Ended up at Blues and Biscuits in San Francisco, cool spot right in the heart of SF tourist land. Stage is down in the basement, circular tables, candles, low ceiling. Pretty classic. Not a ton of people there on a Friday night, maybe 30 or so. Nagy playing a mix of blues standards ("Backdoor Man," "In The Mood For Love") and originals, which have had some air play on XM radio. Hi tunes had some nice chord changes and melodies, not just 12 bar blues. Nagy a shredder for sure, had that Fender Strat sound down. Backup band was tight. Drummer was off the hook. At the end of each tune, he'd jump off his stool at the end of each track, springing up a good 3-4 feet off the ground. Cracked me up every goddamn time. The best was when the band cleared out for him to solo and he took it into the club, leaving his drum set and playing on everything: seats, table tops, wine glasses beer bottles, pipes on the ceiling, anything. Didn't catch his name but he was super talented and fun as hell to watch. Overall, good spot. Recommend the grits highly.
Virtuosity isn’t a term that should be thrown around lightly, but Eldar’s reputation lived up to prose surrounding his playing. Fun night at Jazz Alley, which was looking very festive with icicle lights garlanding the balcony and ornaments behind the stage. He shared the stage with two musicians who were probably twice his age, Todd Straight on drums and Dave Gapteen on bass. They were like the elder (Eldar?) statesmen, backing him up. Seemed like both were new to some of the tunes, which was cool, love to see players fresh on a piece of music, discovering where it can go on the spot in front of an audience, although Eldar did say he’d been playing with the drummer since he was eleven.
Pretty diverse set, showing his range across genres, including some ragtime/stride playing, a Radiohead tune (“Morning Bell”), an Irving Berlin tune (“What’ll I Do”), a couple pieces in crazy meters, and closing with the opening track on his most recent record Breakthrough called “Point of View Redux.” The thing that’s striking about his playing is the classical influence. You can here it in his solos and phasing. If yr a piano aficionado, definitely worth checking out his set tonight.
Fun show of sing along covers, a little Darius Rucker “Wagon Wheel,” Bob Dylan “It Ain’t Me Babe,” Mumford and Sons, Waterboys “Fisherman Blues,” Lumineers, Simon & Garfunkel “Mrs. Robinson” and of course “Wild Rover.” That was set one; set two started with cocaine songs. Hennessy super likeable with full voice and compelling eyebrow movement. Tilton tore it up on fiddle, really rounding out the sound. Niklaus Drakul on bass holding down, getting some slaps in during “Mrs. Robinson.” Damn they pour a good Guinness there, taking the time to let it settle halfway before pouring the rest.
Eldar plays Jazz Alley next Monday and Tuesday, Dec 3 & 4. Been loving his most recent record, Breakthrough. Combines technical chops with musicality. The phrasings on the Irving Berlin tune “What’ll I Do” are gorgeous. And the Radiohead song “Morning Bell” is transformed as they take the basic idea and vibe and then explore. Cool linear notes come with the CD.
Pretty cool that one of his idols, Chick Corea, (see below for reference) gives him a shout out: “A sparkling command of the instrument – a wide and fine combination of musical approaches – new horizons for music. With my compliments and admiration.”
He’s given a bunch of interviews this year. Culled the best of them. Check it out.
First, from Huffington Post:
Who or what was an early influence on your music?
My mom and my dad. My dad introduced me to jazz. Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, and Miles Davis were among my first encounters with music. My mom is a classical piano teacher who taught me my very first lessons and remained an important teacher throughout my teens.
How would your childhood music teacher describe you?
Promising, yet stubborn and temperamental.
Then, from Keyboard Magazine:
The album opens with “Point of View Redux,” a track that seems to encapsulate your expansive pianistic persona. You’re able to conjure a myriad of sounds from the instrument, from roaring bass register vamps to cascading right hand lines and beyond.
Yeah. There’s also another element that’s less talked about but equally, if not more important, which is phrasing. The ability to control dynamics, time and touch can make music sound distinct and undeniably right. I strive for a consistency and evenness in my piano sound. I think that’s something that listeners will be able to recognize in my playing. So the presentation of the music is as important as the content. If you transcribed that song and gave the exact same notes to another piano player, it’s not going to sound the same because every musician phrases differently.
Besides classical music, what other kinds of music did you listen to and play while preparing to record the new album?
