Jazz instructor shares his music passion with students
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In a cluttered room on the third floor of the Fine Arts building, William Brian Hogg sits in his office recounting his trip last summer to France with several students.
“We did a lot of firsts,” Hogg said, assistant professor and director of the jazz studies program. “First time in history that an American university has performed in some of these places and by history I mean churches that were opened in the 1600s.”
Kurt Sander, chair of the music department, said he heard great feedback about the trip.
“It was the first time ever that jazz music has been performed in some of these places. I think it was a life-changing experience for a number of our students,” Sander said.
Despite the students’ enjoyment of this trip, Hogg and the music department are still debating how soon they will be planning another. They are looking for funding to make the experience more affordable for the students by grants.
More importantly, the recent announcement regarding the development of the School of the Arts will hold off long-term plans as well.
Sander said on July 1, the theatre, music and arts departments will be put into the School of the Arts. There are still meetings being held to determine what structure this will take.
“I want to give this new administration a chance to get their breath and when I see where they want to take the institution then I’ll set goals appropriately,” Hogg said.
Even though he came to be the director of the jazz studies program, Hogg came to jazz late. The first time he heard Coltrane he didn’t dig it, he said.
“I came to it because I fell in love with black music. The blues and funk and soul music and I don’t know why,” Hogg said. “It just always resonated with me.”
He started to get interested in jazz by listening to more commercial players like Grover Washington Jr. and then Branford Marsalis. He thought jazz was just for the brain, but eventually began to see it as a spiritual and cerebral experience.
He started playing saxophone after initially wanting to play drums as an adolescent. His brother had a saxophone and didn’t follow through with it for more than a year. His father wasn’t going to pay for another instrument for one of his sons to not play.
“So, he said you play saxophone. If you prove you stay with it then I’ll buy a drum set,” Hogg said.
He quickly decided he wanted to stick with the sax.
Hogg was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but moved just south of Nashville around the age of five when his dad remarried.
Hogg said he was the subject of five or six years of physical and sexual abuse. Back in those days you didn’t talk about those types of things, said Hogg. He can see how this contributed to decisions that he’s made throughout his life from relationships to careers.
“All this stuff is swimming around in a young kid’s mind and I didn’t have anywhere else to express myself, but on the instrument,” Hogg said.
By 18, he was playing steady gigs with a band called Crosstown Traffic (named after the Jimi Hendrix song) at clubs and juke joints around Nashville.
“Clinton [the lead singer] would start the second set. He would stand up there — tall African American gentlemen — and he would take a cowboy hat out and ask the crowd to stand for what he called the Negro national anthem — and that is him talking,” Hogg said. “Everyone would stand there in reverence and he’d put his hat on and they’d start to do ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and just absolutely kill it.”
Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University
Hogg moved to Cincinnati to study at the College- Conservatory of Music and get his Master’s degree. Hogg said he initially flunked out of the college his first time because they only offered a classical degree. However, he started back when they began offering a jazz degree and graduated in 2004.
It was during this time that he got the nickname “Boss Hogg” while introducing himself at a saxophone study.
“My name is Brian Hogg from Jackson, Mississippi . Please don’t call me Boss Hogg,” he said.
The name stuck.
When his father is around he is Boss Hogg Junior. It is not just a nickname, it is a persona he added. Only students call him that on campus.
During his last year at the College-Conservatory of Music, Hogg ended up getting a position at NKU as a lecturer. He joined the same year Kurt Sander originally became the chair of the music department.
“He was full of ideas, full of energy,” Sander said. “I recall him expressing a number of different thoughts even in our first meeting.”
Hogg said he helped to get the jazz degree started.
“In two years, we had 68 people out of 120 playing in jazz groups,” Hogg said.
After those first successful years here, Hogg left when he did not get the tenured track position for the director of jazz studies. The employee who got the job had to resign after the first year.
Hogg was playing in Morocco and France at this point and was hesitant to come back.
“He had already established a career there. I think he had to make a choice: does he continue to develop his performing career? Which at that point brought him to places like France and Morocco and other places in Europe. Does he leave all that and come back to teaching and his career here?” Sander said. “I think it was not an easy decision for him to make, but I’m certainly glad he made the decision to come back for our student’s benefit.”
Kayla Upthegrove, a freshman who was just accepted to the jazz studies program, met Hogg when she was auditioning to join NKU’s music department as classical saxophone her senior year in high school.
After talking with him, Upthegrove decided to join the jazz studies program. She saw that with a jazz studies degree, there were more job opportunities and money to be made.
Hogg is currently her lessons teacher. Upthegrove said he can be a really great hilarious guy, but can also be scary when he gets mad.
“It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing,” said Upthegrove. “If you don’t follow lessons and you’re not practicing he’ll get upset because he wants to see you succeed.”
Sander feels students probably understand Hogg better than some of the faculty members.
“He’s lived their experience,” Sander said. “He didn’t go through a traditional conservatory background as an undergraduate. I mean, he was playing in jazz clubs from a very young age.”
“I’ve never met someone like him before,” Sander said. “He’s passionate about what he does and he works extremely hard. It’s not unusual for him to teach all day from eight o’clock in the morning till five in the afternoon straight through and then go and play a three hour concert that night. That could be a normal day for him and then get back after his concert and work on curricular issues or grading papers. He’s someone that survives on three or four hours of sleep a night.”
After teaching 30 hours last semester and recovering from a heart attack, Hogg said he is looking forward to teaching a normal course load and working on his own music.
“You don’t play with your head. You play with your guts and your heart. You tell all those things you can’t tell people,” Hogg said.
He is currently working on a new project with John Zappa and the Voyager Sextet.
More information about that group can be found at johnzappa.com/voyager.sextet.html
Hogg is also working as the music director for an original recording project with Leroy Ellington.
More information about Hogg can be found at wbhogg.wix.com/hogg