In conversation with taylor eigsti and julian lage

By Stuart Nicholson

                  Taylor Eigsti and Julian Lage
                 at the Stanford Jazz Workshop

Pianist Taylor Eigsti and guitarist Julian Lage are two kindred spirits linked by more than their precocious talents. Both are young—Lage is twenty and Eigsti is twenty-three—and both began playing professionally at an extraordinarily early age. Eigsti opened for David Benoit at the age of eight, played with Dave Brubeck at twelve, and made his recording debut as a leader at fourteen. Already, he has six albums and two Grammy nominations under his belt, and his latest album, Let It Come to You, has received a near unanimous thumbs-up from the critics and jazz public alike.

As for Lage, the soon-to-be-released EmArcy album Sounding Point is his first as a leader. Yet he's compiled an impressive resume as a sideman in just a few short years. He's toured and recorded with Gary Burton’s Generations quintet; played on Grammy-nominated albums by Nnenna Freelon, and by his long-time collaborator Eigsti. He's performed alongside a host of established stars, including Lee Konitz, Charles Lloyd, Martin Taylor, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, and the late Billy Higgins. A classical graduate of San Francisco Conservatory and a jazz graduate of Sonoma State University, Lage is currently balancing his burgeoning career in jazz with post-graduate studies in advanced classical music at Berklee College of Music.

Already being talked about as major jazz stars in-the-making, their musical outlooks have been shaped by very different cultural forces than those of preceding generations of jazz musicians. Lage and Eigsti grew up in the IT age, with computers, the internet, video games, iPods, and cell phones that pack more digital technology than the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed the first men on the moon. They grew up at a time when popular culture was promoted with greater efficiency than ever before, filling the social spaces around them. Even as they studied jazz, the soundtrack to their daily lives included pop music from the internet, television, and radio. As a result, Eigsti is a fan of Icelandic cult-rocker Björk, and he includes an Eels cover on his latest album. He and Lage greatly respect the American popular song—and might play accomplished improvisations on classic themes by a George Gershwin, a Cole Porter, or a Lorenz Hart—yet it is not the music of their time. Those songs do not resonate with them in the same way they do with older musicians.

It’s a generational thing, of course, and the availability of a huge range of music on the internet is just one element. If the sound of jazz is changing, it's because young jazz musicians are making it change by importing influences and experiences of their own time into the music. Just as turn-of-the-20th-century New Orleans helped shape Louis Armstrong’s music, and 1920s and '30s Harlem influenced Duke Ellington’s, today’s young musicians are informed by the world surrounding them. The primary difference being, today the lines of input are faster, more diverse, more intense, and more unpredictable.

As they explain in the following interview, Eigsti and Lage look to create original music that's part of the universal language of jazz, yet also a singular expression of their own specific musical and cultural identities. They speak of the challenges of individuality and authenticity facing young musicians today. They ponder the question of whether we may have moved beyond jazz into something else, and they reflect on the importance of maintaining a fixed working group. Finally, they offer some useful words of advice to young musicians starting out in jazz.

How did you guys first get together?

TE: I met Julian when I was fourteen and he was eleven. Dr. Herb Wong, a great jazz promoter and historian, had the idea to put us together in a concert in the San Francisco Bay Area. We went through phases of losing touch and all that kind of stuff. What brought us together again was the Stanford Jazz Workshop. We were both teaching there, and started playing each others' music a lot. We started travelling a little bit as a duo, and Julian has been an integral part of my band for I don’t know how many years.

What are the challenges of working with another instrument that plays both melodic lines and chords?

TE: Well, to tell you the truth, I’m not so much a fan of jazz guitar as a fan of Julian and what he does. There are a lot of musicians who you think are very good on their instrument. There's another group of musicians who you think their instrument is the group. They play the group thing very well, and the things that Julian does are subtle … sometimes there are tracks on this most recent album Let It Come To You that I’ve had people listen to, and they had no idea that Julian is even on the track. He adds two or three things right where they need to be, and doesn’t make himself overly present when he doesn’t feel it’s necessary. It’s not only good to have that sensibility within a group, but at the same time it's inspiring for me, too, to emulate some of things he does. When we play together as a duo, we know each other so well as people—sense of humour, musicality, and all that kind of stuff—everything starts to come together.

