A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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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. Here’s the first:

“I had no idea the legacy of what had happened through HSPVA [Houston School of Performing and Visual Arts], but I auditioned and got in,” says Jeremy Dutton. “We learned about Robert Glasper and Jason Moran, and there were these plaques on the wall about people going to All-State, YoungArts Awards, the Jason Moran Award, and all this other stuff. We saw these names on the wall and then we learned as we were there, ‘Oh my goodness, this could be done.’ So the goal became to go to New York.”

Now 20 years old and enrolled at The New School, Jeremy has been diligently pursuing (and succeeding in) his dream to make music with some of the best musicians on the scene. In February of 2014, he embarked on his first tour with vocalist Sachal Vasandani, performing across Africa and Europe with pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Buster Hemphill.

Before this tour, Jeremy had already released his début album in 2013, I Am, with his band Wayfarer, and had been actively performing and recording with iiii, a collaborative jazz-R&B-singer-songwriter-hip-hop project with vocalist Laila Smith, pianist Paul Bloom, and bassist Connor Schultze, each an enterprising young musician still enrolled in university (Harvard, Columbia, and Manhattan School of Music, respectively).

A native of Houston, Texas, Jeremy started on the drums early:

“When I was two, my mom bought me a plastic drum set for my birthday. Apparently, I really liked that drum set because when I was four, my mom and my uncle bought me a real, wooden drum set to play. I used to watch the drummer in my church player and music was just something that I was attracted to. It seems random because nobody else in my family is a musician, but I stuck with it. My mom was always really encouraging—my family in general was really encouraging—and my mom let me practice in the house and stuff like that.”

There is an emergent modern lineage of jazz drumming that can be traced directly to Houston: drummers Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott, Chris Dave, and Jamire Williams are some of the influential figures associated with the city. In the summer after fifth grade, Jeremy unknowingly became part of that lineage:

“The summer after my fifth grade year, I went to this camp in Houston called the Summer Jazz Workshop and I met the director, Craig Green. He, unbeknownst to me at the time, had taught Eric [Harland], Chris Dave, Kendrick [Scott], Jamire [Williams]. All these people had come up under him, but I just thought he was a random director at the time. He was really strict; he didn’t mess around, which was good. At the end of the workshop, he encouraged me to go to this middle school where he taught jazz band, so I went and Mr. Green basically helped me understand what it would take to be a musician.”

“He was one of the first people who was really a large part of teaching me about dedication to the instrument and really knowing your craft. I wasn’t that great at reading music when I came in and I wasn’t that disciplined, but Mr. Green had a way of getting rid of all that because most music teachers just give grades in general, but he would notoriously treat it like any other course in school: if you didn’t do the work, you wouldn’t get a good grade. He made sure he got the best out of you by telling you that your grade will reflect the work that you do.”

Through his studies with Craig Green, Jeremy came to study with Sebastian Whittaker, a former student of Green who had also taught Chris Dave, Kendrick Scott, and numerous Houston drummers. Whittaker encouraged Jeremy to audition for HSPVA, which led to more playing opportunities and also his introduction to Taylor Eigsti:

“In 2009, the summer after my ninth grade year, I went to Skidmore [Summer Jazz Institute] at the Saratoga Springs Jazz Festival. HSPVA sends some kids to Skidmore every year, so I got chosen that year. I didn’t talk to Taylor that much, but I met Kendrick there and talked to him for a long time. I had never heard Taylor play, but I was like, “Man, that’s pretty ridiculous.” Later that summer, I went to the Stanford Jazz Residency after a friend recommended it to me, and my friend, Lucas del Calvo, knew Taylor really well because they’re both from the Bay Area, and I got to play with Taylor there at the nightly jam session, which was really fun.”

Look for our next post about The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series, Vol. 1, Edition 3, and check them out this Thursday as they perform two sets of trio music featuring Taylor’s compositions.

Taylor Eigsti and Jeremy Dutton perform as part of The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series this Thursday, October 2nd, 2014, at The Jazz Gallery. The performance will feature Eigsti on piano, Burniss Travis on bass, and Dutton on drums, primarily featuring piano trio compositions by Eigsti. The first set is $15.00 ($10.00 for Members); the second set is $10.00 for everyone. Purchase tickets here.