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Artist Profiles

Taylor Eigsti: Prodigy Taking Jazz World by Storm

By Published: March 11, 2004

The next several years set the precedent for Taylor's approach to life. He became a high achiever at school, eventually becoming valedictorian of his eighth-grade class. He also developed an enthusiasm for sports, as a member of the junior varsity basketball squad for two years at Woodside Priory High School and assistant head coach for three years of the sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade basketball teams. None of this slowed his progress at the piano, on which he was playing local party and restaurant jobs before getting even close to being a teenager. At twelve he shared the stage with Diane Schurr; a year after that Dave Brubeck invited him to perform with his band, after which he opened at shows for Diana Krall and Al Jarreau.

Perhaps most impressive of all was Taylor's entry into teaching. He had picked up enough knowledge by age twelve to begin work as assistant to Smith Dobson, one of the Bay Area's most respected jazz pianists and pedagogues. "It's hard to put into words how much confidence Smith gave me," Taylor says. "He'd be like, 'I'm taking a couple of people out for private lessons. Taylor, you teach the rest of the class.' It put me on the spot, but it also helped me learn what teaching is all about." It would take only a few more years for the renowned Stanford Jazz Workshop to invite him to join their staff—at age fifteen.

"I had been a student there too, so everyone there made me feel welcome," he remembers. "Obviously there was this initial awkwardness when the classes I taught would see that I was a little younger than them, but it always worked out great in the end."

Inevitably, the time came for Eigsti to try his hand at recording. His first, Tay's Groove, was cut in '99, a trio session, featuring veteran Bay Area bassist Seward McCain and drummer Dan Brubeck, whom Taylor had met through his father Dave. Next, in December 2000, came Live at Filoli, featuring the current trio on a last-minute call to substitute for Marian McPartland. "Bud Spangler, the producer, had barely heard of me, so he was taking a risk," Taylor explains. "He recorded it for radio broadcast, but everything turned out so well that we decided to put it out. It was the start of a good thing: Bud became a dear friend and ended up being the producer for Resonance."

After doing Taylor's Dream, for release in Japan by DIW Records, in 2001, the trio went to work on Resonance. By this time their energies had fused to the point where Taylor, John, and Jason could play with a telepathy and freedom that most groups would envy. "There's a certain magic about the Triangle," Taylor says. "Four can sometimes be a crowd, but with the three of us on Resonance, it was completely free. We were so much on the same wavelength."

Ideas came quickly and unexpectedly. "Juliette," for example, was created totally at the session. "After a lunch break, we were just jamming on this little groove," Taylor remembers. "Bud got into the control booth quickly and pressed Record. We laid it down as a first take. My girlfriend Juliette had stopped by, so when we started wondering what to call it, John suggested 'Juliette.'" Quick thinking, John.

The feel of their performance on "Somewhere," however, came from Jason. "Usually 'Somewhere' is played as a ballad," Taylor says, "but Jason had this beat that he did with his hands on the drums. That gave it a little more motion, with more things happening. We tried it a whole bunch of ways, from extra slow to a lot faster, before we settled on the version we got. But, really, each take worked in its own way, because it kept the integrity of the song."

It's not apparent to the casual listener, but Taylor insists that a theme runs through all the tracks on Resonance. "It plays around a lot with the idea of escaping the world through the powerful force of music," he explains. "Songs like 'Somewhere,' or 'Avolation' [an Eigsti original], which means escape through rising, or 'Got a Match,' to see light and get out of the dark, or 'Introspection' [also by Eigsti], which is another form of escape."

Is it about escape or arrival? With his recent appearances on the compilation Windows: 25 Years of Windham Hill Piano, frequent shows with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, and appearances that involve opening for or playing with Hank Jones, Natalie Cole, Kevin Mahogany, Bobby Hutcherson, and many of today's jazz giants, Eigsti doesn't stand much chance of escaping anyone's notice.

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