Julian, same question, and perhaps you could fill out a little of that from your perspective. You’ve played on Taylor’s last two albums, and he is on two tracks on your album Sounding Point, so what's the attraction for you in collaborating with a pianist?

JL: Very similar. If I was able to come back as a different musician, I would be a piano player; I’d love to be a piano player without a doubt. So part of the attraction is the instrument, but primarily it is the personality: his sensibility of how to compose a piece and present it to an audience, how to support me, and how to be supportive. He’s an easy person to work with. He's very open, so it encourages this global sense of openness. The piano happens to be a beautiful instrument, and he plays it like nobody else.

When you play together, you’re working towards a collective voice, so how did you find that voice and how did you work towards that goal?

JL: Well, it’s well-known that the piano is a difficult instrument to play. He’s got eighty-eight keys; I’ve got six strings. We can cover each up very easily—I’ve got a volume knob.

TE: Also, we’ve got a wide range.

JL: [If] he’s playing something, I try and play to go with that, and if I’m playing something he’ll try and support me. A lot of this is musical common sense, so the issue is not the instruments—that’s more a generality—it's about making the music work, about being on the same page about how you want to make the music sound. But we don’t talk about it. A lot of all this is unspoken

TE: That’s the funny part about it. There are bits we always mess up in one part, or we have this one little area where we just try and hit it together, and we don’t really talk about it afterwards. There's one question we’ve never asked when performing together and that is, ‘Why did you do that?’ We just assume that whatever the other person did was the best possible thing that could happen in that moment. And that’s why a lot of the shows will sound drastically different, because sometimes we’ll feel very open and free, and take songs we’ve done a lot of times and do them drastically different, based on the present moment. There are times where that doesn’t happen, and that will be completely reversed. But either way, we don’t see it as odd or different. We just kind of go with it, which is fun.

You’ve both got CDs out now that reflect your own visions of what jazz can be, from your own personal perspectives. I'd like both of you to talk about how you see jazz—or what people call jazz, today—and how your music fits into that.

JL: I didn’t start playing jazz, I played blues—like Muddy Waters-style blues—and like old, old acoustic music, and bluegrass a little bit. I’m not saying it was a natural progression studying blues, and folk music, and American folk music. I’ve since become a big jazz fan, hearing a lot of people as far as my role in jazz … I’m not trying to do anything different [from] anybody, but I’m guided by certain characteristics I believe to be true. I’m not trying to be different to Taylor or John Scofield or any other jazz group, because that’s not what I’m in it for. But I am trying to seek-out how music works on a very fundamental level. If it comes out in a jazz format, fine. If it comes out in an electronica format, fine. If it comes out in a bluegrass song, fine. I’m trying to be nebulous when it comes to the jazz area. I don’t see myself as a jazz guitar player. I have the training, but equally I have an acoustic guitar training, and equally I have a blues training. I’m not the person to be talking to about being a jazz musician.

A lot of musicians feel we’re beyond jazz, into something else.

JL: Yeah, I agree …

A lot of people are thinking along your lines. They’re not ‘jazz’ musicians in the old sense of the word—the Great American Songbook, straight-ahead swing and so forth.

JL: There is a stereotype of a jazz, a type of music that is played in jazz clubs seven nights a week. You reach hundreds of people, maybe you don’t. It’s kind of like a stereotype that keeps it a very small field. I think everyone in our generation is in the mood to make music that reaches a lot of people, breaks down barriers. It’s happening politically and socially, and all these kind of things all around the world. I think we’re trying to be present and do whatever is appropriate for the time

TE: I think structures in many ways are breaking down. There are a lot of ways of looking at … look at the record industry, with record sales and [how] people want to get things digitally—the whole iTunes culture. That basically feeds our collective cultural attention span. You only have to have one or two tracks you like now off the CD, not the whole CD. Things are not about a full album any more. That context is changing. And there's also the [fact that] a lot of jazz musicians don’t really see what they do as fitting into the ‘smoky jazz club’ context.

