Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Eskelin, Ellery (Lane)
Eskelin, Ellery (Lane), tenor saxophone; b. Witchita, Kansas, 16 August 1959. Raised in Baltimore, Maryland since the age of 2, he has been living in New York City since 1983. His mother, Roberta Lee Haven (maiden name Blankenship), born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was a professional musician in Baltimore, playing piano and Hammond B3 organ. His father, Rodney Keith Eskelin, born in Michigan, was a professional musician and composer in Los Angeles, California. He played keyboards, saxophone, guitar and various other instruments. Ellery is married to Michelle Van Natta (b. 1961). They have a son, Rami Wade Eskelin (b. 1999).
He has studied with Kenneth Reinhardt at Edmonson Heights Elementary School, 1969-1971; Lorenz F. Nowack at Johnnycake Junior High School, 1971-1974; John P. Kaufman at Woodlawn Senior High School, 1974-1977; Jimmy Oronson, privately in Baltimore 1974-1977; Joseph Briscuso at Towson University, 1977-1981; Hank Levy at Towson University, 1977-1981; Tim Eyermann, privately in Baltimore, 1980; Mel Ellison, privately in Baltimore, 1981; Dr. George Ross, privately in Baltimore, 1981; George Coleman, privately in New York City, 1982; and David Liebman, privately in New York City, 1983.
In 1969 at age ten he began playing the tenor saxophone. His interest in music was sparked by his mother "Bobbie Lee" who played Hammond B3 organ professionally in Baltimore with her own groups in the early sixties. Throughout high school and college he began playing professionally around Baltimore in a variety of musical situations while concentrating heavily on jazz, sitting in at local venues and forming groups of his own.
In 1973 (at age 13) Eskelin attended the first of many annual summer week-long residencies hosted by the Stan Kenton Orchestra at Towson State University. In 1977 he enrolled at that institution studying classical saxophone literature with Joseph Briscuso as well as woodwind literature for flute and clarinet with various players from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His primary focus was jazz, playing in the Towson State Jazz Ensemble led by Hank Levy. This group performed Levy's original compositions exclusively. Levy is known for his use of odd time signatures in big band music having contributed to the books of Don Ellis and Stan Kenton. Upon graduation in 1981 (with a Bachelor of Science in Music Performance), Eskelin went on the road with trombonist Buddy Morrow, traveling the US in a series of one-nighters that lasted for a year and and a half from 1981 until 1983, culminating in a tour of South America.
In 1983 he moved to New York City to devote himself to the pursuit of jazz and improvised music. Towards that end studies began with saxophonists George Coleman and David Liebman. The first few years in New York were spent apprenticing with a wide variety of musicians including a notable stint with organist Jack McDuff, in an attempt to widen his scope as a player and solidify the necessary skills required to eventually integrate traditional jazz elements with musical ideas from a variety of other sources. In this process Eskelin experienced a musical epiphany of sorts in which he began investigating various concepts of phrasing and timbre manipulation that continue to be a major focus in his work. His recorded output begins at this time with the first of three recordings by the cooperative group Joint Venture (with trumpeter Paul Smoker, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes) for Enja records in 1987. He was also a member of Phil Haynes' "4 Horns & What?" ensemble which toured Europe and recorded in the late 80s.
After some time spent with these bands Eskelin began the first of many projects as a leader beginning with a trio comprised of Gress and Haynes. This group endeavored to combine it's roots in the tradition of jazz with various concepts of independence and role changing in an attempt to play freely but with strict attention to harmony, time and form.
The years following were tentative work-wise but a grass-roots do it yourself work ethic slowly began to bear fruit in the community of musicians and also with record companies and music promoters in Europe. In 1992, an important and ongoing musical relationship with drummer Joey Baron began. The group "Baron Down" was formed opening Eskelin's ears to further possibilities concerning musical roles, independence and context. Joey Baron's "Baron Down" toured yearly in Europe and made three recordings between 1991 and 1995. During this time Eskelin continued to form projects of his own, generally incorporating new and unusual instrumentations in an attempt to place the saxophone in unique contexts for improvising. More serious explorations and approaches to form and structure took place with a short lived group featuring Joe Daley on tuba and Arto Tuncboyaciyan on bakdav drums (Turkish hand drums, somewhat like conga drums) and percussion. This group recorded "Figure of Speech" for Soul Note records in 1993.
In 1994 he formed his current working band including sampler and accordion player Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black. His conceptual efforts have been focused greatly with this ensemble resulting in a music that while containing some jazz elements may not be jazz in any strict sense. An amalgamated approach to playing and composing is employed drawing inspiration from many sources. This band appears regularly in the US, Canada and Europe.
