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Taylor Eigsti: The Prodigy, Revisited

By Published: July 22, 2008
AAJ: You've said this is the album you always wanted to make. Could you expand on that?

TE: I was very satisfied by that whole experience. For one thing, the photography on this CD was much better: I'm in clothing that I would actually wear. And I was totally stoked that they used my artwork, let alone allowing me to record the tunes that I wanted to record. Technically, this album is two, put into one: my suite sounds very different from the rest of the record, so we ended up sequencing it like a live show. And we still have bonus tracks that would fill a whole other CD. To some degree almost every country has their own bonus track—Japan has theirs, there's a Brazilian thing, there's even a duo track with [soprano] Frederica von Stade that's going to be European-only.

I wanted this project to capture the music I've been performing for the last couple of years, but also show where I'd like to take things, compositionally. The last four tunes on the album are more of where I'm going. The suite has a lot of emotions wrapped in it—it wasn't easy to write, it took a lot out of me. I wanted to sum up what I felt when I was living in the Bay area. Now I'm trying to write for larger ensembles. For lack of a better term, I'm trying to be Maria Schneider with a back beat. I'm really driven by the rhythm that comes from rock and R&B, and the freedom in improvisation. That's where the jazz kicks in, but there's also classical harmony and studying the modern usages of harmony.

Taylor Eigsti

AAJ: Cool. I almost forgot what the original question was, after all this riffing.

TE: You know how you talk about people's personalities being in the way they play? Well, I'll get into a thing, and take too many choruses...

AAJ: Not to worry. I'm sure it's all useful. By the way, I'd never heard of The Eels, so I went to the Web and checked them out. They're intriguing, sort of edgy, and since they're signed to the Dreamworks label, their music was used in all three Shrek movies. I was tickled to learn that the lead guy, Mr. E., bought a toy robot dog, to see if he would like having one, before he got an actual dog.

TE: Really? He probably has some interesting things going on upstairs. My favorite Eels song is called "It's a Motherf****r," but it wouldn't work with the demographic of my fans, not with that sea of gray hair. But it's a beautiful song.

AAJ: Back to something you said earlier, about bringing jazz to the next generation. That's especially important now, given the recent collapse of IAJE [International Association of Jazz Educators], which had all those high school programs and competitions to get kids involved in jazz.

TE: I hope there will be something new in its place.

AAJ: Don't we all? Meanwhile, you put Björk on your last record, and you've got The Eels on this one: what other ways can you get younger people interested in jazz?

TE: People of different ages use music in a vastly different way. A lot of jazz listeners sit down, and allow their attention to really wrap around something, but we live in a culture that breeds a much shorter attention span, especially in younger people. This makes a much tougher challenge for jazz. It's the whole reason that iTunes took off: people just pick one or two tunes they like off the album, and don't buy the rest. So to reach younger people, we need to understand what they even use music for—a lot of that is dance music, background, and not so much the focal point. Also, they don't use CDs, since they get everything through their computer.

I'm trying to get people my age to realize that jazz is worth checking out. One way is to focus on the aspect that I care about the most: collective improvisation. The music could sound like something from a totally other genre, as far as I'm concerned, but the people have a certain structure that they're all following: they're listening to each other, they're relating as human beings, and they're conversing in a total musical language. To me, that's a really fascinating thing to be a part of, and for an audience member to watch. Some of my friends who've never been turned onto jazz come to a show, and they like it.

AAJ: I know you're involved in teaching jazz as well.

TE: I'm actually writing a book right now about a very unconventional approach to learning jazz piano, because I don't feel that students progress as fast as they could. I think when you teach people to fully understand theory before doing it, it will take longer, and be less inspiring and fun. The working title is The Piano As a Visual and Physical Instrument. It's a little bit too long...

AAJ: It could use some tweaking, yes. Are you doing this on your own?

TE: Yes, but I'm going to include a bunch of unconventional interviews. I want to talk to people who are improvisers outside of music, to find out what do they do to get around different challenges. I want to interview Steve Young, who I think is one of the greatest improvisers of our time.

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