Some called him Doc, some called him Dr. Jazz, others Dr. Circus — and a lucky few got to call him family.
By any name, Dr. Richard Hochman — who died last March at the age of 90 — was a man who made a lasting impression.
“He really could’ve been one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time,” Hochman’s son Michael told me. “But he went for a career in medicine instead.”
Originally a New Yorker, Hochman earned his MD and served in the United States Navy during the Korean War before moving to Annapolis in 1960. Here, he and his wife Joan raised five children while he worked at his private practice and served as chief of medicine at Anne Arundel Medical Center. For many years, he also did a gig as physician to the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus on its annual visit to Annapolis.
His distinguished medical career was only a fraction of his contribution to Annapolis. He had many passions, but medicine and music were at the top of the list.
“A piano has 88 keys, and I’m going to play every one of them,” Hochman joked.
Hochman enrolled in New York’s Juilliard School when he was just five years old while still attending elementary school. Studying the history of great musicians and classical piano was his springboard into a life filled with rhythms, chords and harmonies.
Escaping from a strict piano teacher who brought a ruler to the back of his hands for poor form, he fell under jazz’s spell in the Catskill Mountains while listening to jazz musician Jessie Gayle, who became his teacher.
“Improvisation is both the beauty and mystery,” he said of the genre that earned him the nickname Dr. Jazz. From the 1960s through the ’80s, he led a Dixieland band of lawyers and doctors aptly named The Bars & Tonics.
Son Michael aspired to being a doctor, he told his father, “so I could play in the band.”
Hochman was delighted, and 10-year-old Michael joined the group. “I wasn’t the best,” he recalls. “But my dad loved me so much he let me join anyway. His band mates took me aside and helped me shape up.”
After the Bars & Tonics came Dr. Rick Hochman’s Dynamic Dixieland Band, which played multiple festivals and venues around City Dock.
In the 1990s, Hochman’s band was playing up to five shows a week at Rams Head Tavern. His jazz group was a staple every Mardi Gras, and they became regulars at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“My father helped bring traditional New Orleans jazz to Annapolis,” Michael said.
Now Hochman’s family is celebrating his life and music at the place he played the most — Rams Head Tavern.
“We needed time to grieve over losing such a great person, but we never got to mourn his music,” Michael said. “We took the time we needed, and now we are ready to play a tribute to him as a father, a doctor, a musician and a friend.”
Celebrate Dr. Jazz’s memory on Mardi Gras, March 5, when Hochman’s Dynamic Dixieland Band reunites alongside Michael’s Naptown Brass Band. Doors open at 7pm. $25; rsvp: www.ramsheadonstage.com.