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Laurence Hobgood on Piano Jazz

Pianist Laurence Hobgood was born in Salisbury, N.C., where his father headed the theater department at Catawba College. The family relocated several times during Hobgood's childhood, following his father's professional career. They ultimately landed in Dallas, Tex., where his father secured a job at Southern Methodist University.

Hobgood began playing piano at age six, when his father enrolled him in piano lessons with a teacher at the university. Though his lessons were classically based, Hobgood showed a knack for improvisation early on, playing his own versions of pieces by Bach and Chopin.

As a teenager, Hobgood had the opportunity to absorb the sounds of Texas. He spent three years playing Fender Rhodes with a country group called the Kingsmen, and got some exposure to the blues through his church.

The family left Texas when his father took a job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hobgood began studying jazz at Urbana High School, and after graduating he continued his music studies at the University of Illinois. Hobgood credits his classical teacher, Ian Hobson, with helping him to develop his technical chops, while John Garvey, the head of the University's Jazz Orchestra, was influential as a jazz teacher. In addition to his spot in the University's top band, Hobgood also put together his own trio.

In 1988, Hobgood relocated to Chicago, a natural move, just a few hours up the road from Urbana-Champaign. He began working with drummer Paul Wertico and bassist Eric Hochberg, forming what became the New Trio in 1992. Hobgood and Wertico went on to perform and release albums as the Union trio, with bassist Brian Torff.

Hobgood also joined a group led by sax player Ed Peterson that played regularly at the Green Mill. Peterson, it turns out, was also a friend of an up and coming vocalist named Kurt Elling. Hobgood and Elling became friends and collaborators. Elling's first demo featured Hobgood and the recording got the attention of Blue Note records. Since the release of Elling's first record, Close Your Eyes, Hobgood has been an important part of the singer's success, serving as arranger, co-producer and music director for Elling's group.

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