Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The (continued) Life of a Piano in NYC

A few years ago we acquired an old upright piano given to us for free by a neighbor in our building here in NYC. It was called "The Opera Piano" and while there was not much information to be found on-line I do know that it was built by a company called Peek and Sons in this very neighborhood. It had to have been eighty to a hundred years old. It was missing a wheel and one of the other three was frozen and didn't move. It took every ounce of strength for my neighbor and I to drag it out of his apartment and down the carpeted hallway three feet at a time, then a stop for five minutes just to get our breath. But we were determined. He wanted it out of his apartment. And my fatherly instincts were in high gear as my son needed a piano for his studies, having been making due with a Casio keyboard up to that point. We managed to get it in, my son was thrilled to play it and we were thrilled to have a real piece of New York history in our living room even if it did look as if it had seen (many) better days. It was taller than any upright made today, being what is sometimes referred to as an "upright grand". Given that the strings were longer it had a fuller, more robust tone. The keys were kind of rugged and uneven, each one with it's own individual feel and response. Not a desirable trait. Sometimes it would buzz during the humid weather due to a large crack in the soundboard. On really bad days an ordinary C major triad sounded like it was being filtered through Jimi Hendrix's fuzz box. But thankfully that would only last a day or two then settle back in. It held it's tuning and served us more than admirably for some years. There's nothing like having a piano in the home.

At such time as my son's skills grew and my own needs for the piano increased (as a teaching tool in my improvisation lessons) we faced the need for a new piano. It took us some time to save up and locate a suitable instrument but as luck would have it we found one in a shop just a couple blocks away. We were still attached to our old piano but there was no way to keep two instruments. I wanted to give the old one to someone else in our building just as we had received it. I put up a notice and got some responses. But I was kind of surprised that not everyone finds the same fascination with items of such distinguished and storied character. One family turned it down because it wasn't shiny. No problem though, another fellow decided to take it and I even offered to help him get it up to his apartment. Yea, we could have used a dolly. But again, I was in that kind of tunnel-visioned determination mode. Common sense doesn't always play a large part in these equations. It took us about forty five minutes to get it down my hallway, on the elevator and down his hallway. Only to find that it wouldn't fit in the door. Faced with defeat we dragged it back to the freight elevator. All in all it took one hour of grunting, cursing and sweating not to mention several moments when I thought we'd have to leave it in the hallway and simply give up. I was completely exhausted and almost dizzy from the exertion. I was also very disappointed but there was no way to get it back in my apartment having nearly killed myself in the process thus far. So we left it to the building maintenance team, hoping that perhaps the Salvation Army would take it. I had to go out of town over the weekend and would not be able to make any more headway in finding someone else who might be interested. Overall I was afraid that it might get left on the street to be taken to the dump. And that would be just too sad. And yet upon my return there it was sitting on tenth avenue among various pieces of discarded furniture, mattresses and television sets. I went out and took a couple of pictures as a way of saying goodbye, feeling like I had failed the instrument. After all these many years, and it was to end in such ignominious fashion.

But even in these last moments, late in the evening, the piano still exerted it's charms. Every few minutes people would stop and look at it. As I stood there watching, a gentleman played a few chords of a Christmas carol. I snapped his photo. It was like a people magnet, creating it's own street scene, ten-thirty at night. Every so often a van would stop and someone would get out, peruse the discarded items, take some things and drive off. I'm guessing there's a network of folks who cruise the streets at night for just these kinds of items. I was hopeful one of them might take the piano. A few considered it then realized the difficulties and moved on. People continued to come and go but after most of the stuff had been picked through the piano was left there, sad and forlorn. I figured that was it. I went back inside and occasionally glanced out the window. Soon I noticed two woman had stopped and taken up conversation by the instrument. I just figured they stopped to chat but about a half hour later they were joined by a man and all three were trying mightily to get the piano up on a pair of dollies. Knowing the difficulty of moving this beast I was amazed and yet concerned. But they managed to get it up and rolling down tenth avenue towards forty second street within just a couple of minutes. I had to know where it was going. I couldn't resist going back outside all the while hoping not to see it crashed on the sidewalk. By the time I got out there they were pushing it into another building two blocks away. They must have been just as determined to have it as I had been, maybe even more. I couldn't help but admire them as I imagined a child or younger person being presented with a piano at the holidays. Whatever the outcome, I was feeling redeemed.

The "Opera Piano" was built at a time when there were hundreds of piano manufactures in midtown Manhattan. I couldn't help but think about that history as I watched this hulking centenarian being wheeled precariously through the streets late at night towards yet another home, yet another story. I wonder how many it had already. It was well past the restoration stage and it wasn't going to fetch any money but with some care it should certainly have more years left in it. And now it will. New York City can be an amazing place that way.

