The Jazz.com Blog
May 11, 2008 · 0 comments
I first heard about Taylor Eigsti (rhymes with “iced tea”) around the time he was in fourth or fifth grade. An acquaintance of mine, an accountant by trade, told me that his young daughter went to school with an adolescent boy who was quite a remarkable jazz pianist.
My response was . . . to ignore this unsolicited bit of musical scouting advice from the financial profession. Did I tell him how fill out the accelerated depreciation schedule? Of course, if you write about music, you will find everyone has a friend or a relative who is the second coming of Art Tatum or the next Bird. And what kind of jazz chops could a fourth grader have, anyway?
Pianist Taylor Eigsti
But I paid more attention some time later when Herb Wong told me about the young Taylor Eigsti. Dr. Wong is one of the most reliable barometers of up-and-coming jazz talent that I know. He finds artistry the old fashioned way, by listening widely and deeply – even checking out high school and college bands and indie releases that other critics simply ignore. Even better, Herb’s taste is impeccable. He jumps on no bandwagons, adopts no fashionable poses. If he tells me a cat swings, the cat will swing.
About Eigsti, he tells me: this cat swings. (Well, those weren’t his exact words. But close enough for jazz.)
He also related the tragedy Taylor had already experienced during his brief life. When he was a toddler, his sister Shannon (a promising musician herself) succumbed to cancer, and then a few years later he lost his father to the same affliction. Faced with challenges that would undermine, perhaps permanently, many youngsters, Taylor not only survived, but eventually thrived. And not just in music, but in sports and academics too.
I got my chance to hear Taylor, a few weeks after this conversation, at an outdoor jazz series promoted by Dr. Wong. Here the youngster was invited on stage to play a few numbers. Eigsti must have been twelve or thirteen years old at the time, and his poise, for that age, was striking. His playing was still a little cautious, but everything he attempted, he pulled off. Although there were several other promising young jazz artists sharing the stage that day, Eigsti was the one who seemed destined for great things.
One of the pieces Taylor played at that concert was a Dave Brubeck composition. A few days later, I wrote a letter to Brubeck telling him about Taylor, and singing the praises of this promising young musician. The ever gracious Mr. Brubeck took an interest and a short while later he invited Taylor (age thirteen) to share the stage with him during one of Dave’s West Coast jaunts.
But not all prodigies pan out – especially in the jazz world. Recently, Matt Savage has received a lot of attention, and has a personal story that (like Eigsti’s) pre-disposes us to listen sympathetically. Yet, I doubt that Savage will develop into a top notch adult pro. Old timers may remember Craig Hundley from the late 1960s, who was hyped at age fourteen as the next great jazz pianist. But he never realized these expectations, and probably is best known today for playing a bit role on the Star Trek television series. Or there is the case of Sergio Salvatore, who was recording at age 11, and had contracts with GRP and (like Eigsti) Concord. Yet I haven’t heard a whisper about him in years, and his web site indicates that his last CD was released more than a decade ago.
On the other hand, there have been former “child prodigies” who later became established jazz artists as adults. They outgrew the label, and few today call attention to their precocious younger days. Keith Jarrett, for example, began giving concerts to paying customers at the age of six. (I cannot confirm the rumor that he told people to stop coughing and put away their Polaroid cameras at this debut performance.) Hilton Ruiz graced the stage of Carnegie Hall at age eight. Steve Kuhn, as I recall, was actually the subject of a formal academic study of musical prodigies when he was a youngster. But the “prodigy” label is now merely a bullet point in the long and illustrious bios of these artists.
And what about Taylor Eigsti?
Fast forward a decade from my first encounter with this pianist, and Eigsti is no longer a child prodigy. He is young man with a fully developed command of the instrument. He is now recording for the Concord label, and his CD, Let It Come to You, was released a few days ago. He is touring actively, composing, even writing works for symphony orchestra.
Anyone who hasn’t yet heard this young artist, should track down Let It Come to You. Eigsti makes clear that he has arrived. We no longer need to talk about what levels he might reach in the future. He is playing at a world class level right now. When the discussion turns to the best jazz pianists of the new generation, his name must be in the conversation, and maybe the first one mentioned.
Eigsti has overcome the single biggest obstacle of the prodigy, which is to move beyond assimilating influences and develop a mature and up-to-date approach to the jazz tradition that goes beyond mere mimicry. In truth, many of the most talented musicians I have met over the years have been cursed by their precocious talents. It is so easy for them to imitate everything they hear, that they constantly bounce around from style to style, influence to influence, and never put their own personal mark on the music. If their talents were smaller, their artistry might actually be greater.
But Eigsti is now staking out his own territory. Listen to his reworkings of “I Love You” or “Caravan” on his new CD, and you will hear an artist who respects the tradition, but not too much. His harmonic sense is edgy without going over the edge. His technique is sure, and his sense of dynamics (a weak spot for many otherwise capable jazz musicians) is especially good. He shines as a soloist, but he is also a good listener and knows how to adjust his own pianism to what his bandmates are doing. Yes Taylor Eigsti has arrived but, from another perspective, the journey has just begun.
Click here to read the full review Eigsti’s “I Love You,” which is featured as the current Song of the Day at jazz.com.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia