead of limiting himself to being a gigging musician,
he quickly established himself as a producer, composer, scorer, and session ace. In fact, Hodge’s
penchant for variety and his unbending drive to succeed have been the keys to his success since day one.
A true student of the bass and the players before him, Hodge cut his teeth playing in the West
Philadelphia church scene in elementary school and then joined his high school orchestra, where he began
playing upright. At Temple University, where he focused on jazz composition and performance, he had the rare
opportunity to learn from John Clayton, Christian McBride, and Victor Wooten through honors programs. Once
he graduated, it didn’t take long for Hodge to begin working with artists such as Common, Q-Tip, Kanye West,
Timbaland, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, and Mos Def, as well as scoring movies and documentaries,
including Spike Lee’s 2006 film When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.
But despite all of his success, Hodge had one
project that he had been waiting his whole life to
complete, which he recently accomplished by releasing
his first solo album, Live Today. As expected,
Hodge brings his deep knowledge of jazz, gospel,
hip-hop, and R&B to life in a personal fashion that
makes the listener feel as if they’re experiencing
an aural autobiography of his life in music. Beautiful
compositions like “Message of Hope” and
“Solitude” contrast head-nodding grooves such
as the title track (featuring Common) and “Gritty
Folk.” Showcasing his electric, upright, and synth
prowess with every track, while also assuming the
role of producer and composer, Hodge proves that
there’s truly no task too big for him.
What was the inspiration behind Live Today?
This album is a product of the decision that I
made to not wait for the perfect day, for the stars
to align, or for a sign to fall from the sky; it was all
about doing this now. People have been following
me through my whole career, so I wanted to give
them something very honest from me that’s raw
and exposed in its core. After that decision, things
just worked out as if life were testing me and pushing
me to see if I really wanted to do this.
What were your goals for your tone on
I wanted to use the same signal path that I always
do. I can tend to be a “gear slut” in the studio, but
I wanted this to mimic how people would experience
listening to me alone in my practice room
playing. I had my Aguilar amp in there and I went
through good DIs and a Neve board and played my
CallowHill bass. I always make sure that things are
tracked really well through the initial signal path
so that there is less work and more possibilities in
the mixing stages.
Did you orchestrate the album around
It’s more of a concept album for me in an
artistic-statement kind of way that isn’t limited
to the instrument that I play. Some songs feature
bass, and others don’t. More than anything, I wanted
people to catch a little of my spirit as a producer,
composer, and player. You don’t have to focus on
bass at all to do that.
What techniques did you use?
This record was tracked over a long period. Some
sessions came after long practice sessions where
I probably played a little livelier, playing the full
range of the instrument. On a song like “Night
Vision,” I tried to highlight the bass by putting
a little tapping and slapping on it; I just moved
through a lot of variations where I dug in toward
the bridge. On “Solitude,” I played my fretless and
raised the action so it made me really dig in. That
lends the feeling of really having to fight to get
each note across.
Does your role as a producer influence how
you approach bass?
Absolutely. At its core this album is not overproduced.
I didn’t want to over-polish or over-hype
anything just to make people nod their heads. So
that’s kind of a producer’s mentality that I took
into it. For each song, I wanted to put myself
into a position to just let it go and see what happened
naturally. To do that, I brought on other
musicians who had the producer mentality, like
Robert Glasper, James Poyser, Keyon Harrold,
Mark Colenburg; the list goes on. They’re all
producers in their own rights, and they all have
respect for song form.
When did you first begin playing bass?
I was seven years old when I started playing
guitar, because the bass was too big for me. I always
wanted to play bass from day one, though. I wanted
to play ever since I started watching the bass players
at my church. So I started playing electric bass in
my elementary school orchestra. Really, I’m a product
of the school system. I started playing upright
in middle school because they could actually afford
to buy one. I played it—self-taught—through high
school, but when I got to college, I had to relearn
it from scratch. The upright is no joke! It was kind
of a rebirth when I got into college. I’ve been playing
synth bass since I was a teenager because so
many people around me did multiple things in
music, so I always had the mentality that I had to
do multiple things.
How does your playing differ from electric
When it comes to performance and creativity,
I try to not approach either one with any preconceived
notions. I go into every situation with
an open palette and I let the song dictate itself.
Sometimes I play the electric like an acoustic,
and sometimes I play the acoustic like an electric.
That gives a cool James Jamerson feel. The
only time I really separate those instruments at
their core is when I’m practicing. In the practice
room, I dig down and study the history of
each instrument and really pay respect to each
instrument as is.
What is your ideal bass tone?
Generally speaking, there was a time when I
focused on that a little more, but now I like amps
that don’t give me the option to manipulate my
tone as much. That’s what I like about the Aguilar
heads that I’m using; it’s like an old SVT that
offers pretty much just bass, treble, and highs to
adjust. I actually don’t like too much high end on
my tone; I keep that part turned down quite a bit,
and if I want that extra bite I use my fingers to
make it cut really nice. I like relying on the attack
on the strings for my high end. The only thing I
change is the pickup switches on my bass—I’ll literally
be changing that throughout a whole song
to dial it in.
How do you approach scoring a film such as
Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke?
It depends on what it is I’m writing for and the
expectation of the director. If they give me free
rein to compose as I feel, then I walk into it with
an open mind. I read the script and then I look at
the footage, and I rely on what everything is telling
me and what my senses are telling me about the
spirit of what the project is. I look at how people
are talking; I watch their cadence and breath and
see if somebody leaves space when they read a
line, and I know I can fill it more with melodic
phrases. If somebody talks faster or has a long
train of thoughts, then I’ll write something lusher
that stays out of their way. I immerse myself into
the project and write whatever the film calls for.
You’ve had some amazing mentors throughout
your musical upbringing.
I’ve studied a lot of bass players from afar, but I
did get the luxury of studying personally with some
amazing bass players in my middle years. A few
guys I have to mention are Vince Fay, who was my
professor at Temple University; he let me get away
with everything, and he encouraged me to become
a sponge while I was in college. From there I went
on to learning from Christian McBride and Victor
Wooten, and they taught me so much that changed
my playing forever. And I have to mention the great
John Clayton. He took me under his wing and is one
of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had. He’s truly a
master of his instrument. I also got to study with
Ron Carter, which was a huge honor. My best friend
Thaddaeus Tribbett influenced me greatly, too.
How have you evolved as a player?
At this point I’m more a product of my experience.
I’ve started becoming surprised listening back
to things I’ve done, hearing my influences come out
in my playing. You can listen to how my experiences
have formed my playing on any given song. In terms
of actual approach, that hasn’t changed much in the
last ten years. I got rid of some naiveté, but still I
hold on to some of it. But I try to go into every
new musical experience with an open palette. Like
Common said on “Be,” “I’m never looking back, or
too far in front of me. The present is a gift, and I
just want to be.”
[Blue Note, 2013]
Basses CallowHill 6-string custom,
CallowHill MDM5, Fender Jazz Bass,
Status Electro-4 Fretless, Czech
plywood upright bass
Aguilar DB 751,
Aguilar GS 410,
Aguilar DB 410
Effects Aguilar Tone Hammer, Aguilar
Strings Sadowsky Roundwound Nickel