Every So Often...

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and I have been performing in duo for some years now. Our program is completely improvised and I'm continually challenged by the intensity of Sylvie's focus and rewarded by the direction that the music has taken over the years. As a saxophonist, improvising with a pianist can be daunting as perceptions of harmony can sometimes differ or worse yet, lock one into a paradigm not of one's own choosing. That's never been a problem in this project however as Sylvie is able to incorporate harmonic material yet have it function much like the other events in the music, texturally or even episodically. The overall musical development happens spontaneously along structural lines with phrasing taking precedence over thematic development.

In 2008 we recorded "Every So Often" which is available on CD via mail order from my website.

Here's a video taken recently at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam…

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Paul Motian

Paul Motian passed away this morning. One of the great drummers in jazz, he was to me one of the world's deepest improvisors and one of the most individual musicians I have ever heard on any instrument. I think back to an evening in the mid '80s when I had the good fortune to play a bit with him. I had just come from an afternoon jam session with some friends. We were playing standards. And it was feeling a bit routine. At a certain point during the session I felt the need to break out of the musical web we were spinning and almost as a joke, I decided to take an entire solo that was completely free rhythmically while still making the changes in time. As it happened my little joke actually seemed to invigorate the music. I might have simply treated the experience as a curiosity had I not decided to head over to the 55 bar on Christopher street in the Village. Guitarist Leni Stern was playing her regular Sunday gig and she would always let me sit in. That evening she had hired Paul Motian to play drums with her. I was surprised and excited at the prospect of playing with him for the first time. With the effect of the afternoon session fresh in my mind I approached the music in just the same way. The effect of this looser playing had been interesting and unexpected during the afternoon session but now with Paul it was much deeper and richer. When I think back on it over the years I realize that at that moment in time Paul was probably the most perfect musician on the planet that I could have played with to validate and solidify this approach. His phrasing was so fluid and yet his internal pulse and feel so strong that I was able to play anything I heard and have it fit the music just the way I wanted it to. I can say with no exaggeration that this was a true musical epiphany. It was as if a door had opened. I walked through and never looked back. Everything I've done since then has come out of that one seemingly casual but quite intense (and amazingly fortuitous) experience.

Paul and I spoke about playing again but that never quite came about. I would go to hear him play and come away completely inspired each time. Some of the early music I wrote for my band came directly after hearing a set he did at the Village Vanguard in the mid '90s. We would cross paths on the road from time to time. In more recent years I began writing him letters, sending him music. Last time I saw him was at the Vanguard almost a year ago. He sounded amazing as usual. And he looked as if he had another twenty or thirty years in him. During the break I had a few moments to speak with him privately and I reminded him of that night some twenty odd years ago and told him how much he and his music meant to me. I'm so glad I had the chance to do that in person.

The world feels different without Paul Motian in it…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

General Update...


Earlier in the blog I wrote about my trip to Belgium last December in which I collaborated with the radioKUKAorkest in a three week tour and recording session. I was especially happy to have been afforded the opportunity to be in one place for the duration of the project as opposed to the extended one-nighter type of tours that are the norm. Since then I’ve been fortunate to have taken part in a couple of other similarly structured projects.

This past October I was invited along with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier to spend a couple of weeks in Holland to collaborate with an existing group led by guitarist Guillermo Celano and drummer Marco Baggiani (both from Argentina). American saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore was also part of this project. I’ve known Michael for many years but this was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to play music with him which was a very rewarding experience, as anticipated. His sound and musical sensitivity really elevated the whole band. Bassist Sven Schuster filled out the group. Sylvie and I presented our duo music as the larger ensemble broke into smaller combinations to balance out the full ensemble works. This turned out to be a nice way to present a varied program to our audiences.

As in Belgium I was provided with an apartment and a bicycle. Living in midtown Manhattan I am rather used to the shear amount of activity on the streets. But nothing can quite prepare one for navigating the streets of Amsterdam on a bicycle. The streets are narrow, canals are never more than a few feet away, trams, buses, cars, pedestrians and hundreds of other bikes are all criss-crossing each other in a dense kaleidoscopic morass of movement. But somehow it works. So it was my plan to bike to the recording session on the final day. I had my route all planned out in advance and was confident that all would go smoothly. What I did not know was that the annual Amsterdam Marathon was to take place that day along the very street that was to get me to the session. Not only was the street blocked but it was packed on both sides with spectators. I was able to traverse some of the distance on the sidewalk but before long was forced to detour into areas that were not on my map. And did I mention how easy it is to loose one’s sense of direction in Amsterdam? After traveling by sheer intuition I realized that I was going to need to get on the other side of the street that the marathon was running on. Most of the street was fenced off on both sides and I couldn’t tell how many more miles it would be till the end. After some time I found a block in which there was no fence and it was possible to cross. But the runners were still coming and I certainly did not want to interrupt the flow (or worse). Having little choice I waited until just the right moment, quickly entered and crossed the street on my bike, horn strapped on my back, hoping that I would not be arrested. In hindsight it was probably OK but it sure felt weird. While on the other side I still could not be sure where I was in relation to the studio. After trying unsuccessfully to find any connection to the map I finally asked someone where I was. Turned out I was only a minute away from where I needed to be. After all that I still arrived on time!

