There are jazz legends and then there are the “underground of the jazz renowned” – those who, although not as well known to the general public, are hailed by critics, revered by their legendary peers, influential upon younger players and sought after by collectors and cognoscenti. Hod O'Brien is one of these.
Hod O’Brien is one of these quiet-and-true jazz giants. He burst upon the scene in the late 50s when he came to New York City from his hometown in the Berkshire Mountains of Northwest Connecticut near Lenox, Mass. and Tanglewood. He soon became part of the “loft scene” jamming with other bop-influenced players like Pepper Adams, Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford and Stan Getz, to name a few. At the age of 21, he was hired to record with Art Farmer, Donald Byrd and Idrees Sulieman on a record which has become a classic, “Three Trumpets” (now retitled “Trumpets All Out” on the Prestige label). He became an active part of the NY scene playing at such historical clubs as Birdland, the Continental, the Cork and Bib, the Black Pearl and Small’s Paradise.
While still 21, O’Brien was asked by Red Rodney to take Bill Evans’ place in the Oscar Pettiford Quintet. The group alternated sets with Thelonious Monk at the famous Five Spot, among other appearances. After this stint with Pettiford, O’Brien joined up with tenor saxophonist J.R. Monterose in a band which included Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware. O’Brien took a hiatus from the jazz scene from 1963-73 when he returned to Columbia University to study mathematics. While there, he studied composition with Charles Wourinen and was part of Columbia’s contemporary music scene. He later worked in statistical research in the field of psychology but made his way back to jazz in the mid-70s with the opening of his own club, The St. James Infirmary, where he led a house band with Cameron Brown and Beaver Harris and backed up such guest artists as Chet Baker, Roswell Rudd, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Charlie Rouse and others. He followed this with an 5-year, 5-night/week engagement at Gregory’s (one of the few upper East side jazz clubs in NY at the time and famous worldwide) with guitarist Joe Puma, bassist Frank Luther, and various other players including Sonny Greer, Russer Procope, and Marc Johnson. During this time, O’Brien also appeared at such NY clubs as Fat Tuesday’s Lush Life (with Chet Baker) and the Blue Note.