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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Adam DePaz

When he plays, the drummer Enoch Jamal Strickland emits “fields of cumulative energy, clouds of feather-touch and heavy-handed syncopations, latent with power like an oncoming storm” (Thomas Conrad, DownBeat). “Here’s a jazz drummer who wields all sorts of subtleties,” declares Jim Macnie in The Village Voice. “His swing is flecked with funk; his groove provides nuanced polyrhythms.”

E.J. was born and reared in a musical family in Florida. His father, who was once a percussionist in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra, raised E.J. and his identical twin brother, Marcus, on the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, and Jimi Hendrix. E.J. and Marcus devoted themselves to pursuing a life in music at a very early age. E.J. was steadfast in his ambition as performer, furthering his skills on local bandstands, but also began to compose after sitting in on some of Marcus’ piano lessons. In an interview for Alternate Takes, E.J. recalls, “I was like, well, this can open some doors…Maybe I can play differently if I know what’s going on around me.” After graduating from high school, the brothers both moved to New York to attend The New School.

As a student at The New School, E.J. not only studied with drummers such as Joe Chambers, Lewis Nash, and Jimmy Cobb, but also set aside time to polish his piano playing and continue crafting his compositions. He also quickly found himself in demand as a sideman; before graduating, E.J. had already performed with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Abbey Lincoln, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, and Dianne Reeves.

E.J. has spent the past decade collaborating with the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane as a member of Ravi’s quartet. He has also continued to work closely with Marcus, occupying the drum throne in several of his brother’s projects. As always, E.J. has focused himself on composition, leading two of his own groups, The E.J. Strickland Quintet and The E.J. Strickland Project, and releasing his debut album, In This Day (Strick Muzik), in 2009. E.J. speaks about his compositional process:

I guess a lot of it has to do with most of the time when I’m composing a song, I’m singing along with it.  No matter how complex the harmony is or what rhythmic things are going on, I always sing the melody, and since I can’t sing a fast line or anything like that, I’m forced to deal with simple structures or simple figures that are very catchy or very melodic, things like that.  And it’s good in a lot of ways.  Only recently I’ve kinda gone into more complex lines, things like that.  But for the most part I think it’s because I sing along with what I do.

We met E.J. as he was finishing up his studies, and heard him performing on our stage with his brother and several other like-minded musicians. In 2005, we invited E.J. to bring his own groups to The Gallery, and we’ve been presenting his music ever since. On Friday night, E.J. will bring his quintet, featuring the saxophonists Godwin Louis and Dayna Stephens, the pianist David Bryant, and the bassist Joe Sanders, to our stage.

When we asked E.J. about his history with The Jazz Gallery, he responded:

I’ve been a bandleader for about six, seven years now. I have two projects, actually, The E.J. Strickland Project and The E.J. Strickland Quintet, and both of those bands debuted at The Jazz Gallery, and we continue to play here. It’s a wonderful thing…I can’t see the New York scene without The Jazz Gallery.

Listen to a recording of E.J.’s other group, The E.J. Strickland Project, performing a tribute to Stevie Wonder, courtesy of our friends at NPR/WBGO.