Also of interest were the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. After seeing many of the works in books and reproductions over the years it was astonishing to see these paintings for real. In the Van Gogh Museum there was a floor devoted to Japanese works that were an influence on Van Gogh and many of his contemporaries. This added an additional layer of appreciation.

Oh, and as with my Belgian blog entry, I should mention my favorite daily espresso shop in Amsterdam. It’s called Brandmeesters.

Earlier this year Bassist Christian Weber and drummer Michael Griener invited me to join them in presenting some improvised concerts in several towns in Switzerland. Out of that came an invitation from the Willisau Festival to perform there in August. The Willisau Festival has quite a history in presenting contemporary jazz and improvised music (since 1975) and it’s always a great pleasure to play there. Here’s a video excerpt from that performance.

I graduated from Towson University in Baltimore in ’81. At that time there was no real jazz program there. But there was a jazz ensemble, directed by Hank Levy (writer for the Stan Kenton and Don Ellis orchestras) which was a major draw for many of the students. In fact, the band only played Hank’s music rather than the broader big band repertoire that university programs typically draw from. This might appear to be a drawback but in actuality it served to give the band a strong sense of musical identity, something that I found to be quite important. Hank passed in 2001 but not before strides were made towards the development of a jazz degree program. More recently trumpeter Dave Ballou has joined the faculty at Towson and has been making great progress in further developing the program for jazz and improvised music. Additionally there has been a residency program for visiting performers to come and teach for a week at the university, sponsored by Bill and Helen Murray. I was invited to take part in the residency this past week. It is especially rewarding to see how Dave has expanded the scope of the program and the effect this has on the students and their music making. During the week I did master classes, spoke to the composition and arranging classes, gave many private lessons and worked with different ensembles. Specifically I rehearsed with a group of students on some of my own music which we presented in a concert on the final evening. Additionally there was an evening concert of my own in which I invited pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and bassist Mike Formanek to play in a completely improvised setting. We recorded the concert as well as some additional improvisations in the hall afterwards in what I hope will be a future CD release.

I should point out that before I enrolled at Towson as a student I had attended a number of annual weeklong summer jazz band residencies by the Stan Kenton Orchestra that took place there. The first one I attended was in 1974. Kinda sobering to do the math on that. Couldn’t help but think about being a very green fourteen year old kid roaming those very same hallways long ago. Added another dimension to the whole thing.

Just came back from a wonderful solo clarinet concert given by Carol McGonnell as part of the Argento New Music Project series at the Austrian Cultural Forum here in NYC. It’s a great series (see my earlier "Update" post below) and has been a peak listening experience every time. Carol McGonnell is a superb musician whose emotional commitment, focus and attention to detail are inspiring. The compositions (by George Aperghis, Brad Balliett, Salvatore Sciarrino and Allain Gaussin) while being fully notated works all got me to thinking about how to find more ways in which to bring organization and precision to improvisation.


January 2012 “Trio New York” (Ellery Eskelin, Gary Versace, Gerald Cleaver) European tour.

March 2012 “Different But the Same” (David Liebman, Ellery Eskelin, Tony Marino, Jim Black) European tour.

More info to come...keep an eye on the website.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What is modern?

I just took part in a venerable New York tradition in the jazz community. I'm speaking of the weekly Wednesday evening "Musician's Show" on WKCR-FM radio at Columbia University. It's a three hour program in which a different musician is invited to essentially be the DJ, playing music of their own choosing and speaking a bit about the selections. There is also real DJ there, in this case jazz department head Kevin Crowley, who conducts the interview portions of the program. And usually the guest musician will play some of their own music as well.

This opportunity came at a good time for me given the musical trajectory that I've been undergoing in my ongoing pursuit (obsession) with sound. I realize that I’m mostly associated with the “free” aesthetic of improvisation and in fact that’s much of what I’ve been doing the past 25 years. But as I've mentioned in some of the previous posts I feel as if I'm finally able to hear beyond style and discern some of the more timeless elements of the music throughout the tradition. A question that continually pops up in my thinking is "what is modern"? Styles change and new techniques are put into play but I certainly do not see music as an ongoing progression in which the new trumps the old. Yet unfortunately there's quite a lot of music in jazz that I feel represents a lost art, or soon will be.

