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…