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Not everyone looks at the credits at the end of the Grammys or the Academy Awards. And most Colorado football fans are too hopped up on craft beer to notice who’s directing the music before the Super Bowl starts. But Centennial Staters who do pay attention to the fine print might have noticed a name that appeared at all three of those events in 2022: Derrick Hodge. Forty-two-year-old Hodge isn’t a household name in Colorado yet, but the Denver-based bassist and orchestra conductor has a gig this month that would be a career highlight for most musicians: co-conducting at the legendary Hollywood Bowl, a 100-year-old live music venue in Los Angeles.
Hodge may have been destined for the opportunity to lead the Bowl’s Juneteenth Celebration since he was a child. Raised in New Jersey, Hodge would accompany his mother to church, where she was in the choir. From the pews, Hodge got a VIP view of a bassist named Joel Ruffin, who often played during the services. “I wanted to be just like Joel through my whole childhood,” Hodge says. “The bass was too big for my body, so I started on guitar.”
Hodge would grow into the bass, though. He began studying music in 1997 at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he connected with rising local R&B artists such as Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, and Floetry. He often recorded with them, and in 1999, he began making his own music. He understudied for composer and Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard, contributing to the director’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, and joined electro-jazz ensemble the Robert Glasper Experiment as its bassist. In 2013, the group’s Black Radio won the Grammy for Best R&B Album. “As a bassist, he can glide effortlessly from R&B to jazz to rock ’n’ roll,” says Don Was, president of Blue Note Records, Hodge’s label. “He can compose and conduct for a symphony orchestra and lead and compose for his own genre-defying, groundbreaking band.”
In 2015, Hodge moved to the Denver area and received an unexpected education in the mile-high jazz scene. The Five Points neighborhood, he learned, had once been called the Harlem of the West and hosted legendary performers such as Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington at the Rossonian Hotel. “I love the energy in Denver,” he says. “The creative force, the juices, the inspiration, the history.” Hodge wants to add to that tradition. His latest solo album, Color of Noize, came out in 2020 and, like its creator, deftly combines jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. Hodge hopes to build on the sound through events such as a festival, party, or fashion show in Denver.
This month, however, he’s focused on making history. The Juneteenth Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl will be headlined by the Re-Collective Orchestra (which performs the work of neglected Black composers), the Roots, and the Robert Glasper Experiment (he’ll play the bass for the band). It marks the first time an all-Black orchestra will play the Bowl—yet Hodge knows he’s building on the legacy of Black performers who came before him. “We are sitting,” he says, “on the hope and the dream of others.”
More Juneteenth Celebrations
Denver has been hosting a Juneteenth party for seven decades. This year’s Juneteenth Music Festival will add to familiar favorites, such as the parade along 26th Avenue, with these new attractions to celebrate Black culture. —Spencer Campbell
On June 19, Juneteenth Music Festival (JMF) is partnering with Vibes in the Park, which organizes get-togethers in City Park on summer Sundays that serve as safe spaces for Black people to hang out. The festival’s Vibes on 29th will feature live DJs performing on a stage erected on 29th Street.
Denver Fire Department youth boxing matches
On June 18, Denver firefighters will hold bouts between amateurs ages eight to 18.
The Street Festival
The headliners for this year’s two-day performance lineup are rappers Dave East (June 18) and Twista (June 19).
Juneteenth Eats at Chēba Hut
Through June 19, Colorado-based Chēba Huts is offering a beer-and-shot special, $2 of which will benefit JMF. On June 16, a portion of the sandwich maker’s total sales will go to the nonprofit.