That’s a natural process in a way but I do feel that we can benefit greatly from retaining as much as we can and do our best to pass it along from teacher to student (recordings can’t do it all) so as to be able to use these musical elements creatively in ways that resonate for us in our time. For example, I don't think the rhythmic aspects of music from the '20s and '30s can ever really be replicated directly. And I think I'd need another lifetime to better figure out how saxophone players really played back then. But the bottom line is, if you want to learn how to play the saxophone then Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young really do need to be dealt with on some level. I understand the potential disconnect for players today. It was the same for me. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, that music was considered old fashioned. So I fully endorse diving in at whatever point in the history you have an emotional connection with. But over time we have to fill in the gaps. Fortunately, enough time has passed that I can actually hear all this music as modern. So I prefaced my interview by raising this question. What is modern? Not that I know the answer. Just that I have a much different perspective on it now. And that's quite liberating.

What follows is the playlist of tracks that I chose and spoke about. In between each set there is an audio link of the interview portion of the show which you can listen to. The tracks themselves are not difficult to find. Most of them are available on iTunes.

And one last thing. WKCR will be running a pledge drive shortly. Please consider supporting the station so that we can continue speaking about their great history in the present tense.

ELLERY ESKELIN - The Musician’s Show, WKCR-FM, New York City, September 28th, 2011

Hearing Beyond Style / What’s Modern?!?

SPOKEN INTRODUCTION - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 2:41

R&B tenor, 50’s style
Bill Doggett - “Honky Tonk part 2” with Clifford Scott, tenor saxophone 1956
Lee Allen - “Walkin' With Mr Lee” 1958
Tiny Bradshaw - “Soft” with Red Prysock, tenor saxophone and composer 1952
Count Basie with Jimmy Forrest - "Night Train"
from the film "Last of the Blue Devils" - The Kansas City Jazz Story 1979
arr. Roy Phillippe, Los Angeles

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 10:47

Rhythm (as in, can that even be done anymore?)
Fletcher Henderson (selections dating from 1931 - 1933)
“Casa Loma Stomp”, “Chinatown My Chinatown”, “Down South Camp Meetin”
Jimmie Lunceford (selections from 1935 - 1937)
“Avalon”, “Harlem Shout”, “Charmaine”

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 3:49

Early Tenors
Coleman Hawkins and Leo de la Fuente "I Wish that I Were Twins" 1935
Count Basie “Honeysuckle Rose” with Lester Young 1937
Lester Young and Nat King Cole “Indiana” 1942
Don Byas and Slam Stuart - “Indiana ” Town Hall Concert, 1945

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 15:49

The Romantic Ballad Tenor Tradition
Count Basie with Herschel Evans tenor saxophone, Lester Young, clarinet "Blue And Sentimental" 1937
Ben Webster - “Memories of You” 1944
Ben Webster - “Tenderly” (early 50’s)
Don Byas - “They Say it's Wonderful” 1946
Ike Quebec - “If I Had You” 1944
Ike Quebec - "The Man I Love" 1961

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 14:05

Hometown (Baltimore) Sounds
Mickey Fields - “Lover Man” from The Astonishing Mickey Fields, late '60s

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 6:21

A glimpse into the future?
Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra - “Playing My Saxophone” 1930
Bud Freeman & Ray McKinley - “The Atomic Era” 1945 (the first recorded tenor/drums duo?)

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin 13:14

Blowing My Own Horn
Ellery Eskelin - “Memories of You”
from “Trio New York”
with Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Gary Versace (organ) & Gerald Cleaver (drums), recorded 2011

MIC BREAK - Interview with Ellery Eskelin and sign-off 10:13

Ellery Eskelin - “How Deep is the Ocean”
from “Trio New York”
with Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Gary Versace (organ) & Gerald Cleaver (drums), recorded 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

TRIO NEW YORK Press / Plus News on some Current Releases as a side-person

"Trio New York" has been receiving some attention in the press this month.

The New York Times Sunday Arts & Leisure section
Time Out New York Feature preview
DownBeat Magazine Article
Point of Departure review

"Trio New York" is:
Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone
Gary Versace - Hammond B3 organ
Gerald Cleaver - drums

Just for fun I put together a promo clip containing one chorus of saxophone solo from each track on the recording:

You can listen to fuller excerpts from "Trio New York" in the April 21st post below. "Trio New York" will be heading to Europe for a tour in January (18 - 29). Keep an eye on the website as we approach that time for the tour itinerary.

New Releases as a side-person.

Based in Portugal, Clean Feed Records has managed to release quite a lot of great music since 2001. Not sure quite how they do it but I'm very glad they do. I'm on early Clean feed Releases by trumpeter Dennis Gonzáles and drummer Gerry Hemingway. This month it happens that I'm a side-person on two more Clean Feed projects.

