Arts & Culture Blog
Pagrovian-grown Jazz Genius Erik Telford Returns to the Festival That Fostered His Talent
September 15, 2011
On his first album, 2010’s Kinetic, Erik Telford’s trumpet playing can leisurely float above the music like passing clouds or honk frantically like a frustrated commuter in rush hour traffic. The impressive and varied 11-song set by the Pacific Grove native, who performs with his Erik Telford Collective on the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Garden Stage Friday night at 8pm, provides a superb showcase for a local talent that has been nurtured by the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Jazz Education Programs.
Though now based in Austin, Texas, Telford was introduced to jazz by the festival’s education branch while growing up here. He credits the program’s Bill Berry, who passed away in 2002, as being a major musical and personal influence.
“There’s not a replacement for sitting down with a guy who was on the road with Duke Ellington and hear him telling stories,” Telford says.
As a young trumpeter, Telford adds he was also inspired by a Wynton Marsalis show at the old Cannery Row club Doc Rickett’s that one of his middle school teachers had suggested he attend.
“I didn’t know who Wynton Marsalis was, so I went down there with a friend,” he says. “That was the first time I really heard jazz. Being a trumpet player, I think it had a big impression on me. At that point, it became clear that it was something I wanted to pursue.”
While in his senior year at Pacific Grove High School, Telford became the first recipient of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Jimmy Lyons Scholarship, which allowed him to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
“In retrospect, it was an amazing opportunity,” Telford says. “I really enjoyed Berklee. I learned a lot there and got to meet a lot of musicians who I’m still really good friends with to this day.”
In 2007, Telford moved to Austin, where he currently plays in a variety of acts from his collective to the funk band Felan to aiding singer/songwriter Kalu James and performing in the party band The Argyles. Another one of Telford’s musical endeavor is Hellfire Horns, a three-piece horn section led by the trumpeter that has backed popular Austin musician Bob Schneider on two albums and performed with indie rockers The Walkmen.
“Probably six nights of the week, I’m doing something music related,” he says, “whether it’s a gig or writing or rehearsing or recording or something.”
It’s clear that a lot of his current energy is going towards the Erik Telford Collective. He says that the songs on Kinetic were developed over a decade-long period. The tracks range from the three minute-long “Rosemary,” where Telford’s elegant and melancholy trumpet playing glides over the pooling and cascading piano work of Angelo Lembesis, to the nine-minute title track featuring Telford’s trumpet flickering and then billowing like a growing fire.
Telford notes that his collective doesn’t do swing music but rather is informed by the tradition of jazz acts from the late ’60s.
“In my band, it’s really based around the improvisation,” he says. “We don’t use a ton of chord changes, so people typically call our music modal, where it’s based around very few chord changes and each chord change lasts for a long period of time. The challenge for us is how do you make one chord sound interesting.”
Though Telford did perform at the jazz festival as a student in the Monterey Jazz Festival’s California All-Star Band, which is now called the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, he’s excited to return to play this year’s fest in a different capacity.
“This will be my first time playing as a professional,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to play the festival, and for me, it’s a special opportunity to be able to come back to a festival that I really enjoy.” Now Telford is joining the ranks of other alumni of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Jazz Education Programs—including Grammy-nominated Donny McCaslin—who are carving out impressive careers in the music industry.
“It’s no mistake that these guys are getting out in the world,” MJF’s Timothy Orr says. “They are that talented.”
Orr notes that it is very gratifying to have musicians like Telford perform at the fest whose careers have been aided by the festival’s education programs. “We have a connection with them,” he says, “that goes beyond the music.”
The Erik Telford Collective play the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Garden Stage at the Monterey Fairgrounds 8pm Friday, Sept. 16. $40/Friday grounds pass. 373-3366.