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  • Ed Schmieder

Matt Hoffman: Vibrations Too Good to Be True

Never start a sentence with a numeral. Now I can write 691,548 plays. That’s the number of “listens” that Matt Hoffman has amassed on Spotify for his take on Frankie Valli’s 1967 hit version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. By the numbers, it’s unequivocally the standout track on his 2019 album Start of Something Big (which you can find in its entirety on Spotify as well). It is one of six you will hear with Hoffman backed by a big band with strings: a big bang of an entry into the worlds of the American Songbook, Broadway musicals, jazz, and pop.

One of my favorites on the album is the fiendishly clever medley of This is the Moment from 1990’s Jekyll & Hyde and Once in a Lifetime from 1961’s Stop the World I Want to Get Off. They sound lovely together, but there are other reasons for their pairing too. Both are tied by the theme of significant “moments,” and they both have a composer in common, Leslie Bricusse tracking that theme across three decades.

However, this recording hardly marks Hoffman’s start in the spotlight and in front of the footlights. When he was nine years old, he began his stage experience in a production of Beauty and the Beast at the Gateway Playhouse. School musicals sustained him until he was introduced to The Great American Songbook Foundation, based in Carmel, Indiana, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the music of the Great American Songbook. As part of its mission, the organization offers performance opportunities and classes for young singers in its search for Great American Songbook Ambassadors: singers who will carry the songbook’s treasures out into the world and into the future.

Hoffman found himself in workshops with Michael Feinstein a multi-platinum-selling, five-time Grammy-nominated recording artist who is the foundation’s Artistic Director who also holds court as the performer in NYC’s cabaret 54 Below. The workshop program culminated in a competition and live performances. In 2015, he received the Celebration Award in the vocal competition and performed onstage in the 1,600 seat Palladium Theater on the campus of the Foundation. A bonus for winners is also an opportunity to join Feinstein in NYC at 54 Below to perform two numbers, and he did. In 2015, Hoffman got around.

Fast forward to July 2019, and Hoffman is onstage at Stony Brook’s Jazz Loft fronting a 17 piece band with strings for the album release of Start of Something Big. That evening he performed the album and sang additional songs to a sold-out house. He nailed it, and I was lucky enough to be there. When I asked him to talk about his singing he said his heart is in the musical theater where performing is telling a story. He feels the same about singing; he wants to tell the story in the song. "I don't want the audience to listen to my voice. I want the audience to listen to what I have to say -- to the story the song is telling."

Then came the screeching halt of March 2020. When I spoke to Matt this week, I asked what he had been up to musically, and he told me he had worked for weeks with his father (a seasoned musical theater director and professional piano accompanist) on a single, “Good Vibrations.” He sang all 11 vocal parts which were tracked and layered. His dad played keys and his cousin did the rest. Why the Beach Boys? Hoffman said because his girlfriend loves the band and that song, and he wanted to offer it as an anniversary gift from all 11 of him. It’s a gift that keeps on giving because she can listen to it anytime (as you can) on Spotify.

I listened to it, and I loved it. Hoffman’s voice is clearly his own. The signature sound of the theremin in the original is hinted at in the background (it is Hoffman whistling with effects on). When the full chorus of voices returns at the end, it is a sonic nod to 10cc’s multi-layered vocals on “I’m Not in Love.” And some Beatles psychedelia wafts in at one moment too. It is not a mere copy; it draws from a larger musical tapestry than just the Beach Boys’.

Tune in to be turned on.

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