I'm proud to say that I've been playing with drummer and composer Gerry Hemingway in many configurations since the mid-nineties. Gerry has a singular style both as a drummer and composer. I think I first heard him play on a concert with Anthony Braxton's classic quartet line-up here in new York City. It was a transcendent concert, one that I'll always remember. One of Gerry's many ambitious endeavors since I've been associated with him was singlehandedly booking, organizing, managing, chauffeuring not to mention performing on a 35 gig tour in the states and Canada for his quartet back in 1998. You can read about it on his website. "Riptide" is a quintet project that Gerry has been developing over the past year or so. It features Oscar Noriega on alto saxophone and clarinet, myself on tenor, Terrence McManus on guitar, Kermit Driscoll on bass and of course Gerry on percussion and drums and all original compositions.

You can read a recent article about Gerry in the July 2011 issue of DownBeat Magazine.

You can order "Riptide" from Downtown Music Gallery.

"September Trio"
Drummer and composer Harris Eisenstadt is a more recent musical collaborator and the group that he put together along with pianist Angelica Sanchez and myself caught the attention of Clean Feed Records after only our first concert. We went into the studio last September, hence the name of the group "September Trio". This project came at a good time for me as it represents the first studio date that I've done since undergoing something of a transition with the instrument. The compositions suggest various avenues of thought and feeling while the playing contains just enough ambiguity to keep the open textures in a sort of constant slow-motion state of flux. You can read a review on the "Free Jazz" blog.

By the way, I have copies of "September" available from my website.

Satako Fujii and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura come to New York every other year or so record new music with the Orchestra New York. It's easily the wildest and most fun big band I think I've ever played in. Very spirited music. "ETO" is the title of the latest release which is now available on Libra Records. This is what Satoko writes about the project on her website:

"My husband, Natsuki Tamura will turn sixty years old this year. In Japan we have a special celebration for sixty year olds, called "Kanreki." We use the Chinese zodiac in Japan which is called "Eto," so 12 years is one cycle. 60 is a special number because it is 12 x 5 and 10 x 6. The duodecimal system and decimal system meet at 60. I wanted write some music for this, and read a bit about the Chinese zodiac. Each of the 12 animals in the zodiac has its own character and each character inspired me a lot, so I wrote a short piece for each of them to make one long suite. Each piece has featured solo player. ~Satoko Fujii

Oscar Noriega, Briggan Krauss- alto sax; Ellery Eskelin, Chris Speed - tenor sax, Andy Laster - baritone sax; Herb Robertson, Dave Ballou, Frank London, Natsuki Tamura - trumpet; Joey Sellers, Curtis Hasselbring, Joe Fiedler - trombone; Satoko Fujii - piano, Stomu Takeishi - bass, Aaron Alexander - drums

You can pick this up at Downtown Music Gallery as well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

One Great Day reissued...

One Great Day reissued...
Over the years many folks have asked me about this 1996 recording. As with a number of my projects on the hatOLOGY label it has been out of print for quite a while. So I'm pleased to announce that "One Great Day" has just been reissued (and with a new cover). Here's a short text that I wrote for the back cover of the reissue:

I'm gratified that the rerelease of “One Great Day…” coincides with its inclusion in the Penguin Jazz Guide's “The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums”. Of course there are countless recordings deserving of attention and reissue. This group managed to tie together the fractured reality of my musical universe at the time. The acknowledgement is appreciated.

You can order the reissue of "One Great Day" directly from my website using Pay Pal.

Here is a live video performance of the title track "One Great Day" from a 2001 appearance in Barcelona, Spain:

This was the first in a long series of recorded projects that I have done for the legendary Swiss label. hatHUT records has been operating since 1975 and the catalogue contains an immense amount of great music covering many aspects of the contemporary improvising scene. Hopefully the rest of my work (and that of many others) on the series will be reissued as well. I'm informed that there is a deal in the works to make more of the catalogue available on-line. I'll post further news of that as I know more. As for new projects, hatOLOGY will be releasing the next recorded project from "Different But the Same" (Liebman / Eskelin band) which contains my Chamber Music America commission "Non Sequiturs - for two tenor saxophones, bass and drums". Look for that in March 2012.

More on TRIO NEW YORK...
The reviews for my latest recording "Trio New York" (prime source) with organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver, are coming in. Point of Departure has posted the first review which you can read on their site.

And there is an article in the August issue of DownBeat Magazine about the project, available from their site about my "Organ-ic beginnings".

"Trio New York" will be touring Europe from January 18th - 29th, 2012. The website will contain the full itinerary as we get closer to the time. See some of the the posts below for more information about the band and some samples from the recording.

