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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Taylor Eigsti (l), photo by Bill Douthart; Jeremy Dutton (r), photo via www.onemustwonder.com

Taylor Eigsti (l), photo by Bill Douthart; Jeremy Dutton (r), photo via www.onemustwonder.com

Back in October, we presented four great shows with pianist Taylor Eigsti and drummer Jeremy Dutton as part of our new Mentoring Series. Every gig featured a different lineup and different repertoire, and we had the chance to talk with Taylor and Jeremy over the course of those gigs about the work they were presenting together (read the entire trilogy here: part I, II, and III).

Now, a little over a month after their final Mentoring Series concert, we spoke with Taylor and Jeremy separately by phone to follow up with their experience and hear their thoughts.

N.B. Catch the last Mentoring Series show of this season on Thursday, January 15th, 2015, featuring Jason Lindner’s NOW vs. NOW with James Francies.

The Jazz Gallery: What were some of your favorite moments that happened over the course of the four gigs? 

Jeremy Dutton: I really liked all of them. They were all very different and gave me something to think about musically and something different to adapt to. That was my favorite part in general: how each concert I got to adapt to a new thing or tried to adapt to a new thing.

Taylor Eigsti: There were tons of musical moments that stood out, but I think just the chance to explore different musical contexts was cool. We did different music at every show, but I think the first moment that comes to mind would have been the second gig. We decided to improvise for 70 minutes straight, and that’s definitely something that takes you on a journey together. I felt like you really get to know someone musically when you’re so into that context with no safety net, just knowing you have to play for 70 minutes. I think he’s just a masterful, really great musician, and I thought, “Whoa, I know this dude musically.” He’s got a huge future and I’m proud of it.

TJG: How do you rehearse that sort of thing?

TE: There’s no way to rehearse. The only way is to hang out socially, because it’s social communication when you’re in that situation, but we get along really well so it makes it possible to have a musical conversation that doesn’t have, you know, training wheels—having tunes and things like that.

TJG: How do you decide what you’re going to play?

TE: It depends. Just like any conversation: if the wind takes you there, that’s what you’re talking about, but we could just talk about anything else. The musicians I hang with and travel with, we probably only talk about music as much as anything else. It’s just that music reflects life and so I’m very much about going and living one, and doing those elements and trying to survive all of that, and that shows up in the music. I guess that would be something different, maybe if music was newer to me or something, but I’ve been playing for 26 years and I see so much life in it, so I interact with music mainly through a lot of other means.

TJG: Have you always held this perspective on music and life?

TE: It’s definitely changed a bunch. Spending more time with music, I just start looking at priorities, and life comes in and that’s the biggest thing going. My focus is more there than musical minutiae. I’ve spent tons of time with music over the course of my life, but these days I’m more likely to listen to a sports podcast or a comedy show; it’s nice to have time away so that when you spend time with it, it becomes the escape it can be. If we’re going to talk about music, I’d rather be at the instrument and discussing it in those terms.

TJG: What did you get out of playing different music each time, rather than working on the same music?

TE: It allowed me to see certain elements of Jeremy’s adaptability and his versatility. If we were playing the same things at every gig, that would have felt like we were just rehearsing. I don’t know, I wanted to see how he reacts to things and reacts to musical landscapes. The majority of when I’ve played with him in the past, it had been on these tours with Sachal [Vasandani] and those were the main contexts where I interacted with him musically. I think that this just gave me a closer look at what he could do, and also seeing him as a bandleader and seeing him leading on the mic.

JD: It’s tough to explain. It’s the same challenge that you always have, really, when you play music, which is all these options without the time to weigh everything. There’s a decision you make in the moment and that can really change things, and, for me, when you’re playing with Taylor and all the bass players we played with, those choices really kind of stand out because they influence everything.

TJG: What did you learn from that decision-making?

JD: What I learned about my own playing is something that I’m working on a lot, and it’s been the same thing because, in music, just in like every other art form, you learn the same things over and over again to an extent. Maybe it’s a higher form sometimes, but for the most part I feel like you can relate any grand lesson that you might have to some basic lesson that you learn when you first start playing music.

For me, that lesson was being aware of the little things—small, small things. The details are really what matter, and that’s something that I’ve known and I still know, but it just is something you think about even more when you’re playing with people of such a high level: you start to understand how even the small, minute details are taken care of in their playing. That gives it that bigger sort of quality, but that’s something that I’ve been focusing on.

TJG: Jeremy, what was it like having the tables turned and leading the band on the last gig?

JD: That was cool. I’ve led a band before, but it’s a little different when the people you’re leading are people who are older than you, people that you look up to. I don’t know, I enjoyed it.

