Devin Hoff (bassist, composer, arranger) grew up in a musical family in Colorado, exposed from a young age to rock, jazz, country, and eventually metal and punk. He began studying the bass in his early teens, and soon fell in love with the upright bass, waking up in pre-dawn darkness to practice before going to school. In high school he was fortunate to study with renowned bassists John Patitucci and Edgar Meyer, as well as play with internationally recognized local musicians such as Hugh Ragin and Ron Miles. While balancing classical bass studies, jazz gigs and playing in high school metal and punk bands, he developed an appreciation for a wide range of musical processes and environments.
Foregoing college, he moved to San Francisco in 1994 to be a part of the city’s then thriving punk scene. A few years later, after many gigs, countless drummers—and stories no one would ever believe—Hoff decided to refocus his energies on the jazz world. Relocating over the bridge to Oakland, he discovered that several older and revered jazz musicians had settled in the East Bay after they had quit the road. This meant direct oral tradition connections to many heroes of that musical style, from Dinah Washington, Charlie Mingus, Duke, and Bird, to Ornette and the AACM! He found himself immersed in a multi-generational community of dedicated people keeping jazz alive and vibrant. These were his University years after all, playing with great musicians such as John Handy, Faye Carol, Hal Stein, William Stewart, E.W. Wainright, Idris Ackamoore, and also younger players such as Vijay Iyer, Liberty Ellman, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Kito Gamble.
In 1999 Hoff and drummer/co-writer Ches Smith (the two met on a Bay Area jazz gig) formed the influential punk/jazz duo Good For Cows. Their band has released 5 records to date and toured extensively for over a decade, sharing stages with Deerhoof, the Nels Cline Singers, Xiu Xiu, Seven Year Rabbit Cycle, Hella, Dos, Gorge Trio and others. In 2000 he was asked to join the original line-up of the Nels Cline Singers, making several records with the Singers and touring throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. He also began touring and recording around this time with avant-punk hero Carla Bozulich, including playing on her groundbreaking remake of Red Headed Stranger (featuring Willie Nelson himself). Along the way he started recording (and eventually co-writing and touring) with avant-goth band Xiu Xiu, and also managed to make a record and do several gigs with his own chamber-punk group, Redressers, which featured Smith, Carla Kihlstedt and Marika Hughes. In 2008 he put out his first official solo record, aptly titled Solo Bass, a self-release which quickly paid for itself through relentless touring and good reviews; multiple tracks from that album have been licensed for several films.
Hoff relocated from Oakland to Chicago in 2009, and soon found himself in the city’s thriving creative music scene. He played in bands with Ken Vandermark, Jeff Parker, Jason Adieschewitz and others there, and honed his visceral and folk-based approach to improvised music. During this period he gave his notice with the Nels Cline Singers in order to focus on other musical projects. Hoff joined Nels a few years later for the recording of the ambitious double-record Lovers (Blue Note), on which he played all of the bass tracks.
Before moving from Chicago, Hoff made several recordings of the compositions and improvising approaches he developed while in that city, both as a bandleader and as a side-person, and put out his second official solo release, the folk-inflected Baile as Baile.
More recently, Hoff has been traveling between Los Angeles and New York, exploring song form and collaborating with creative songwriters Julia Holter, Tara Jane ONeil, Indigo Street, and Cibo Matto. He has recorded and toured with all of these artists, and most extensively with Holter, with whom he has played hundreds of shows on 5 continents, including several major festivals. He is the solo bassist on Holter’s last three full-lengths and related singles; her fourth full-length, Have You In My Wilderness, prominently featured his double bass playing and was designated as a top album of the year by several international publications, including Mojo, Uncut, and Pitchfork.
Hoff has continued his relationship with Nels Cline, recording on the aforementioned Lovers record and performing at choice festivals and venues throughout the U.S. and Europe. In addition, he has performed and recorded on Yuka Honda’s visionary Revert to Sea project, which features Nels and his brother, drummer Alex Cline, and harpist Zeena Parkins (Björk). Hoff plays both electric bass and guitar on two new EPs by Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori. He has separate records due out in late 2017 that are collaborations with two punk rock bass legends: Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) with their bass-heavy improvising power trio The Emma Goldman Bust Out Brigade; and Hoff’s electric and upright duo Awkward with Kira Roessler (Black Flag, Dos).
On the Solo Bass front (which Hoff considers a ‘band’ with its own aesthetic and repertoire), he has recorded two new records: Persephone—recorded at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn and produced by punk/folk legend Tara Jane ONeil—and Sigils—recorded at Kingsize in Los Angeles by Theo Karon, and making use of that studio’s generous acoustics and large organic plate reverbs.
On both of these records, as on his Solo Bass live shows, Hoff continues to explore the sympathetic resonances of the music and ideals that have shaped his life, with the aim of transcending the physically demanding instrument through facing its challenges and possibilities head-on. Grounded in deep folk traditions while at the same time inspired by the explorations of the free-jazz avant-garde, he steers the bass through alternating melodic, doom, and soundscape territories, exploring form as an organic outgrowth of the improvised and composed materials at hand. Ultimately, the works—recorded and performed—aim at transcendence through intense focus on the earthy particulars of flesh, wood and steel.
Hoff has appeared on hundreds of releases as a bassist and guitarist. He has composed and arranged for stage, dance and screen, including the short film Look at the Sun (Wholphin Films), and Anna Deveare Smith’s one-woman play Let Me Down Easy (co-composed with jazz great Joshua Redman). He has collaborated with cutting-edge choreographers Jmy James Kidd, Leyya Tawil, and others. He was a prominent player on the Julia Holter scored feature film Bleed For This, and performs on screen in Steven Okazaki’s documentary Approximately Nels Cline. As an educator, he has been guest lecturer and performer at several conservatories and universities, including Conservatorio Manuel de Falla (Buenos Aries), California Jazz Conservatory/The Jazzschool (Berkeley, CA), California Institute of the Arts, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Northern Colorado, and others. He continues to teach privately to advanced bass students around the world. His writing about music has been featured in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Bass Player Magazine, for which he was both a features writer and a guest columnist.
He currently lives and works between Los Angeles and New York.