Already a pro at 17, pianist Taylor Eigsti launches into experimental jazz.
Thursday, August 22, 2002
Photo by Carol Ivie
Photo: Taylor Made-Bay Area phenom Taylor Eigsti''s newest album, Resonance, links jazz''s roots with its future.
Last year, PBS ran a long and somewhat musty documentary on the early years of jazz and some of its principal innovators. History and tradition are all well and good, but those who are eager to see and hear the future of jazz should know that the Taylor Eigsti Trio is playing a special engagement at the Jazz and Blues Company on Saturday evening.
Only 17 years old, pianist Eigsti (pronounced EYE-gsti) has been performing professionally for nine years with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Dave Brubeck, James Moody, Red Holloway, Alan Broadbent and Lewis Nash. He has also been the opening act for such luminaries as Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and Al Jarreau. Yet all the big names and impressive associations fade away when you hear Eigsti''s miraculous playing, which sounds like a master musician channeling over a half-century of jazz brilliance and taking it, and us, into the future.
In a phone interview from his home in Menlo Park, Eigsti says that his talent was nurtured by a house filled with jazz. Beginning with piano lessons at age 4, he grew up sharing his late sister''s love of jazz and rock and his late father''s enjoyment of drums. Unlike many pianists, Eigsti came to the classical repertoire after he had spent several years in the jazz idiom. Studying such composers as Ravel, Chopin and Rachmaninoff had the effect, Eigsti says, of "shooting my playing way up."
Eigsti''s technique is indeed spellbinding, yet it always serves to deepen the musical integrity of a piece rather than to show off. Listen to his interpretation of the Sonny Rollins standard "Oleo" on Resonance, the trio''s latest CD. Eigsti translates the bright, glistening edge of the Rollins saxophone sound into a whirlwind of pianistic textures that go beyond categories like "jazz" or "classical." Bottom line: This is phenomenal piano playing.
Many of Eigsti''s past engagements have been benefit concerts for area charities such as food banks, music schools and medical groups. In 1999 he performed for an admiring Bill Clinton at a Democratic fundraiser in Atherton. Active community involvement fits well into Eigsti''s conception of jazz as an art form dependent on collaboration. "With jazz, you take everyone''s different backgrounds, different approaches, different ideas, and then you improvise together," he says. Eigsti adds that if he were not pursuing a jazz career, he would have gone in for pro football. "There''s a lot of spontaneous improvisation involved in football," he says, "and an element of fun. With both jazz and football, you''re always asking the question, ''How can I make this the most interesting?''"
Eigsti has been with his current trio for three years and says that "it is a thrill to play with them." Eigsti describes drummer Jason Lewis as "completely sensitive and tasteful. He can read my mind rhythmically," he says, adding that bass player John Shifflett is "another excellent mind-reader."
The trio already has three recordings under their belt: Taylor''s Dream and Live at Filoli, both from 2001, and this year''s Resonance. While one can hear Eigsti working his way through the jazz piano masters-he captures the chewy swing of Horace Silver on "Tokyo Blues" and turns Chick Corea''s furious intensity up a notch on "Got A Match?"-perhaps most exciting of all are Eigsti''s original compositions. "Avolation," on his latest CD, was inspired by a sound everyone dreads, that of a computer crashing.
"The way I compose is to take a snippet, a random idea, and then build on it," he says. "And one day my computer was doing something funky. I went straight to the keyboard." From the strange and squawky sounds of a cranky modem, Eigsti has crafted an experimental soundscape that is fresh and complex yet grounded in the roots of jazz.
The word avolation means "the action of flying away," an appropriate term for Eigsti, who just graduated (Salutatorian) from high school and will enter college this fall. Following his final summer engagements (which include a performance with Diane Schuur next week at Villa Montalvo), Eigsti will enter the Jazz Studies program at USC, in Los Angeles, where he plans to focus on film scoring. Movie soundtracks could certainly use someone like Eigsti. Since Don Ellis (The French Connection), there have been few genuinely inventive jazz composers working in film.
Beyond Eigsti''s studies and continued touring and recording dates, his larger goal is to "combine jazz with other genres," he says. "I have eclectic tastes in music, and I want to be a catalyst. I want people to hear music for what it is, and not have misconceptions about this or that kind of music."
Eigsti''s local fans don''t need to be introduced to the incomparable pleasures of great jazz. The trio played in Carmel last March, and Eigsti was dazzled by the response of the audience. "I can honestly say that it was the best crowd I''ve ever played for: intelligent, receptive. It made us play 500 times better." If, by the time you are reading this, Saturday''s performance has already sold out, despair not. The Taylor Eigsti Trio will be making their first appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival next month, three days before Taylor Eigsti turns 18.
The Taylor Eigsti Trio performs at the Jazz & Blues Co., 236 The Crossroads, Carmel, on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 7:30pm. $35/general; $45/preferred. For information on Eigsti''s recordings, visit www.tayjazz.com.