It’s interesting to figure out people’s preferences—what they like and don’t like to do, how they like to look at music—and pick music that’s best for the situation. It’s got its own set of challenges, but it’s still really fun, and you also learn a lot about the best way to deliver information. Every time I’ve been in charge of leading a band or every time that I give someone some music to play on a gig, it’s just a question of learning each time what’s the best way to communicate something to someone.

The answer to that is that you have to communicate with everyone differently, but there is a happy medium you can get to where you don’t have to explain all the time.

TJG: Taylor, are you still doing “badass of the month”?

TE: “Month” is a very relative term! I haven’t been able to do this every month, but every once in a while I’m going to post about some young musician I interact with. I’m definitely guilty of this where, on Facebook, posts will be when someone dies and somebody appreciates them, or else it’s about big gigs. Part of that is because we have gigs every day and people die every day, so naturally that’s going to happen, but there’s not enough posts randomly appreciating someone.

It seems like everyone looks up to a generation right before, like 10 years older, and I think that’s how it worked for a long time. The people I listened to growing up, like 10 years older, were the people I was totally nerding out about, and it’s that 10-year generational thing. Younger people have a tendency to keep looking up to those people, but I think it’s wise for people to look downwards as well and see if you can’t be inspired by somebody 10 years younger.

No matter what stage you’re at in music, that’s an important thing: to know you can learn from anyone and that you can enjoy anyone’s music, and it’s all generational. I’m happy to interact with them and hear the music they’re doing, and I think a lot of people are scared to do that out of ego. It’s like, “Oh, what, it’s a 20 year-old. What are they going to do?”

TJG: How do we keep this intergenerational dialogue going between experienced veterans and emerging young artists?

JD: I’ve seen this question before, and depending on the age group of the people you’re hanging around, usually younger people say, “It’s the older generation,” and the older generation say, “It’s the younger generation.” I can’t speak to anything but my own experience in this situation, but you have to reach out to the older generation. For me, personally, you also need to have some idea of what you’re talking about. I don’t think they would like to be hit up if you’re just some random dude and you don’t know what you’re talking about.

But to be fair, it’s not an easy thing to do—even with social media, just because, you know, musicians are musicians. In general, everyone in the arts profession, we’re not known for being sunshine-y people all the time, especially jazz musicians. I mean, if you look at how much they deal with—how much they travel and do all this other stuff—if they check their email or Facebook and you get a message from “Random,” “Random,” “Random,” you can understand them not answering, or answering maybe very shortly or whatever. But if you keep reaching out, seeing those people, trying to get in touch with them, something will happen. Maybe you’ll see them in court—maybe they’ll bring you a restraining order!—but I think just reaching out is something that has to be done. It’s not going to happen any other way.

In general, a positive when you’re young is just having humility—for every age, really—but especially when you’re young and reaching out to those older guys. Don’t cross the line. Know what you’re talking about, but be ready to receive that information that they’re going to present you. You don’t know everything, and neither do they, but you know a lot less than they do.

TE: I think people still hire younger people and do gigs with them, and I think that it does go on. But it’s kind of like, well, if I wasn’t going to be musician, I’d be a football coach: you go with the quarterback or players that give you the best chance to win. So as far as putting together a group goes, I’m a big believer in trying to go for the best possible combination musically, no matter the situation, and not limit whatever age or generation that person comes from or anything about them.

Some people maybe don’t know or search for certain musicians that are like a generation below, and I think something like this [the Mentoring Series] brings light to, “Hey, what if you played with these guys instead of these other guys?” I think if people are meant to play together, they’ll play together, but I’m glad that this brings light to the fact that this does go on.

I wish the whole series a bunch of success and I hope it continues. I appreciate what Rio [Sakairi, TJG Artistic Director] has set up, and I’ll be going and attending other Mentoring Series myself.

The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series launched in 2014, cultivating senior-level jazz musicians as mentors and providing aspiring musicians with the opportunity to learn the music and business of jazz under the guidance of their contemporary heroes. These young musicians study with their mentor, learn about the music business, and perform alongside their mentor at The Jazz Gallery in a series of workshops and events that help the mentee develop not only his/her musicianship, but also learn how to manage his/her career in music. 

TJG Mentoring Series:

Vol. 1, Edition 4: Jason Lindner & James Francies

Vol. 1, Edition 3: Taylor Eigsti & Jeremy Dutton

Vol. 1, Edition 2: Miguel Zenón & Mario Castro

Vol. 1, Edition 1: Jaleel Shaw & Elena Pinderhughes