Art and Craft: Polyrhythms Presents the Art Hoyle Quintet on Sunday, January 18 Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Friday, 09 January 2009 17:43

arthoyle.jpgBorn in Mississippi, veteran jazz trumpeter Art Hoyle was raised in Oklahoma in the early 1930s, and says that jazz "was just an inevitable part of the black community when I was growing up. You heard it everywhere - jazz and blues, and gospel music, of course. It was just part of everyday living."

It became a much bigger part for Hoyle, though, on his eighth birthday, when the young man received his first trumpet - a gift he'd long been longing for. "I was overjoyed," says Hoyle, recalling that before he turned eight, "My mother took graduate courses at Lexington University in Oklahoma in order to qualify to teach in that state, and I picked up a trumpet in the band room one day and played some notes.

"Everyone was astounded at what I could do," he says with a laugh, "and I enjoyed the attention, so I decided I wanted to play the trumpet."

Seven decades later, Hoyle continues to enjoy attention for his talents as a trumpet player, and audiences continue to be astounded. Headlining the River Music Experience's monthly Third Sunday Jazz Matinée & Workshop Series on January 18, Hoyle and his Gary, Indiana-based ensemble - The Art Hoyle Quintet - will present a 3 p.m. children's workshop and 6 p.m. concert; the Davenport venue marks Hoyle's next stop in a lifelong tour that has included treks to Europe and North Africa, engagements in New York, Hollywood, and Las Vegas, employment with CBS, and gigs opposite some of the world's most famous jazz artists.

During our recent phone interview, Hoyle admits that he doesn't recollect what, beyond the attention, first attracted him to the trumpet. "I don't know where that came from," he says. "My mother's brothers played coronet, but I didn't know about that 'til much later."

Yet after his family moved to Gary in 1942, Hoyle became convinced that he could earn his living as a musician; having been taught to read music by his mother, he was, at the age of 15, already playing the trumpet for area clubs and ballrooms. "It was during World War II," Hoyle says, "and most of the musicians had gone off to war. So those of us who could read music were able to play.

"And by the time I was a senior in high school," he continues, "oh goodness, I was playing a lot. Both in Gary and east Chicago. I was playing for dances and going from one engagement to another ... . I was playing one weekly engagement that went from 1 o'clock in the morning to 5. On Sunday mornings." He laughs. "And then I'd come home and sleep after I got off the job."

Hoyle joined the Air Force in 1951, and traveled with military bands through 1955. "It was great," he says of the experience. "I did band school and basic training in upstate New York, then from there I went to Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base in Ohio], then I was sent to San Antonio - Kelly Air Force Base - and then I went to Warner Robins, Georgia, where I finished my last 18 months. We covered five states in the Warner Robins band. We played peanut festivals, peach festivals ... . Everything imaginable."

It was during Hoyle's Air Force years that he became friends with famed jazz pianist John Gilmore, who would initiate the next leg of the trumpeter's professional career - a position with the estimable Sun Ra Arkestra (its leader's deliberate misspelling of "orchestra").

"We had played together in San Antonio when we were in the service," says Hoyle of Gilmore, "just to make some extra money. He got out [of the Air Force] earlier than I did and joined Sun Ra in Chicago, and when I got out of the service, I called to let John know. He recommended me to Sun Ra, I went in and auditioned, and got the job.

"He was an interesting person, no doubt about it," laughs Hoyle at the mention of Sun Ra. "Born on Saturn ... !"

The legendary jazz composer and pianist Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) did indeed claim to be from the "Angel Race" of the planet Saturn, and was famous for his controversial, genre-defying compositions. "His writing was outstanding," says Hoyle. "It didn't take into consideration the characteristics of the instruments. He just put in the notes that he wanted to put in."

Hoyle laughs and adds, "So the songs would be jumping all over the place. We had rehearsals every day, five days a week, and it took that to play that music. But he was a fine, very knowledgeable man, into all kinds of mysticisms and all kinds of religions. And an excellent pianist, too."

Based in Chicago in the 1950s, the Sun Ra Arkestra routinely performed a double-bill with The Compass Players, the improvisational comedy troupe that would eventually morph into The Second City. "It was Elaine May and Mike Nichols and all that gang," says Hoyle. "They would do 40 minutes and we would do 40 minutes at a club way north on Broadway in Chicago."