I’ve had the privilege of having the third person perspective of seeing Julian developing his own music … I think anyone who tries to do something different because they’re trying to do something different is not really going to be the most authentic. But if you’re trying to do something because you want to be yourself, and let it fit into whatever genre it may end up fitting into …

I hear Julian’s new music, [and] it’s authentic. There are adjectives you could use to describe it. A lot of them are not really similar to jazz. There are [jazz-like] elements that are incorporated into what he’s doing, but I think ‘jazz’ is such a nebulous term now. As you mentioned, it is getting stretched in so many directions, to lump it under that category is very hard, at times.

JL: To be honest, I grew up in—we both grew up in—Southern California, we both had similar backgrounds, and jazz isn’t primarily our ‘thing.’ It’s not like our … it doesn’t do the same things to us as it does to other people, you know? Especially growing up in the 1990s; we’re influenced by video games, so we’re just trying to not fake it. We can pull out the Great American Songbook, but it doesn’t mean we believe in it completely.

TE: Yes, that’s the thing! Unfortunately, there are situations where musicians—no matter if they are trying to be authentic to themselves and maybe do something that ends up being a little different—have to fit in to a certain mold, because of certain built-in audience expectations, demographically and whatnot. You alluded to the Great American Songbook. I think that’s one the things sometimes we battle against as musicians, because there are so many great songs there. And sure, there are people who dedicate their whole life to knowing the Great American Songbook inside and out. I am not trying to take anything away from that by saying this, but I am saying we grew up in a generation that has allowed-in a lot more influences than maybe previous generations, in some respects. So I think with that same level of openness to be authentic, we have to let in all those other influences as well.

What we’re really aiming to do is—also within this duo—is to be authentic to ourselves. And I think one of the things about both of us is that we’re primarily composers almost more than players of our instruments. Many times we play concerts and there’s a set structure and stuff, and of course some of that caters to people’s expectations. You want to hear people improvise, you want to hear melody, you want to hear all these kinds of things, and so within the improvisation we try to listen to each other as much as possible, to make it sound more like a spontaneous composition than just playing over the changes.

JT: Well said, well said. yes…

Lets concentrate on your latest albums. Taylor, talk about the artistic choices you made to arrive at ‘Fallback Plan Suite’ [from Let It Come To You] and how you have evolved in this direction.

TE: For myself, I grew up first being first inspired by contemporary jazz before anything. I grew up listening to Smooth Jazz, which is now a scary word within the jazz world. But I started listening to a lot of that modern jazz and contemporary stuff that was first available to me in my life. I had a lot of mentors and idols that were more along the contemporary line, and when I was about ten or 11, I started opening myself up to the world of straight-ahead jazz. I became most inspired by that, and started playing with Red Holloway, Ernestine Anderson, and people who were definitely playing in a straight-ahead role. That became very ingrained in my sensibility. The things I would think about when I was playing were the things that go into playing straight-ahead jazz.

Then what’s grown out of that, is that some of the earlier things I was thinking about when I was like nine and ten, now have come back into my head. And I have kind of figured out that this last album, Let It Come To You, which is a very obvious mixture of straight-ahead and more contemporary progressive stuff … my four compositions on it sound drastically different from the straight-ahead jazz that’s on the rest of the album. Really, it's two albums. We sure as hell recorded two or three albums worth, and had to try and fit it onto one CD. The sequencing was probably the hardest part. But the result is a statement that showed a progression from straight-ahead into more the world of my own compositions. So it went a little bit inside my head, and a little bit more inside the person I am, musically.