Recent activity in NYC…
Played the Rhythm in the Kitchen Festival with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Gerald Cleaver on May 27th. This festival is produced by a neighborhood organization called the Hell's Kitchen Cultural Center and has run for about five years now. I always enjoy this event. Here's a video clip:

I also played on the NYC "River to River Festival" on June 25th with "Future Quest", a project put together by vocalist Theo Bleckmann and drummer John Hollenbeck which plays the music of Meredith Monk. Both Theo and John have been performing in Meredith's ensemble for many years. Also on the band was fellow saxophonist Tony Malaby and keyboardist Erik Deutsch. I'm thrilled to play in this project in as much as Meredith Monk has been a key figure influencing my musical imagination since first seeing her one woman show at PS 122 in 1994. Her focus and sense of timing is incredible and was an inspiration on some of the early pieces for my band (with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black). Her materials are sometimes deceptively simple but her music is deep and never fails to move me to the core. I hope this group continues to be active and perhaps even record.

This summer I will be coming to Switzerland for a special project with bassist Christian Weber and drummer Michael Griener. And there will be a number of European tours with various projects happening into 2012. More on those things in an upcoming post...

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Well, I'm very happy to announce that the TRIO NEW YORK CDs have arrived and are ready for your ears! You can sample some excerpts and if you like what you hear, by all means please visit the MAIL ORDER page of the web site and place an order using PAY PAL. Thanks for reading the blog and thanks in advance for supporting the cause. I hope you do enjoy…


Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone
Gary Versace - Hammond B3 organ
Gerald Cleaver - drums

Memories of You (excerpt)

Off Minor (excerpt)

Witchcraft (excerpt)

Lover, Come Back to Me (excerpt)

How Deep is the Ocean (excerpt)

Saturday, April 9, 2011


It's a trend I've been leaning towards for some time. And having recently listened to interviews with Joe Henderson and Gary Bartz about how they teach/taught I've been emphasizing the aural approach in lessons more and more. Students have been learning Lester Young solos off of the recordings strictly by ear and memorizing them on their instrument with nothing written down. I've also been teaching them how to figure out the chords and harmony to tunes this way as well.

It seems like such a simple thing but "the ear" seems to be an undervalued asset in jazz education generally. Learning with the ears alone integrates every aspect of the music and music making all at once and serves for a more profound and much longer lasting impact. I can see the lightbulbs flashing on in their minds as the beauties of these solos reveal themselves in a way that the student has never experienced before. And in speaking with them afterwards I realize that their eyes are opened to the world in new ways as the ramifications of how this music was created begin to sink in. Hearing a developing musician come in and play these solos to me along with the recordings is such a beautiful experience that it lifts my spirits for days! Just had to say…

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Recent News...

Trio New York Recording
I just delivered the newly mastered recording and CD artwork to the manufacturers today for "Trio New York" (the recording mentioned below with organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver). Should have copies in a few weeks. This project represents a year's worth of preparation and work on a number of fronts. Those of you who keep up with the blog know that I've been learning how to play some vintage horns and listening to a lot of older music in order to try and figure out just how certain players got the kind of sounds they did. In fact, I think it's taken me a full year or more to say that I have fully made the transition from the Selmer MK VI to the 1927 Conn. Add to that the Buescher (which is often my travel horn) and I feel that my sonic palette has consolidated and solidified. Of course that affects the music on many levels.

And after some months of not being in the studio there has recently been a spate of other recording opportunities which I can enumerate here. For the gear-heads among you I'll mention the horn and setup used on each. These recordings will be released at various intervals during the next three to twelve months.

Harris Eisenstadt's September Trio
Harris Eisenstadt - drums and composer
Angelica Sanchez - piano
Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone (1927 Conn w/ Lebayle mouthpiece)

Satoko Fujii Orchestra - ETO
(1927 Conn w/ Lebayle mouthpiece)

A Belgian group that I guested with for tour and recording (see entry below)
(1935 Conn w/ Lebayle mouthpiece)

The aforementioned project (detailed entry below)
(1927 Conn w/ modified Francois Louis mouthpiece)

Different But the Same
David Liebman - tenor saxophone
Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone (1927 Conn w/ modified Francois Louis mouthpiece)
Tony Marino - bass
Jim Black - drums

Ben Goldberg's GO HOME
Ben Goldberg - clarinet and composer
Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone (1941 Buescher w/ modified Lebayle mouthpiece)
Charlie Hunter - 7 string guitar
Scott Amendola - drums

Next month I will be on a studio session led by Brooklyn based drummer and composer Devin Grey. More about that afterwards. Also just remembered a session done in December of 2009 with drummer Gerry Hemingway's Quintet. That was the last one I did on the Selmer. And as long as we are on the subject of recordings I'll mention again that the reissue of "One Great Day…" (Eskelin w/Parkins & Black from 1996) is in production by hatOLOGY records.