After spending 1956 playing trumpet with Sun Ra, Hoyle and two fellow "arkestra" musicians - jazz bassist Richard Evans, currently teaching at Boston's Berklee College of Music, and jazz trombonist Julian Priester, currently teaching at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts - left Chicago in 1957 to join another legendary ensemble, as new members of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.

Art HoyleA trumpeter with the group from 1957 to 1960, Hoyle toured the United States, Africa, and Europe, and remembers his years with bandleader Hampton as "an outstanding experience. The European experience was mind-blowing. We were there for 16 weeks, Europe and North Africa. But some of the American venues we played ... . Like, we worked two weeks in the Waldorf-Astoria, we played for Winthrop Rockefeller's birthday on the Rockefeller estate, we did clubs in Hollywood and Las Vegas - 16 weeks at the Riviera in Las Vegas when the Riviera was brand-new ... . It was really outstanding."

It was also, however, "a hard job, and the money wasn't anything to write home about," says Hoyle with a laugh, "so I left for more money."

Hoyle returned to Gary in 1961 but worked - as he does now - mostly in Chicago; he began performing for Red Saunders at Chicago's Regal Theatre and, thanks to his acquaintance with fellow jazz trumpeter John Howell, soon found employment as a studio musician.

"He was one of the first colored lead-trumpet players in Chicago," says Hoyle of Howell, "and he got me in the studios. He said, ‘You're coming downtown with me, you dig?' And I started playing jingles for radio and television, and doing work for movie scores." (Hoyle's credits would go on to include the '70s films Superfly, Claudine, and the Sidney Poitier-directed A Piece of the Action.)

However, it was Saunders who was instrumental in Hoyle's employment with the CBS Staff Orchestra in Chicago, for which Hoyle played trumpet from 1962 to 1964. "Red Saunders was assisting the president of the Chicago musicians' union," Hoyle says. "He was asked to recommend some guys to go on staff at CBS, and I was one of the three people he recommended."

The musician, though, came aboard just as television studios were phasing out the use of live orchestras for their programming. "I was at CBS for two years before they stopped having an orchestra at all," says Hoyle, "because there was so little work for us to do. I think the last year I was there we came in one time, the whole year. There were guys, string players, who lived in Florida, and we were working so little that they would just fly in whenever they were needed. There was that little work."

And Hoyle admits to being relieved when his CBS tenure, and its contract stipulations, ended. "It cost me money to take that job because it was a frozen job - we couldn't play anywhere in the area except for recording sessions. That was the only thing we could do in the Chicago area; we could only play at CBS. So it wasn't a big thing when that job failed. I just went back to doing what I was doing - studio work and jingles, and playing in theatres and hotels and ballrooms and opera houses and things like that."

His 1964 release from CBS also allowed Hoyle the time to form the Art Hoyle Quintet, which the musician says was "put together in order to try to keep jazz alive in Gary. So on my off nights from work, our band would play different clubs in town."

And while his ensemble's current lineup boasts four noted Midwestern jazz musicians - Eric Schneider, Dan Shapera, Robert Shye, and Brad Williams - the Art Hoyle Quintet, says its bandleader, employed gifted artists from the start.

"Willie Pickens was in the band, and Bunky Green - Bunky's now the head of the jazz department at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and he was president of the International Association for Jazz Education, so he's gone on to great things. And Muhal Richard Adams was in my band for a while. You know, I've had the greatest guys in the world in the band through all these years."

He's also worked alongside some of the world's most famed talents through the years - including Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, and Quincy Jones - and hopes, during his River Music Experience engagement, to share some of his (and their) passion for jazz with a new generation.

"Children get very little exposure to it," says Hoyle, "because there's so little on the radio and television ever since rock and roll took over. But I'll give them a little jazz history, and then tell them about approaching music and what it takes to play music, and see where their level of understanding is, and try to adjust accordingly.

"They like it once they get there," he says with a laugh. "And I've loved every minute of it."


For more information on the Third Sunday Jazz event with The Art Hoyle Quintet, January 18 at the River Music Experience, visit


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