The year 2005 marked Ray Hoffman’s 30th anniversary in commercial radio, as well as the 10th year of his BusinessWeek-ABC Radio reports. Truth to tell, though, Ray’s other career reaches back considerably further. His involvement in music –which is centered on lyric writing and singing-- stems from a lifelong love for jazz, classic film music, and the American Popular Song. Offering the opinion that “the last thing the world needs is another mediocre saxophone player,” Ray was content to be an attentive listener until being drafted (in the early ‘90s) into writing parody lyrics for the annual show by the New York Financial Writers, the Financial Follies. The experience was so successful that it led right back to jazz, “the standards,” and lyric writing as a sideline.
Within a few years Ray’s lyrics began appearing on commercial recordings, with so far three of them having been recorded by the jazz vocalist Marlene VerPlanck: “Dance With Me, Outside” and “Love Looks Good on You” with music by the renowned Pete Rugolo…and “Sing Me To Sleep” with music by Marlene’s husband, Billy VerPlanck. Ray also wrote the first English-language lyrics to three of the most classic themes in Italian cinema (from the films La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s Amarcord, and Marriage, Italian Style), which were recorded by singer Anita Gravine. That CD, "Lights, Camera, Passion...Jazz and the Italian Cinema" (on Soulnote Records) was chosen by The Boston Globe as one of the top ten jazz recordings of 1999. And there are other, thus far unrecorded, lyrics…to songs by such noted composer-arrangers as Bill Holman, Spud Murphy, Eddie Sauter, Al Cohn, Pete Rugolo, and Ray's frequent collaborator Greg Sauter (son of Eddie).
The lyric writing, in turn, led back to singing. A 1998 “demo” recording of four songs written with Pete Rugolo went so well that Ray, Pete, and the legendary West Coast saxophonist Bill Perkins –whose solos with Stan Kenton from the ‘50s were the models that Ray had tried to copy as a young would-be tenor player— decided to expand the demo into a full-blown recording. Over the next couple of years, Ray’s vacations in California became recording session trips. The core band (Bill Perkins, Larry Koonse, Joe LaBarbera, and Tom Warrington) was augmented at various times by such prominent players as pianist Lou Levy (longtime accompanist to Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald), pianist and cellist Fred Katz (of the classic Chico Hamilton Quintet), and trumpeters Buddy Childers and Marc Lewis.
And now, work has begun on a second CD. The initial session involved a ten-piece band featuring alto saxophonist Gary Foster as well as Larry Koonse, Tom Warrington, and pianists Milcho Leviev and Rich Eames.
In the spirit of the Leonard Feather Encyclopedia of Jazz that he spent hours pouring over as a young boy in Pittsburgh, Ray’s biggest influences and biggest heroes are the great arrangers of jazz…in particular Bill Holman, Bill Finegan, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre, Billy May, Sy Oliver and Pete Rugolo …plus the great film composers David Raksin and Hugo Friedhofer, and the Welsh-born symphonist Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Owing to the early hours of the regular job –the first BusinessWeek report airs on the ABC Networks at 5:24 AM—Ray has performed only infrequently in the last several years, and “infrequently” could be considered an understatement! But keep an eye on rayhoffman.com for further developments.