Eskelin has also performed in duo with Andrea Parkins (on sampler) having released "Green Bermudas" (Eremite), a recording that utilizes various found sounds and prerecorded materials including recordings by his late father Rodd Keith. In a related project he has also curated an anthology of Rodd Keith's music for John Zorn's Tzadik label entitled "I Died Today-The Music of Rodd Keith". Keith has become a cult figure among record collectors for his work in the song-poem (send us your lyrics) industry in the late 60s and early 70s.
Eskelin occasionally performs with a side-project based on music written by and associated with the great tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, featuring guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Kenny Wollesen. This group performed at a number of major festivals in Europe including Saalfelden (Austria), Willisau (Switzerland), La Batie (Geneva, Switzerland) and Vilshofen (Germany) in 1997.
Other recent side projects include touring and recording with Dutch drummer Han Bennink (see "Dissonant Characters" on hatOLOGY), a quintet project including Parkins and Black along with Erik Friedlander on cello and Joseph Daley on tuba and a new ensemble consisting of strings, vibraphone and saxophone performing completely improvised music. Beyond these projects, he performs solo saxophone concerts having done so in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, France, Austria and Spain. He is currently a member of several other important bands, including groups led by bassist Mark Helias, a quartet led by drummer Gerry Hemingway and most recently as a guest with drummer Daniel Humair's band.
Eskelin's recordings as a leader (there are currently sixteen) have been named in Best of the Year critics polls ranging from the New York Times, The Village Voice, and major jazz magazines in the US and abroad. He also appears on nearly thirty recordings as a side person. DownBeat Magazine has included Eskelin in the "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" category of their 46th Annual Critics Poll (August, '98), the 49th Annual critics Poll (August 2001) and again in the 50th Annual Critics Poll (August 2002). Eskelin was also a nominee for the prestigious 2003 Jazzpar award.
Eskelin performs solely on tenor saxophone, his first love.
In addition to his own work, Eskelin has also recorded and/or performed with Rabih Abou-Khalil, Pheeroan Aklaff, Ray Anderson, Barry Altschul, Epizo Bangoura, Thurman Barker, Joey Baron, Han Bennink, Steve Beresford, Tim Berne, Joanne Brackeen, Delmar Brown, Jaki Byard's Apollo Stompers, Donald Byrd, Regina Carter, Eugene Chadbourne, Dennis Chambers, Bruno Chevillon, Gerald Cleaver, Anthony Coleman, Marc Copland, Vincent Courtois, Sylvie Courvoisier, Joe Daley, Dave Douglas, Mark Dresser, Marc Ducret, Bruce Eisenbeil, Robin Eubanks, Mark Feldman, Mike Formanek, Erik Friedlander, Satoko Fujii, Michel Godard, Ben Goldburg, Drew Gress, Tim Hagans, Antonio Hart, Billy Hart, Phil Haynes, Mark Helias, Gerry Hemingway, John Hollenbeck, the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band (w/Elvin Jones), Terumasa Hino, Daniel Humair, Misako Kano, Frank Lacy, Pete Laroca, Andy Laster, David Liebman, Joe Lovano, Mat Maneri, Denman Maroney, Tony Martucci, Jack McDuff, Paul Motian, Matt Moran, Buddy Morrow, the New York Composers Orchestra, Reggie Nicholson, William Parker, Paul Plimley, Tom Rainey, Marc Ribot, Herb Robertson, Josh Roseman, Mikel Rouse, Paul Smoker, Leni Stern, Mike Stern, Steve Swell, David Taylor, Gebhard Ullmann, Tom Varner, Jack Walrath, Carlos Ward, Fred Wesley, Larry Willis and Michael Wimberley among many others.
Setting the Standard (1988); Forms (1990); Figure of Speech (1991); Premonition (1992); Jazz Trash (1994); Green Bermudas (1996); The Sun Died (1996); One Great Day... (1996); Kulak 29 & 30 (1997); Dissonant Characters (1998); Five Other Pieces (+2) (1998); Ramifications (1999); The Secret Museum (1999); Vanishing Point (2000); 12 (+1) Imaginary Views (2001); Arcanum Moderne (2002); Eskeline appears with Parkins & Black on the compilations The Songlines Anthology (1994) and The Wire Tapper 09 (2002)
Rabih Abou-Khalil: The Cactus of Knowledge (2000); Eugene Chadbourne: Beauty and the Bloodsucker (1999), Jimi (1999); The Grassy Knoll: The Grassy Knoll III (1997); Joey Baron's Baron Down: Tongue In Groove (1991), Raised Pleasure Dot (1993), Crackshot (1995); Mark Helias: Loopin The Cool (1994), Fictionary (1995), Open Loose (1997); Gerry Hemingway: Johnny's Corner Song (1997), Songs (2001); Daniel Humair: Libert Surveile (2001), Sketch Music (2001); John Hollenbeck: No Images (1995); Joint Venture: Joint Venture (1987), Ways (1989), Mirrors (1991); Phil Haynes: 4 Horns & What (1989), 4 Horn Lore (1991); Mikel Rouse Broken Consort: A Lincoln Portrait (1985); Ray Anderson: The Ray Anderson Big Band Record (1994); Tony Martucci: Earth Tones (with Joe Lovano) (1988), Collage (1992); Gebhard Ullmann: Basement Research (1993), Kreuzberg Park East (1997); Tom Varner: The Mystery Of Compassion (1992), Martian Heartache (1996); Jim Payne: New York Funk (1992); Matt Woulle: Lovelyville - Music From Princeton (1995)
I Died Today: compilation of recordings by Rodd Keith from late '60s / early '70s
Television interview and performance, at MOZG, Bydgoszcz, Poland - 1996
Television interview on The Discovery Channel in the documentary "A Chance to Grow", USA - 1999
PBS television - interview on "OFF THE CHARTS -The Song Poem Story", 2003 - USA
Live performance and interview film for European television with Rabih Abou-Khalil, Germany, 2000.