It was a wide range of things. I was listening to a lot of Billie Holiday and was tremendously taken with how she could phrase ideas. That was a huge point of interest for me, and I ended-up recording the song “Good Morning Heartache,” which she recorded as well. I was especially intrigued by how she sang ballads, and that propelled me to look through the repertoire of ballads when I was looking for material for the album. I wanted to record a jazz standard, but not something that was done too often. That’s how I ended-up choosing the tune “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin. It has a beautiful melody and really spoke to me.
You’re someone who’s known for having a great deal of technical facility at the keyboard. What do you having that kind of technique allows you to do?
Technical command is a default attribute after a musician spends time learning their instrument. So is melodic and harmonic understanding, as well as having a command of time and being able to execute ideas fluidly in it. There was never a time that I spent endlessly practicing Hanon exercises for hours on end. Never. My technical ability just comes from the sheer amount of time I have spent at the instrument playing – from the standards I learned as a kid, to playing Bach or learning scales, or learning new compositions. I think it’s important that people understand that this kind of technical facility is simply a default attribute of spending time at the instrument.
Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “This musician has tremendous technical ability, but this other musician has creativity.” I think that’s totally subjective. I’ve always been a student of music, a student of the piano, and I genuinely enjoy playing the instrument and connecting with people. I care about the music I play, and I want to enjoy it as much as I want other people to enjoy it. For me, everything comes from a place of passion and respect for the music.
And, lastly, from Studio Jams:
Who were some of your early influences?
Oscar Peterson was the first piano player that I fell in love with. I love how he speaks. I love how he accents. And, of course, I love his facility on the piano. Chick Corea is someone I admire as well. Bill Evans was another piano player I enjoyed as a kid. And, of course, Bud Powell. Everybody is inspired by their heroes. But the end goal is when somebody comes up with a certain style and they stick to it and that’s them. That’s what makes me happy.
Do you think you can actually teach improvisation?
I think anyone can learn how to improvise. It’s almost like saying a question “can somebody learn a second language?” It’s totally possible. Jazz has a certain vocabulary that many musicians are familiar with. They come from certain familiar sources and those pieces of vocabulary come together in each musician and then the musician will expand the vocabulary for his own use and he will introduce certain “mannerisms” and just general “isms” that are individual to that particular player. So that’s the reason the language can be shared. The language has rhythmic aspects that will be mutual, plus melodic and harmonic aspects. Once those things are in place, music is not much different than speaking a language. There are things that can be pretty…that can be clever, that can be sad, that can be happy, that can be humorous. Musicians that understand the language can connect to those expressions easily.
How do you feel about Jam Sessions?
There are a lot of people that don’t go to jam sessions…even some well-known artists who might be, for whatever reason, reluctant to do it. I’ve always participated in jam sessions since I was a kid because I like the interaction and it forces you into an seemingly uncomfortable situation. It’s actually very comfortable when the musicians are good. In fact, last night I went to a jam session here in Philly because I wanted to socialize with musicians and I wanted to hear the music.
Music is so social by nature and one of the things that I’ve always found is that whenever a group comes together and when they make good music together, 9 out of 10 times they are going to be friends. It’s very rare to find two musicians, or three musicians if it’s a trio, making good music together and they’re not close to each other. And I mean close can simply be the points of view that are very similar. It’s the most basic feeling of how somebody interprets and perceives your rhythm. It begins there…how your sense of time is aligned for the other person. It’s the first thing that will develop and determine whether musicians are going to continue making music. It’s all very cool…and, in a sense, spiritual.
And here’s a taste of what he’s all about:
Was billed as one of the greatest drummers and didn’t disappoint: school was in session fer sure. Really a monster player. Crazy kit, including two snare drums, a synth pad, a hand drum and lots of cymbals, toms. Mesmerizing to watch and hear. Rest of the band kept it real, super pro. They’ve been playing together for decades and it showed. Felt like a sound from a different era: jazz fusion at its finest. Lots of fun moments during the set. At point got the whole crowd clapping along to 15/8 time or 7 1/2 as it were. Keyboardist Tom Coster playing very inventive accordion for a couple tunes, only using one hand, letting the other create tremolo effect, almost sounding like harmonica. Very emotive playing. Guitarist Vinny Valentino, super fluid playing. He and Smith did some Indian vocalizing, 32nd notes with vocal cords, and Valentino also doing some singing of his solos, pretty amazing. For encore, Smith asked the club for an ironing board and played final piece using just brushes, getting minimal inventive sound out of the set up.
These guys play another show tonight; if yr a fan of ridiculously proficient jazz fusion, check it out…