I'm very indebted in the process of documenting music to the expertise and experience of folks like sound engineer Jon Rosenberg. I've worked with Jon since the early 90's and have come to value our working relationship greatly over these years. There's really no substitute for someone who knows what you're trying to accomplish and who can set the stage for any type of production, making the equipment and technology transparent in the process. Graphic design artist Scott Friedlander has worked on several of my releases and I value his attention to detail as well as his visual imagination. This new one is particularly nice.

In the process of getting this project prepared for release I've been a bit surprised to find that due to a certain amount of consolidation among businesses, such as recording studios and CD manufacturers, those that have survived seem to be doing better than might have been expected under current conditions. Seems to go against the conventional wisdom, and that appeals to me. I love recording in a great studio, being able to document the music under the best possible conditions and with the best possible resultant sound. As the music "business" veers towards the ephemeral and disposable I feel all the more strongly that projects that honor this long term aesthetic will stand out.

Last month I began a promising musical project with Swiss bassist Christian Weber and Berlin based drummer Michael Griener. Straight up improv. There are a few videos up on youtube. Search for "Eskelin Weber Griener". And look for us at the next Willisau Festival in Switzerland (August).

Clarinetist Ben Goldberg and I first began performing together in the mid nineties. I love his sound and phrasing, not to mention his compositions. Ben recently invited me to record and do some gigs with his GO HOME band (see listing above). Played in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Looking forward to more in the future.

Changing Gears
I just looked back at my schedule since December and counted at least ten different "books" of music that I've dealt with in rapid succession. Meaning projects with original music and concept, none quite like any of the others. This reflects the need to adapt to many different concepts as a working musician. Not sure exactly where the border between positive stimulation and mental disorientation lies. But as much as I loved all the musical activity I am glad to be staying put for the next few months in order to recharge the batteries.

My teaching activities have increased over the past year (I think in part due to this blog) which has been a rewarding experience as it coincides with my own "relearning" of the saxophone. I've been reassessing old assumptions and dealing head-on with fundamental concepts of playing the horn. Along the way I've discovered that there is quite a bit of mythology surrounding the saxophone, ideas often passed around by experienced players, instrument makers and technicians. I don't pretend to hold all the answers but I do know that many of these claims cannot be defended (even if they are potentially correct). They just get passed around as "truths". I'm talking about things like the role of materials in sound production (mouthpiece materials, composition and age of metals, types of finishes). There are also physical issues (embouchure, oral cavity, air stream) and acoustic issues (understanding how the horn works) that can lead to misunderstandings if not fully dealt with. As a player I never cared about this stuff. As a teacher I'm driven to get to the bottom of these things. It's been a fascinating and on-going process.

Musically I've also noticed a rather wide open area of improvisation that seems to challenge many players no matter what their current skill level. I'm speaking about the act of spontaneously creating melodic ideas. This is a fundamental aspect of playing so it's interesting to try and figure out some of the reasons for this. When I was coming up I was told by my teachers that jazz couldn't be taught. I know that's not the case but on the other hand the codification of the art form and it's teachings since then contain certain inherent drawbacks that need to be addressed. One thing I know is that virtually every musician playing jazz today (my age or younger) has likely been enrolled in some type of university jazz program or at least has been exposed to the types of teaching methods that have been in vogue in those institutions for some years now. Most players learn the musical language by utilizing licks and patterns. That's not a new thing of course, but what's often missing is the role of lyricism and melody. Filigree is often mistaken for content. Without some spontaneous melodic direction one can wind up sounding like a musical encyclopedia. The skills that can balance that out come in large part from knowing how to "deliver" a song. At one time popular American song provided much of the bedrock material for jazz musicians to improvise upon. And because of that there was a connection to a strain of musical entertainment that held the music a bit closer to the public (even as more advanced harmonic and rhythmic concepts eventually took the music out of that realm completely). Younger players often don't have the opportunities to deliver songs (of any kind) to a public within that type of shared culture. Because of that I find myself devising ways to address the core issues involved in simply improvising from one note to another. And it's been fun for me and for my students. I know that in my own playing I've been striving daily to keep in touch with the essence of musical impulse. It's not always easy to give up learned musical information that jumps out of your fingers for something "unknown" that comes up from your subconscious. Especially in front of paying audiences. So prospective students, please know that I'm working on all the same things that I'm teaching…

Friday, February 11, 2011

Recording Session

Many thanks to those of you who purchased recordings in response to my previous post. Thanks also to New York's Downtown Music Gallery who picked up the last of my "out of print" stock. This "bump" helped with the most recent "prime source" (my label) recording project which took place just yesterday here in New York.

