“Eric Hofbauer has become a significant force in Boston’s improvised-music scene,” declares Stereophile’s David R. Adler. “His aesthetic evokes old blues, Americana, Tin Pan Alley, bebop, and further frontiers. There’s a rule-breaking spirit but also an impeccable rigor, a foundation of sheer chops and knowledge, that put Hofbauer in the top tier of guitarists,” he writes.
Hofbauer has been an integral member of Boston’s jazz scene as a musician, bandleader, organizer and educator for the past twenty five years. He has performed and recorded alongside such notable collaborators as Han Bennink, Roy Campbell, Jr., John Tchicai, Garrison Fewell, Cecil McBee, George Garzone, Sean Jones, John Fedchock, Steve Swell and Matt Wilson.
Hofbauer, recognized in the 2019 and 2017 DownBeat Critics’ Poll for Rising Star – Guitar, is perhaps best known for his solo guitar work featured in a trilogy of solo guitar recordings (American Vanity, American Fear, and American Grace). Of the trilogy, Andrew Gilbert of The Boston Globe writes, “No other guitarist in jazz has developed a solo approach as rigorous, evocative, and thoughtful as Hofbauer. His 2016 solo release Ghost Frets was described by Chris Haines of The Free Jazz Collective “as a real testament to Hofbauer’s musical style and vision…The playing is virtuosic throughout providing a real master class in creative solo performance.”
The latest large-scale endeavor by Hofbauer is a five part series of original suites, each named after one of the elements (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth) featured in the Chinese philosophical construct known as Wu Xing. The first release, 2019’s Book of Water, is a classic jazz-sextet lineup which Jerome Wilson of All About Jazz describes as “a thrilling ride that rolls, swirls and crashes like an elemental force. The horn players are exuberant, the rhythm section is buoyant and Hofbauer, whether carving out single notes like Derek Bailey or tossing off busy runs like Joe Morris, threads the music together. There is delicacy and power in equal measure on this excellent release, one of the best of the year so far.” The second release in the series, 2020’s Book of Fire, was conceived in a duo format with Anthony Leva on upright bass. The duo’s acoustic performance is augmented by the addition of electronic instrumentation (MPC1000 drum machine and turntables) and the intertwined recordings of literary giant James Baldwin. The result is an intense amalgam of consonance and texture; tradition and innovation. Burning Ambulance’s Todd Manning describes the project in this way, “the virtuosity displayed by Eric Hofbauer is staggering at times, but his acumen as a composer is even more impressive. Despite the varied influences and elements at play, Book of Fire is both remarkably coherent yet sonically unpredictable.”
Hofbauer has earned critical acclaim for his work in a variety of musical projects, including recordings with the Garrison Fewell’s Variable Density Orchestra, The Pablo Ablanedo Octet(o), Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club, and The Blueprint Project with Han Bennink among others. Hofbauer’s three recent collaborative projects, The Hofbauer/Dylan Jack Duo (guitar and drums duet performing a distinctive genre-crossing repertoire of covers), Pocket Aces (a “consciously compositional” improvising trio) and the Hofbauer/Rosenthal Quartet (a modern post-bop outfit focused on original composition) had debut releases in 2018/19.
For the past seven years, his primary ensemble has been the Eric Hofbauer Quintet. The EHQ performs Hofbauer’s jazz arrangements of groundbreaking 20th century pieces which he describes as “prehistoric jazz.” These arrangements celebrate the common ground between modern jazz and the works of Stravinsky, Messiaen, Ellington, and Ives by using the shared rhythmic and harmonic concepts of the 20th century modernists as a bridge to postmodern jazz improvisation. In November of 2014 the EHQ recordings Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1 (The Rite of Spring) and Volume 2 (Quartet for The End of Time) were featured on NPR’s Fresh Air by noted jazz writer Kevin Whitehead. The 2016 release Prehistoric Jazz Volume 3 (Three Places in New England) and the 2017 release Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4 (Reminiscing in Tempo) were consecutively on The Boston Globe’s Top 10 Jazz Albums of the Year lists, as well as receiving critical acclaim from Downbeat, The Wire, Tone Audio, and other press.
Hofbauer received a Master’s degree from New England Conservatory and a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory. Hofbauer is the chair of the Jazz and Contemporary Music Dept. at Longy School of Music of Bard College where he teaches jazz theory, chamber ensembles, solo repertoire class, guitar lessons and other JCM courses. For over 20 years he has taught jazz history at Emerson College. Hofbauer has also been visiting professor at Wellesley College, and faculty at Clark University and the University of Rhode Island. In 2009, he was honored with the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Music Composition.