The stuff I’m doing now, I’m basically taking a whole year to try and get all these concepts together and recorded. But the music I’m doing now, and want to be doing, kinda stems from where the suite was coming from—the last three songs on the album. [I'm forming] a new band [with] two vocalists, in addition to a keyboard player (myself), electric bass, and drums. The idea is to have a band that also combines with symphony orchestras frequently. So basically, there’s a lot of writing and things like that I’m involved in now to make this happen. But ultimately this is a little bit more myself, I feel, than just playing straight-ahead, even if the arrangements are different, because that’s one thing I’ve always tried to have within my group. If we’re going to play a straight-ahead song, there’s a couple of tunes we just call and play just to stretch, but for a lot of them we try to make interesting arrangements, so that it would be a little bit of a fresh take of something that is out of the American Songbook.

In an effort to also reach out to people of my generation—which is a little bit more open-minded in many respects, in terms of the progression where the culture is going and things like that—I think people are open to things now that don’t have to be put in a certain genre. I think there is just a general openness that I have faith in that is coming out in people. People are listening to people like Björk, who’s rarely played on the radio … In the States, Björk is seen as someone who is a little bit different, or odd. People don’t know what type of music that really is, so [they] throw it under the big umbrella of ‘rock.’ And I guess maybe this new stuff I’m doing might even be thrown under that umbrella, because it doesn’t sound like ‘straight-ahead’ jazz. But it's got a lot of vehicles for improvisation and communication, but then also weird rhythms and things like that. I just want to make things interesting compositionally, as well as listenable.

Let’s look at a couple of tracks on the new album that illustrate this direction which you’re headed.

TE: Sure. Directionally, I’d say ‘Less Free Will’ (the first movement of the 'Suite Fallback Plan'): that song, the way I wrote it, is in kind of more of a format of a typical rock song where you’d have a verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and any solo that happens is wailing on the end chorus that’s going out, and things like that. I grew up listening to a lot of stuff that wasn’t jazz, and I was more drawn to that structure than 'AABA, take a solo, drums trading fours, and back to AABA,' because it becomes so rigid after a while, and predictable. Even though it’s swinging as hell, it can get predictable, one of the things I tell my students sometimes, is that if you want people to listen to every single note and key into it, and zoom in on it and listen to all the subtleties and the nuances of what you are doing, you have to be as unpredictable as possible. The second you allow predictability into the picture, people don’t have to listen so hard, because they know where it’s going. So ultimately I like to compose and play in a listenable but unpredictable way.

I think ‘Less Free Will’ and also ‘Brick Steps,’ the last movement of the suite … there’s a lot [more] R&B, classical harmonies, rock forms and structures and rhythms than there really is jazz in there. But the instrumentation is jazz instrumentation—a ‘strange’ jazz instrumentation, with flute and two tenors, and a lot of layered keyboards, and piano and guitar, and whatnot. But I think there are a lot of other genre influences, really, drawn into that suite, and that’s a little window into a little bit of the stuff in terms of the direction where I’m going. It’s a whole separate band, anyway, this new band I’m developing.

Julian, I guess one thing that’s worse than not having a record contract with a major player is to suddenly find you have one, because then you have got to define your musical vision. Can you talk about how you conceptualized Sounding Point?

TE: A lot of paper on the floor!

JL: [Laughs] A lot of paper, I know! That’s one thing I should say, Taylor’s extremely visual. He’s a great artist, incredible; his artwork is on his record. So when I was planning for my record, I had him come over. I’m in Boston and he’s in New York, so he came over and I had him do all the drawing-out of all the conceptual ideas—stacks of paper, where Taylor just drew like big shapes; 'here’s this song, here’s an arrow going to this song,' because his handwriting is way better than mine, and it just helped to visualize the whole thing.

TE: He has real girly handwriting …

JL: [Laughs] It is girly handwriting, but I like it! My process is weird. I don’t know what my process is, it just changes so much

You’re attempting to define a musical vision, so what was coming out?

JL: I’ll give you an example. I live next to a park. And one day I was coming home from school and I had this record.

Is this the crazy labyrinth gardens?