This American Life, National Public Radio (August 1997)
Fresh Air with Terri Gross, National Public Radio (December 3, 1996)
Numerous live European festival broadcasts as a leader and sideman, German Radio / BBC / Netherlands radio / Switzerland Radio / Austrian Radio and others, continuously since 1988.
Live radio performances on WKCR (Columbia University, NYC) in 1987 and WFMU (New Jersey) numerous occasions 1996 to present.
Allan Jaffe - with Mark Feldman, Kermit Driscoll, Mike Formanek, Bobby Previte (1992); Gerry Hemingway: Devil's Paradise (1999); Satoko Fujii Big Band (2001); Ben Goldberg Quartet (1994); David Liebman, Ellery Eskelin, John Hollenbeck, live performance (1995); about 10 hours of private video tapes of concerts (solo and ensemble) 1995 to present.
Features & Articles
NZZ am Sontag / May 19th, 2002 (Switzerland) Cuadernos de Jazz, (Spain March/April 2001) Coda Magazine, (Canada January 2001) Jazz Forum (Warsaw May 2000) JAZZIZ (April 2000) JAZZMAN (Paris November 1999) Jazz Magazine (Paris November 1999) Down Beat (June 1999) Resonance (Issue 20, 1999) Peace Warriors (Paris) October, 1998 MAGNET (Sept/Oct 1997) Jazz Magazine (Paris, January, 1997) The Wire (London, December 1996) Down Beat (September 1995) Pulse (June 1995) The Villager (NYC July 1994) Jazziz (November 1993) Jazz Times (June 1993) Down Beat (April 1993) Option (January-February 1993)
Musica Jazz (Italy, June 2002) Jazz Magazine (April, 1999) JazzoSphere (Paris) September, 1998 Cadence Review (April, 1998) Jazzthetik, December 1997 (Germany) Musica Jazz (Italy, November 1997) Coda (November-December 1993)
Works by Eskelin:
Article and transcription of Sonny Stitt's solo on "The Eternal Triangle" DownBeat, June '93, page 54.
"Rodd Keith Revealed" published in L.C.D., Summer 1996-Issue #18, WFMU Radio's Magazine and Program Guide.
"Free Jazz and the Post-Punk Scene..." published in SOUNDBOARD improvised & experimental music #4 Mar/Apr 98
"Critical Perspectives" published in "Schwann Inside, Jazz & Classical" December 2000, page 82. (excepts from the online version)
jazz-actuel.com, June 2002 (in French) http://www.jazz-actuel.com/interviews/eskelin.html
Jazz Weekly.com, July 2000 http://www.jazzweekly.com/interviews/eskelin.htm
All About Jazz website, October, 1999 http://www.allaboutjazz.com/iviews/eeskelin.htm
WNUR (Chicago), April 30, 1996 http://www.nwu.edu/WNUR/jazz/artists/eskelin.ellery/interview.html
Alliance for Improvised Music (North Carolina) http://baobabcomputing.com/aim/eskelint.html
Le Jazz #7 (Paris), March, 1998, along with Mark Helias. http://lejazz.simplenet.com/07/us/files/helias.html
Jazzosphere interview http://membres.lycos.fr/jazzosphere/eskelin.htm
Web Articles written by Ellery Eskelin:
Taking the Steps" written for the International Saxophone Homepage http://www.saxophone.org/ellery1.html
"Rodd Keith Revealed" written for WFMU FM radio program guide LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) http://www.wfmu.org/LCD/18/rodd.html
"Critical Perspective..." written for the hatHUT Website. http://home.earthlink.net/~eskelin/perspective.html
"1999 European Tour Diary" written for the All About Jazz website. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/articles/a0100_03.htm
"Introduction and Overview to History of a Band" written for the hatHUT website, updated September, 2002. http://www.hathut.com/eskelin.html
Downbeat Talent Deserving Wider Recognition, 1998, 2001 & 2002. Nominee for the Danish JazzPar Prize, 2003