NB: Thursday’s Mentoring Series performance will take place at SEEDS::Brooklyn Arts, located at 617 Vanderbilt Ave. in Brooklyn. There will be one set only at 9 p.m.
This month, we feature four performances with pianist Taylor Eigsti and up-and-coming drummer Jeremy Dutton as part of our Mentoring Series. We’ll be publishing a series of blog posts about these two artists and their ongoing musical friendship. Read the first post of the series here.
“I didn’t really talk to Taylor that much there,” Jeremy recalls. “I was always stepping on eggshells around him because just me as a person, I don’t ever talk out of obligation. I just can’t do it, so I just say what flows, and if I don’t feel anything, I don’t say anything.”
Already at the time, however, Taylor had picked up on Jeremy’s musical potential.
“I first heard Jeremy years ago when he was a student at Stanford Jazz Workshop,” Taylor says. “He really stood out to me as someone who not only had great talent on the instrument, but also possessed a natural quality as a bandleader. I remember watching a combo in a student performance where he was introducing the songs, and I thought, ‘This guy a born bandleader!”
Once Jeremy arrived in New York in fall of 2012 to attend The New School, he followed up with Taylor and played some more with him. Then, a serendipitous turn of events came about in the fall of 2013. The student housing that Jeremy sought at The New School wasn’t available for the first month, but Taylor fortunately needed a subletter for the month.
“We hung out a lot that month, and every now and then he’d treat me to dinner or something and he’s a real personable, warm, funny kind of dude, and I really appreciated that,” Jeremy recalls. “From then on we were pretty much friends.”
When vocalist Sachal Vasandani was putting a band together for an extended tour across Africa and Europe in early 2014, Taylor recommended Jeremy, and the music continued to develop from there. According to Taylor, it wasn’t just Jeremy’s outstanding musicianship that made him a great choice for the gig; it was also his attitude. Many of Taylor’s mentors—he cites Dave Brubeck, David Benoit, Red Holloway, Ernestine Anderson, and Shelly Berg as a few—taught him not only about music, but also the bigger picture.
“[They] taught me to be good to other people and not to take yourself too seriously and remain grounded in everything else, which is why I’m drawn to Jeremy in particular,” he says. “He’s a gentle guy and a humble guy, a person of really high character, which comes out in his music. He’s never playing music to impress people; he’s playing to bring out a beautiful moment in life, to express emotions. … I feel like music reflects life, so if you can get along with someone socially and personally, then the music really falls into place.”
In the case of Taylor and Jeremy, a friendship outside of music helped strengthen a music relationship that continues to evolve.
“Having that tour was really when we got to develop the way we play together and get used to the way we interpret music—basically bringing the friendship we already had outside of music into the music, which didn’t take long,” Jeremy says.
“I had a feeling on the first tour we ever did together with Sachal,” Taylor says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be friends with this guy for a long time.'”
The Cycle of Learning
For Taylor, the Mentoring Series is both an opportunity to introduce Jeremy’s formidable musical talents to a larger audience and a chance to shift the conversation in jazz toward the future, rather than the past.
“There are a lot of us trying to make something new with the music to let it grow, so I don’t participate in these discussions about ‘Is jazz dead?,'” he says. “I don’t believe in keeping it alive; I think it’s all bullshit—it’s already alive! We don’t need to keep it alive; we just need to keep bringing it to people.”
After teaching younger musicians for so many years, Taylor has come to appreciate more and more the cyclical nature of sharing knowledge, especially after observing the process of sharing go both ways. He cites a specific experience from this past summer while teaching at the Port Townsend Jazz Workshop alongside piano faculty George Cables, Benny Green, and Geoff Keezer.
“There was a moment when I was sharing something in a masterclass, and Benny and Geoff were around the piano, and I was just … they were real heroes to me, so I couldn’t believe that I could share anything since they were such inspirations,” Taylor says. “It felt like a really profound moment to share a little bit of information with some of my heroes, and the following week at Stanford, I heard one of my Stanford students—whom I’ve watched since he was a young student and now is teaching there—play a midweek concert, and I was blown away! Now I want to take a lesson with him.”
As he sees it, the cycle of inspiration and influence is not just central to the flourishing of this music, but embodies the very process of collaborative musicmaking itself.
“It’s just an amazing function that exists within whatever form of music this is that we play … when we’re open and sharing our information and being supportive, it works in all different directions,” Taylor says. “It’s a cycle of give and take, which is playing music with people in the first place.”
Taylor Eigsti and Jeremy Dutton perform duo as part of The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series this Thursday, October 9th, 2014, at SEEDS::Brooklyn Arts. The performance will feature Eigsti on keyboards and Dutton on drums. There will be one set only at 9 p.m., $10.00. Purchase tickets here.