JL: Yes, beautiful community gardens. At that point I had four months until the recording, and I thought I had a lot of work to do. I had to find the band, rehearse everybody. So I had this concept inspired by this park, I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to write a record with music that is designed to fit in different environments; I’m going to write a song that’s meant to be performed in this garden I’ve just walked through; I’m going to write music that is created for a room like we’re in now; I’m going to write music for a concert hall.' Basically you're scoring music for an environment. That was one concept. What I would do is I would sketch out ideas; I’d play a lot, I’d write all this stuff up. I had kind of solved it as far as I could go until something else popped up. So okay, what if I was to write music that was designed to show timbral differences? What timbres do I want? That’s when I decided guitar, cello, alto sax, bass, and percussion. I thought about that, and I said 'I don’t want any cymbals on this, I don’t want hi-hat, I don’t want anything related to a traditional jazz drum kit,' so we followed that route.

Then I wrote a piece using the primary percussion [that was] the sound of someone writing a letter. So okay, cool; this letter is to my friend. It’s a lot of conceptual catching up: ‘What if I just, what happens if I go there?’ And then, before I knew it, I had enough music. I had what I wanted, and I had exactly what I wanted to say. For me, a lot of this stuff goes on kinaesthetically, emotionally, intellectually, before it comes out as music. That’s kind of my process. The underlying theme was that the music had to work as what I call bio-degradable music. I don’t expect anyone to care, but my concept is, if you were [listening to] my record and a car horn went off, [the music] should work. There is some music that fights anything external; 'Let me shut the doors, shut the windows, put on some headphones, I’m going to listen to this record.' But that isn’t my record. My record is supposed to blend-in and comfort you. Taylor has called it a musical score to whatever room you’re in.

TE: A soundtrack to your present location …

JL: So that was one driving force. I wanted music that didn’t require the listener to know a thing about music. I kind of wanted to make music that didn’t require you to know anything about making music either. I said to the musicians, 'Just play with this in mind. I know it’s new but try thinking about this.' Getting things out of musicians that weren’t obvious maybe at the time, like the [letter] thing. ‘Why do I put down my sticks and …. ’ ‘Trust me!’ And then you hear it, and it affects the drummer in some way, and it affects me in some way, and we’ve got a connection. That’s all I needed.

TE: And with his band the more they heard the music …

JL: Yeah, they kind of started believing.

TE: I get a lot of resistance, and you say 'go with it,' and then after a while they hear it and then it’s like, ‘Whatever you say!’

Tell me about two more tunes that encapsulate this concept.

JL: The one I was just talking about is called ‘All Purpose Beginning.’ ‘Clarity,’ which is the first song, was a piece I wrote when I was fifteen, and I re-wrote it for this band. It was the same process. Let me take something there with significance to a fifteen year-old, and as a twenty year-old, how can I embody it any differently? Now when I hear it I crave cello. Now when I hear it I crave a longer form. It’s the same mentality. There's a really short song called ‘Peterborough,’ like 30 seconds, 40 seconds, but it’s all coming from the same style. When you hear the record structurally there’s my group; there’s a duo [with Taylor Eigsti]; there’s a track with Bela Fleck that’s closer to that Newgrass kind of music. But it all deals with that concept I talked about—that it works. It’s inoffensive, but it’s there. It lures you in.

Can we open it up now we have spoken about your albums? I'd like you to talk about the ‘working group’ concept, and the importance of musicians not using a solo opportunity to show off their chops, but rather work within the context of the composition and group expression.

TE: I think it is important that if you are a bandleader it is important to write for the musicians you are going to be playing with. I’ve been in rehearsals with different musicians before, and one thing that always pisses me off is that I hear someone say, ‘Oh, play this the way so-and-so would play it.’

JE: Elvin!