If you've read the post on my mother and her career in music (see below) you'll know that I have a love and affinity for the sound of the Hammond B3 organ. It only makes sense that I would one day put together an organ project and I'm thrilled to report that the recording session, with Gary Versace on organ and Gerald Cleaver on drums, was a great success. I can't say enough good things about the both of them. They have ears for for the entire swath of jazz history, right up to the moment and then some. We covered some very early standards including things like "Memories of You" and "Lover, Come Back to Me", but very loosely, using them to shape our improvisations rather than dictate them. Of course, when it was time to swing it felt great and when it was time to break everything up the feeling was just as intense. We also did quite a few complete improvisations to which I realized after listening back that "everything is in there"! To which Gerald replied "every bit of it".

It's also a good feeling to have documented this music after having worked so closely with Gary rehearsing and discussing the concept. Interestingly, we had different drummers play with us on every gig we did. That's because there are so many great drummers here and great drummers usually stay pretty busy. Every gig I booked required multiple calls to find out who was going to be around for the date. But this was also good for the music in that each musician who filled the drum chair brought with them a unique voice and sensibility. I was thrilled with everyone and in the end it was damn hard to choose. Gerald Cleaver and I first played many years ago and had not had the chance to reconnect in awhile so it was great to pick up where we left off, sharing all the new things that had developed musically over those years.

I do want to thank the aforementioned percussionists, Tyshawn Sorey, Tom Rainey, Ted Poor and Nasheet Waits for their contributions on the gigs. We'll be doing more for sure. In fact, for you NYC readers there will be a couple of performances coming up at the Cornelia Street Cafe. On February 19th Gary and I will be playing with Nasheet Waits. And then on April 22nd we'll have drummer Gerry Hemingway on board. By the way, some of you NYC folks (as well as Baltimore and Philly) may have heard some gigs I did with organist Erik Deutsch and drummer Allison Miller awhile back. I intend to pick back up on this band at some point as well as it represented a different musical path that I also want to develop. Much to do!

So rest assured that I will be making big noise about the release of this recording. Look for it this spring!

Thanks to Photography by Scott Friedlander ©2011 for photo of EE with Gary Versace and Gerald Cleaver.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recording in 2011...

Welcome to 2011 everyone…

As I look forward to the coming year and the various projects that I'll be doing, the first order of business will be recording. I've been gigging in NYC with various new configurations over the past year and I'm in the final stages of putting a band together to take into the studio. I'll be happy to tell you all about it once it's finalized but in the meantime I'd like to ask for your help.

The business of recording and releasing music is still very much up in the air. Established labels have been hit hard and most have no budgets to produce projects. I'm no stranger to D.I.Y. and have released a number of recordings (and even a DVD) on my own label "prime source". In order to help get "prime source" "primed" for the next new project we need to move a little bit of the existing catalogue, just to get the ball rolling. I imagine many of you have one or another of my titles either from "prime source" or from the "hatOLOGY" label (the legendary Swiss label with whom I've worked closely for over fifteen years).

Well, there's never been a better time to fill out your collection and pick up those couple of titles that you never got around to. You'll help me out greatly towards getting the new band going and you'll be picking up some collectors items since most of the hatOLOGY titles are officially out of print now. I have a handful of "last copies" on a number of those releases that you won't find anywhere else.

Have a look at the website and feel free to e-mail me with any questions you might have about the music or whatever. You can order directly off the site using Pay Pal. There are some videos and sample tracks up on the NEWS PAGE. The DISCOGRAPHY PAGE page offers information about each release. And the ORDERING PAGE makes it easy.

Here is what I have at the moment:

New Release...on Gerry Hemingway's AURICLE records
INBETWEEN SPACES Gerry Hemingway & Ellery Eskelin

p r i me so u r c e R e c o r d i n g s
EVERY SO OFTEN - Ellery Eskelin & Sylvie Courvoiser
ON THE ROAD WITH...Eskelin, Parkins & Black...the DVD
PREMONITION-solo tenor saxophone

hatOLOGY records
ONE GREAT NIGHT...LIVE Eskelin w/Parkins & Black
TEN Eskelin w/Parkins & Black + Constable, Ribot, Gibbs SOLD OUT!
FORMS Eskelin w/Gress & Haynes
ARCANUM MODERNE Eskelin w/Parkins & Black (out of print, these are the last copies) SOLD OUT!
12 (+1) IMAGINARY VIEWS Eskelin w/Parkins & Black (out of print, these are the last copies) SOLD OUT!
VANISHING POINT Eskelin w/Maneri, Friedlander, Dresser, Moran (out of print, these are the last copies) SOLD OUT!
THE SECRET MUSEUM Eskelin w/Parkins & Black (out of print, these are the last copies) SOLD OUT!

Soul Note Records
FIGURE OF SPEECH Eskelin w/Daley & Tuncboyaciyan SOLD OUT!

Thanks for your support. I know you'll feel great about it!