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Peter Eldridge: A Lot of Other Stuff

By Published: August 27, 2007
AAJ: Cantaphobia?

PE: Yeah. Something about it felt bigger than I was, and then it's such a vulnerable thing: it is your soul, coming out of your mouth.

AAJ: But not everybody sings like that.

PE: True, but for me it was way too daunting. And I didn't do it until that fateful summer, when I sang "Ticket to Ride" for my Pirates of Penzance audition.

AAJ: (we laugh) Did you get the gig?

PE: Yes, and in college the fear lessened. I became a voice major, a classical voice major, because I'd been a classical piano major and I just hated sitting in a practice room by myself for hours and hours, practicing Mozart sonatas. I didn't like all that alone time. I'd wanted to be an accompanist for great singers. I was the accompanist for everybody at school. I played this whole art song repertoire, that's what I thought I was going to do: German lieder, operatic arias, 20th century atonal music. I loved French chanson the most, particularly Poulenc and Debussy, who were so jazz-based, though I wasn't really aware of it at the time.

But the more I think about it, the vocal group thing was always important to me. I was a pop kid—The Fifth Dimension, even The Carpenters, the Association, the Beatles of course, Queen, Fleetwood Mac. All those harmonies made me crazy...the more the merrier. I'm sure that's a major reason I'm in the Voices now.

AAJ: How about the Mamas and Papas?

Peter Eldridge

PE: The Mamas and Papas too, yeah. And the Transfer. I remember when they came out with "Four Brothers"— I was eleven years old, and I was up there in my room pretending I was them. That's undeniable. And in this journey that I've taken, that was a great place to start. The Voices was also a great place to start—it wasn't just me, going out there by myself. I was protected in this veil of being in a group.

But, after twenty years, you do become more your own person, your own musician—I have changed so much, in every way. I had so much to learn, like how to sing correctly, which I didn't. For a number of years I didn't know what I was doing And from writing to arranging music, it's been a slow and steady evolution to what I'm doing now, which is something entirely different.

AAJ: I don't know how many groups stay together for twenty years. What keeps the New York Voices together?

PE: Well, after about the fifteenth year our tax guy said "Congratulations, Voices, this is a career now." But we all do other things, we all supplement. I think we've all improved with age, individually and collectively; we have an undeniable sound together that's become even more powerful and refined over the years. At this point, the four of us are siblings, or husbands and wives, or some strange combination of both, in all the best and most difficult ways, but we care a lot about each other and respect each other as musicians. Don't get me wrong: we've had our moments over the past two decades in this insane music business when we've said, it's been great, but maybe it's time to stop. We've each sat on that fence at one time or another, but whenever we've come to that place of winding down, whatever you want to call it—fate, the universe—all of a sudden something pretty major and substantial and creative and rewarding on every level comes along and says, "Not yet!"

AAJ: Like what?

PE: Oh, like an album and a tour with the Basie band.

AAJ: Can't say no to that one.

PE: Right. I remember the specific moment when we said, we've had a great time, look at all the great things we've done, this is really hard, but maybe it's time. We were starting to put the wheels in motion for that, and all of a sudden: Basie tour. Basie band. Long commitment, really great gig.

AAJ: And one of your Grammys.

PE: Yep. Both those CDs that won Grammys [1996 Grammy winner, Count Basie Orchestra with the New York Voices Live at Manchester Craftsman's Guild (MCG Jazz, 1996), and 2002 Latin Grammy winner, Paquito D'Rivera's Brazilian Dreams (MCG Jazz, 2002)] were actually the very first time that we performed with those groups. Those recordings were the first time we did that music. And to think that afterward we'd go on tour, and how incredibly powerful it became. They are good records, good documents of the beginning of that journey, but—the Paquito stuff—it's just killer now. That's my favorite thing that the Voices do: the Paquito gigs. The music is incredible, there's so much energy, it's so dynamic—but there's also a lot of depth, and it shows off everybody in a beautiful way.

AAJ: One thing I know from having seen so many of your concerts is that you never do things the same way twice. We can't sing along with every lick.

Peter Eldridge

PE: Once again, that goes back to not having that kind of success. If we'd had a huge album, or a big hit, people would be, "You're gonna do that, you're gonna do blahblahblah, aren't you?" Then we'd have to do it. But that's never been a problem. For better or worse. We've just done what we do, because we've coasted on word of mouth. And we have this incredibly loyal cult following.

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