TE: Yeah, exactly. I’ve always felt like, ‘Why didn’t you hire them?’ It doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve always thought the three most important parts of leading a group, are trust, openness, and unpredictability. If you keep things unpredictable, like I was saying earlier, then everybody is going to be listening to every note, including the musicians around you. I grew up playing in a trio with two wonderful musicians—John Schifflet and Jason Lewis from the San Francisco Bay Area—and they would roll their eyes and make fun of me if I played a song the same way twice. Or if I played a lick I had played before, they would look over and smile and that would be, ‘Okay, I can’t do that again!’ And they would also get on my case if I wasn’t listening to what was going on rhythmically. I get overly sensitive after gigs, so I would ask them ‘How was it?’ And it was, ‘Oh yeah, you were pushing there.’ ‘Okay, cool.’ As long as you’re open enough to tell people … that’s invaluable. To be open to accepting whatever ideas people are playing in the moment is not a mistake. It’s ‘That’s not the direction I want to take this, this is the present moment, this is what is happening now, and I’m not going to try and say this is a bad thing, because it’s never a bad thing.’ There are times when I’ve witnessed groups, when someone starts doing something, and a couple of people feel confused. I’ve never wanted to let that same sense of confusion enter the bandstand. I don’t feel like people need to be confused by anything if you just accept that whatever happens in the present moment. It kind of goes conversationally, someone starts taking things 'out,' and it’s 'yeah!' I’m going to go with it, what’s going on now! Sometimes a weird dude comes in and takes it out there and you have to go with it.

The last thing is trust. If you’re forming a group with particular musicians you should have those musicians there for a reason. Not just a sub of the day, or random musicians thrown together. Sometimes those situations are cool and exciting. There is an inherent unpredictability about that, but at the same time there is not the same level of trust. If you have musicians that are hand-picked, and have played together and played together and played together there is nothing left but trust. Maybe there’s less unpredictability, but there is trust. Either way, for me you have to bounce around those three concepts in order to have a group that’s listening to each other, making music that is collectively innovative, and music that is exciting and different to listen to and authentic to us all.

The key to it all.

TE: Yes, absolutely. Julian is already one of the best bandleaders I have seen in terms of this kind of thing. All the people on his record he has handpicked. He's battled fifteen or twenty rough drafts of who can be in his group

JL: Yes …

TE: He played with different things until he found what clicked. And when it did, [that's] the time to grow all the trust … they worked on different concepts like that. Now, as a group, it works.

JL: I was very fortunate to be in Gary Burton’s band, a kind of a hallmark: one of the last working bands. It’s like an institution, you know? I played in Gary Burton’s Quintet on and off from when I was twelve to when I was eighteen. It was important, because he was a great bandleader and I saw how important it was to him to have a band, rather than star soloists and just getting a lot of hot shots. So that's my framework. I knew that it worked and I knew that a band grew better because he had this collective group mentality rather than ‘I’m going to take that great solo that just knocks everyone off!’ I picked [my] band of people who were all great at different things. I wasn’t looking for the greatest drummer in the world, the best bassist in the world, even though to me they are and I treat them that way. I wanted people who are great at things I couldn’t provide myself. So there’s a very comfortable dependency. need them because they can provide that thing I just love about them. It’s true, the New York scene where everyone is on their own, and everyone is a star. That’s fine, it exists, and we're part of that too. We’re subject to that.

The instrumentation of Julian's group—sax, cello, bass, and drums—is interesting. In many ways, when you hear a trumpet and saxophone you are confronted with all this history, a certain set of expectations, and they are immediately in competition with 50 years of recorded jazz.

JL: Right, right, right. That’s true, that’s right and I was aware of that. And the drummer too. He’s not going to sound like Brian Blade, that’s not what I’m looking for.

TE: That comes down to unpredictability. People can play certain instruments that maybe dictate some sort of implied role, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I think one of the things that hold back progress of music is the so-called purists. Because purists will have great respect for the ‘tradition,’ but those who are most open and progressive and want to do something different, those are the people who I think respect the tradition the most. And the people who say, ‘You can only sound like this,’ I don’t think are the most respectful to that tradition.

It also shows a grave misunderstanding of how art functions. If it were up to them, the only form fine art would take would be derived from the Lascaux cave paintings—no Renaissance, no Baroque, no Neo-classicalism, Romanticism, Modernism, Impressionism …

Both: Yeah, yeah no Picasso, no Jackson Pollock …

JL: It just doesn’t happen that way.

