Rising Star: Olivia Hughart

Growing up in Lower Merion, PA, a Philadelphia suburb, Olivia Hughart started playing jazz saxophone in middle school. “My parents were big music lovers,” she recalled. “We were listening to music all the time. They’re huge Yellowjackets fans, so we’d always listen to Bob Mintzer playing. Also, Dexter Gordon, Larry McKenna, Melissa Aldana, and Roxy Coss.” Another influence was her older brother, who played saxophone and now does audio and music engineering in Denver.

“When I was 13, in seventh grade,” the 22-year-old Hughart recalled, “I noticed that I was one of the only girls in the band, and I really wanted to increase participation with girls in my school district. So, I started this after school program where girls could come together just to do a little jam session. We did it at my middle school and the other middle school in my school district and at the high school as well.”

She received encouragement from her middle school Band Director, Dr. Jenny Neff, who is now Program Director and Professor of Music Education at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. “From a young age,” Dr. Neff told me, “Olivia was able to see a need for something in the community and create a solution. I’ve always been impressed by her passion and dedication toward this goal. What started as an idea for middle school students has grown into a thriving organization in the city of Philadelphia.” Key of She is now a 501c3 nonprofit. Olivia is Founder and Artistic Director; her mother, Amy Hughart, is Managing Director; and Dr. Neff is Leading Advisor. Its annual Jazz Jam was held on February 17 at the University of the Arts.

While in middle school, Hughart took lessons at Philadelphia’s Settlement School, a community school for music, dance, and the creative arts. At Lower Merion High School, she was in the jazz band, directed by saxophonist/arranger/composer Andrew Neu, who has performed or recorded with such jazz artists as Mel Torme, David Sanborn, and Randy Brecker. She also studied with saxophonists Larry McKenna and Chris Oatts and vibraphonist Tony Miceli. Oatts, she said, “was really amazing. He always inspired me and pushed me to apply to music school and was a really meaningful part of my college application process.

Hughart, primarily an alto saxophonist, majored in Jazz Studies at New York University, selecting it, “because I really wanted to be in the city. I felt the next step to further my career would be to move to New York, and I wanted to be downtown close to all the jazz clubs. The Village Vanguard, Blue Note, and Zinc Bar are all in walking distance from NYU’s campus. And, NYU has such a great faculty. I got to study with basically the whole saxophone section of the Village Vanguard Orchestra — Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, and Dave Pietro. I mainly studied with Dave Pietro, who played in the Maria Schneider Orchestra. And, one of the most monumental faculty members I got to work with was (trombonist) Alan Ferber. He really furthered my composition and all my writing skills.”

There were also opportunities to sit in on sessions and at recording studios. “When I first moved to the city, to get my feet wet,” she said, “I joined the Women in Jazz organization (WIJO). The Program Director there, (saxophonist) Emily Pecoraro, really became my big sister in the city. She always helped me to go out to sessions and to sub on some of the jobs that she got that she couldn’t do. She always believed in me from the moment she met me and has been a big part of my success in New York.”

Pecoraro described Hughart as “one of the most intuitively capable people I have ever met. Besides being an incredible musician in her own right, she has a keen knack for creating really interesting opportunities for community engagement and growth for herself and so many others. And, she has the drive to see each endeavor she spearheads through to its success.”

Hughart graduated from NYU last year and is currently living in Brooklyn. Among the bands she has played in are the Grace Fox Big Band, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, and the New York Chillharmonic. The Chillharmonic, she said, is “a unique piece of my musical repertoire. It’s an 18-piece progressive rock big band led by (keyboardist/vocalist) Sara McDonald. I was on tour with them last summer, and we’ve been playing a bunch of shows around New York.”

On April 1, Hughart will be playing with DIVA and vocalist/actress Linda Purl at Birdland. On April 6, she’ll be appearing with Andrew Neu and organist Bobby Lyle at the Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, PA.

She is also in the developmental phase of recording her first album. “It’s still very much in the works,” she acknowledged, “but I’m hoping to release a nonet record. I’m in the process of writing all that music now, figuring out what the theme will be, and definitely still in the fundraising process. But, I hope it will be coming out in the near future.”

When Hughart first started playing alto saxophone, “I was a big Paul Desmond fan. I’m a big fan of Vi Redd, and I’m a huge Alexa Tarantino fan. And, of course, Bird and Cannonball. But, Sonny Stitt was definitely huge for me. He is probably my go to saxophonist.”–SANFORD JOSEPHSON

PHOTO BY MANASA GUDAVALLI

 

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The New Jersey Jazz Society (NJJS) is a non-profit organization of business and professional people, musicians, teachers, students and listeners working together for the purpose of advancing jazz music.