Pop goes the 'jazz great' dream

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By Lindsey Craig
Thursday, February 1, 2007
 
Don Wright Faculty of Music professor Jay Hodgson bristles against those who suggest pop music isn't a respectable genre for study.
 
When Jay Hodgson graduated from a world-renowned music school in Boston, his whole world fell apart.

His band broke up. The girl he loved had left the country. And playing the guitar - something he'd loved since the age of
eight - suddenly seemed unrewarding.

"It all unravelled fairly quickly," he said. "At that point, I thought I'd failed miserably."

Today, Hodgson is a professor with the Don Wright faculty of music at the University of Western Ontario. His days of uncertainty feel long ago.

The Toronto native has found his niche. He's immersed in academics. He's teaching what he loves - jazz, pop music and studio production. The girl he adored is now his wife and he's practising music in a way that's more fulfilling - from beyond the stage and within the studio.

But if you asked him when he was younger what he'd be when he grew up, "professor" wouldn't have been his answer.

"I was going to be a great jazz guitarist," he said nostalgically, and referred to his four years at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

It was there that Hodgson was the lead singer and guitarist in a band called the Hodgson Group, which played folk rock.

While performing with his band, he met the love of his life.

Nineteen-year-old Eva Gossler - now Eva Hodgson - was visiting from Germany and working as an au pair in the city. The two met at one of Hodgson's shows and became an item almost instantly. The romance ended, however, when Eva returned to Germany six months later.

Meanwhile, Hodgson began to realize that his love for music rested not so much in performing but in recording. His dream of becoming a "great jazz guitarist" started to change.

Upon graduation, he wasn't sure what to do. His band broke up and Eva was back in Europe. The only thing he could be certain of was that he felt at home in a recording studio.

Finally, in 2000, a year after he graduated, everything clicked. Hodgson tried his hand at production and mastering and proved he had talent beyond the stage. He also realized that he missed academics and wanted to return to school.

"At that point I was thinking, as much as I'd thought otherwise, I am that bourgeois that I didn't think I was. And all the things I thought I didn't want to do, I did want to do," he said.

But something else was essential to his new life plan - and he would have to go to Germany to get her.

"I wanted to settle down, to get married. And I thought, that's it, the first step is to get the girl," he said.

In the spring of 2000, Hodgson flew to Germany and proposed. He and Eva were married roughly one year later.

In 2002, he finished a graduate degree in music criticism at McMaster University and in 2004 he began his PhD at the University of Alberta.

With a strong interest in popular music, Hodgson said he often fought against criticism from those who claimed it wasn't progressive enough a genre to be respected. His adviser, Henry Klumpenhouwer, however, encouraged Hodgson's passion.

"He said, 'Follow your bliss,' and once I did that, things just sort of fell into place. I thought, 'I can do this.' And I began to relax," said Hodgson, who specialized in popular music and music technology.

He completed his PhD in the spring of 2006, and began at Western this past summer.

Now with the girl, money in his pocket and the chance to teach and practise what he loves, Hodgson seems to have mastered a perfect harmony.

"That's the thing about a practical education in music," he said. "You get to have a practical life in music, too."

Jay Hodgson
Age: 30
Faculty: Don Wright faculty of music

Education: MA, McMaster University, 2002; PhD, University of Alberta, 2006

Hometown: Toronto

Memorable childhood moment: When he was five, his dad gave him his first album, The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. "I remember listening to Strawberry Fields, and that was a really important moment for me. The sound was very odd, but I was intrigued."
Musical influences: Jazz legend Miles Davis, producer and composer Brian Eno, Beatles' producers George Martin, Steve Reigh

Most often listens to: Ambient recordings including Steve Wright.

Best subject in high school: English.

Worst subject in high school: Science. "I remember my science teacher once told my father that he only teaches 'the cream of the crop' and I am certainly not that," he said.

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