I'm interested in the challenges of getting started, and how difficult it is for young musicians to get established in the jazz economy as it stands today.

TE: There was a book out recently and it said that for successful people—in whatever field of endeavour, financial or whatever—there has to be a high level of luck involved. Julian and I have both been very fortunate. We started very young, I did about eight years just playing in musical background situations, [being] musical wallpaper. By doing that, I started to break out and do some bigger concerts and things like that. A lot of people my age playing music didn’t necessarily start at that point, so they are just running the normal path that I followed, but maybe just a little bit later. Some of my friends, too (who are much better musicians than me, I think), are frustrated sometimes by their situations, and feel that … sometimes it's just one lucky thing that allows them to break into something else. There are so many unpredictable elements in starting as a young performer and trying to make that your life. A lot of people burn out. Both of us have feared that at some point. I certainly felt pissed-off and certainly wanted to quit a great deal of the time, but I guess at a certain point you realize you’re in too deep. I have no other choice here!

JL: For anybody starting out, our age or younger, just be receptive to opportunities, because things may surprise you. We’ve played gigs where we don’t expect it to be a big deal as far as musical experiences go, but it only [takes] one person who wants to play with us, or gives us a call a year later. I’ve had that happen to me. Mark O'Connor, an incredible fiddle player, saw me play once in New York in one of the worst gigs I’ve ever played. He called me a year later and said, 'You want to go on tour with me?' Be optimistic, I would say.

TE: Yes, I would say it's okay … in fact, it's necessary to fantasize about huge opportunities and big career success in the future. But as a young musician starting out, you have to be happy with where you’re at, at that present moment, in whatever the gig situation, because if you are making the best possible scenario for your yourself out of every situation, then that will lead you on. When we were recording the album Lucky To Be Me, I was really, really upset at the way I played one of the days … I just thought I had played terribly, but when I looked at it a couple of days later, I thought, well, I wasn’t that bad. At the time, though, I thought, 'I suck!' [Drummer] Lewis Nash told me, ‘This is the way you played today. I liked it. You might not have liked it, but listen, you have to let yourself like it. This is the present moment, the only thing that exists is the present moment, and you might as well be as happy as you can possibly be, within it.’ Ultimately, there are going to be future present moments, and if you aren’t happy now, then you aren’t going to be happy then.

JL: In New York, you play for door money starting out, but you can be creative, give on-line lessons. You can be creative about how you make money, but…

TE: There is no money or success to be had by direct emulation any more.

JL: You have to really stand out and be doing something fresh.

TE: There used to be the school of a certain player—ten players who sounded exactly the same, and they all went off to have successful careers. It doesn’t work like that any more. The jazz economy can’t support that any more. The only thing it can support is when record labels find someone they think is original and different. When I hear someone saying, ‘He’s following in the same mold as someone they emulate,’ I feel that if they accidentally played like themselves then they would make some money. Not trying to sound like him or him.

JL: But if you want to sound like me or Taylor that’s fine! [everyone breaks up]

[Laughing] That’s great guys, thanks for your thoughts and time.

JL, TE: Hey, thank you.


January 09, 2009 · 1 comment

  • 1 Linda Scarborough // Jan 13, 2009 at 08:51 PM
    nderful interview. I've been a fan of both Taylor and Julian for several years now. I was present at the Stanford Shopping Center concert where they first played together. Watching their progress over the years has been interesting. My observation of that first encounter was as follows: - Taylor appeared very disciplined, his body didn't move much while he was playing. While Julian's face was very expressive and showed a lot of passion with his playing. I've seen the play together since than and now there is expressiveness and passion apparent in both their performances. I wish them both continued and long success with their music. - Linda Scarborough (formerly of Menlo Park, and former jazz appreciation student of Dr. Herb Wong.) P.S. Thank you to Howard Mandel's Jazz Beyond Jazz who provided the link to Hank Stheamer's blog, who provided the link to