Ana’s life of jazz
Jazz singer Ana Hoffman loves Bermuda: the people, the culture and, of course, the pink sand.
She’ll likely share the story of her love affair when she opens the Bermuda Festival at City Hall tonight with Life is Jazz, the show she created and performs as a celebration of “one of the most profound cultural awakenings in human history: the Harlem Renaissance”.
Ms Hoffman has “reimagined” and “modernised” the standards of “legendary artists” such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
“The beautiful thing about jazz is that it's about how you can take a song and make it your own and what the band and I have done is we have reimagined the music so the message is still the same but the music is new in a way.
“We have re-envisioned it; we've modernised it. It's paying homage to the past, but also recognising where we are in the present. And it's a really great way to bridge the gap between yesterday and today. And I think that's how the legacy lives on.
“It's important to learn about history, but at the same time, we want to do it in a way that is relevant and engaging based on where we are today.”
With her career in mind, Ms Hoffman is based in Harlem, New York, but she got her start at university in Texas, where she was studying to become a pharmacist like her parents.
“I was going the safe route, the route that was financially secure, but I was sitting in chemistry one day and I realised, I don't like science. Why am I following something that I don't want to do?”
She joined the choir, which led to a musical theatre programme.
“I just followed my heart. When things are in alignment, and they're meant to be, they just happen. It doesn't matter when, it doesn't matter how. What's important is the ‘why’. And the ‘why’ for me is that I just love the music.”
Her break came when she was invited to join a revival of the Broadway production of Dreamgirls at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre.
“It is one of the greatest Black theatres in America. And it's where a lot of the icons from the Harlem Renaissance era made their debut — Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, who are two of my biggest inspirations.”
Among the many performances that followed was a role in Harmony, an off-Broadway show composed by Barry Manilow and directed by Warren Carlyle, the Tony Award-winner. In 2020, a Ray Charles tribute brought her to Bermuda. Immediately before the pandemic she was travelling the world as the star of a show with Holland America Line.
“It's my third time here,” she said. “I performed with a different band then and before that I came for the beach — as you know, you have the best beaches in the world.
“For this trip, I'm going to do a little bit of both — perform for the Music Festival and then I'm going to get in that ocean and stick my toes in your pink sand.”
Besides the “beaches, the people and the culture”, she has enjoyed “learning about rum swizzle, dancing with the gombeys and just really appreciating the way that you all have welcomed me to this beautiful island”.
It’s with all that in mind she will perform an “ode to Bermuda” for her audiences this week.
“I've put a twist on one of the songs. Instead of telling Bermudians how I feel about them, I'm singing how I feel about them and why I love them. So it's definitely got a personal touch that is just for Bermuda and nobody else.”
Although her university choir introduced her to “all of these incredible jazz standards”, Ms Hoffman did not truly connect with the music until she began studying “the history of Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance”.
“I decided to dig deeper into learning about who these artists were who created this wonderful music. It was a real full-circle moment for me because I found a lot of parallels in my life with the artists and the spirit and message of that era. It was about a celebration of the self and of life, everything that it means to be human, and I think I had just reached that point in my life where I had to learn how to appreciate and love who I am and celebrate that. And that's the takeaway for the audiences — it's also a celebration of them. How do we take all that life has thrown at us to enjoy our own personal renaissance?”
• Ana Hoffman will perform Life is Jazz tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall. Tickets, $65, are available at bermudafestival.org. For more information: www.anahoffman.com