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Taylor Eigsti: The Prodigy, Revisited

By Published: July 22, 2008
AAJ: Wait a minute. Isn't he a football player?

TE: He sure is, yeah.

AAJ: How did I know that you would somehow get football in there?

TE: Well, it fits: the wide receiver is running an X route, you have an idea in your head, but the defense is going to be different every time, they're going to change what they're doing. Then so-and-so trips, you're running around trying to find something out of nothing—what goes on in that mental process? And each time you march a basketball down the court, everything is going to be different—you have a set play, but it's always different.

Taylor Eigsti

AAJ: I guess there is jazz in sports.

TE: Exactly. I'm also putting this book out because when I give workshops or lessons, I've seen some unbelievable breakthroughs where all of a sudden people are suddenly creating their own chords easily; five or six of them actually started tearing up.

AAJ: I need that book!

TE: It will take a few years. It will come with a video. I want it to be something that hasn't been written before—with all due respect, it's the polar opposite approach to Mark Levine's, and he's written the definitive jazz piano book.

AAJ: What about Shelly [Berg] and his target note method?

TE: I got a lot from studying with Shelly. He's a brilliant educator who goes beyond typical traditional methods. He gets into teaching people how to extract emotion, and he's one of the greatest teachers in that regard. My approach to teaching improvisation is a bit different, but it incorporates a lot of those elements. I think he's one of the really good ones.

There's also a whole chapter on things I hate about my own playing. The back part is blank, and it says "Your turn."

AAJ: So tell me: what do you hate about your own playing?

TE: I'd love for that to go on record. Unless I have a moment of autopilot in my brain, I'm usually hearing all the notes that I play. A lot of times, I hear a lot of notes, and that can get exhausting. And then occasionally—I think all musicians fall victim to this—I find that if I didn't really nail the third chorus, or make my statement, I'm like, "I messed it up!" and I'll take an angry chorus right after that. Many of us go on searching for something when we should have found it two choruses ago. I really hate the way I play too many notes sometimes. Those two elements are kind of combined for me.

AAJ: Is that an anxiety thing, do you think?

TE: No, it's just being in the moment, and getting so many ideas. I'm always looking for equilibrium and balance, and trying to have restraint; I think it's one of those things I've gotten better at over the years. It comes down to shaping, really: how do you structure an arrangement, how do you create an envelope of sound that people will want to listen to? I'm making a whole chapter of this kind of stuff.

The thing is, when it involves emotion, you can play a lot of notes, or you can play just a few. If you look at some of my musical heroes: Hank Jones has a tendency to play very few notes, and makes so much music out of that, while one of my other heroes, Shelly Berg, plays a lot of notes, and he makes a lot of music too. People are on different sides of the fence in terms of how many notes they use to get their point across. And if this interview is any indication, I'm a long-winded person.

AAJ: I'll try to un-wind you a little when I transcribe this.

TE: Thanks. Another thing is that I'm always looking for ways to improve my left hand, because it feels like this old wise grandpa with arthritis, while my right hand is this chihuahua that's running all over the place, bringing his little doggy bones to Grandpa. I think they both need to learn from each other. Grandpa is so much wiser, but he needs to start getting his technique together, and the other guy needs to chill out. There are moments on the CD, especially in "Caravan," where I kind of went on a note explosion, but it was the effect I wanted, I wanted it to sound like total chaos, I wanted it to be a draining moment, kind of like a note bomb.

AAJ: Is that what the loops are for?

TE: That one little section, it had a one-second delay on it, so anything I would play, one second later, you'd hear the same notes again. As a result, a lot of them were criss-crossing. I just wanted that for about ten seconds, that moment of breakdown. We had to create something that leads to somewhere, an emotional moment.

AAJ: "Caravan" might be my favorite track on Let It Come To You. It's obvious that you were all having so much fun.

Taylor Eigsti / Chris BrubeckTE: That was the first take, too. Most of the stuff on there was first take. It was this miracle session. The [saxophonist] Joshua [Redman] track was nine minutes, but there was no way in hell we were taking it out. It was maybe the best three minutes of my life, that end vamp on "Timeline."

AAJ: I really like the way you listen when you trade fours with him: you're picking up everything he's putting down. It's such an affirmation of each other, and your conversation is almost like dancing.

TE: When we finished that track, [drummer] Eric [Harland] was literally jumping up and down in the air. He was so excited. When we listened to those trades, we were all high-fiveing—a wonderful moment—and it was to honor Michael Brecker too. I think something came over Joshua at the end of that tune; maybe Michael started coming through him. They're both such innovators and icons of their instrument; you can also feel the influence that Brecker had on Josh. It was really beautiful to see that whole thing happen. We all had goose bumps when it was over.

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