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Take Five With...

Take Five With Yelena Eckemoff

Take Five With Yelena Eckemoff
By Published: November 18, 2010
Meet Yelena Eckemoff: Brief Bio (150-200 words): Yelena Eckemoff was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. Her parents noticed that she had great musical potential when she started to play piano by ear at the age of four. Yelena's mother, Olga, a professional pianist, became her first piano teacher. At the age of seven Yelena was accepted into an elite Gnessins 10-year School for musically gifted children where, in addition to common school subjects, she received extensive training in piano, music theory, music literature, solfeggio, harmony, analysis of musical forms, conducting, composing, and other musical subjects.

She was fortunate to study piano with Anna Pavlovna Kantor, who also trained one of today's most celebrated pianists, Evgeny Kissin. Later Yelena studied with Galina Nikolaevna Egiazarova at the Piano School of the Moscow State Conservatory. Upon graduation with Master's Degree in piano performance and pedagogy, she worked as a piano teacher in one of Moscow Music Schools, gave solo concerts, attended courses at the Moscow Jazz Studio, played in an experimental jazz- rock band, and continued to compose music for different instruments and voice.

After marrying and becoming a mother, Yelena had to withdraw from further career moves as a concert pianist. Even though she has never given up her performing activities, she had to stay away from commercial music circles. Together with her husband she found the Christian faith and decided to flee the Soviet Union.

Since 1991, Yelena has been living permanently in the USA, where she continued to play concerts and compose music. Taking advantage of technological advancements, Yelena also began developing her career as an independent recording artist. Over the course of years, she has produced a number of recordings of her original, arranged, and classical music under the independent label, L & H Production.

Yelena's original music has been acclaimed as intelligent, tasteful, reflective, sometimes dark and edgy, always interesting, diverse and sentimentality-free romantic. It is rooted in the modern classical approach, much influenced by jazz and world music. The margins between improvisation and composition in this refined music are almost indistinguishable; the structures are consistently complex, intricate and even epic.

Instrument(s):

Piano, composer.

Teachers and/or influences? My mother's influence was the most crucial. She was a professional pianist whose wonderful interpretations of Chopin, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and others, I have heard since even before I was born. She taught piano and played a lot, and following her example, I started to play and make up little songs since I turned four. My mother wrote down my childish compositions until I was able to do it myself a few years later and has always encouraged me in creativity of all kinds.

I went through a former music education, and my piano teachers Anna P. Kantor and Galina N. Egiazarova played a huge role in my development as a musician.

They gave me everything I needed to base my future grows upon. I was fortunate to be a recipient of renowned Neihaus piano school multiplied by the enormous teacher's talent and refined musicianship of both teachers, assisted by the efforts of many other fabulous teachers I had during my years both at the elite Gnessins School and the Conservatory.

Then came a teenage infatuation with rock and jazz, and I had a lot of influences from some of my friends and teachers at the Moscow Jazz Studio.

Naturally, my composer's side has been evolving throughout the years under the influences of everything I found interesting in music. The biggest impression that made a revolution in my classical music ears, I experienced listening to Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
b.1971
band/orchestra
(John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
) and Pink Floyd, back in late '70s-early '80s. But that was before I started to get involved with jazz—at first of tradition trend, and much later—getting a taste of its alternative direction outlined by Manfred Eicher for the ECM Records.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... The thought of being somebody else, not a musician never, ever crossed my mind for as long as I can remember myself.

Your sound and approach to music: I am convinced that music, even at the most dramatic moments, should not be obnoxious and unpleasant. I think that music, like a language, can be rude or polite, slangy or formal, passionate or bleak, smart or dumb.

Your music is you, and for better or for worse, you can not help it. Change yourself, and your art will follow. The styles in music don't matter for me. I have worked in almost all of them, but jazz appeals to me the most, because it is the most adaptive style of all. In my opinion, modern jazz is the way that classical music has taken after reaching its dead end at 20th century abstractionism.

Music that makes sense; music that nurtures your soul and boosts your imagination; music that makes you a better person; music as a powerful language of God.

This is my approach to music I am striving to reach. For better or for worse, I do not play and compose, because I want to. I do it, because I can't not to. Making music to me is like the air I breathe. I have a feeling that I will live for as long as I can make music, and when I will no longer be capable of doing this, life will leave my body.

Your teaching approach: I've been teaching for a long time. And from my experience, I know that nearly everybody is capable to learn how to play up to a certain level—assuming that the teacher handles it right. The motivated student always does well for himself, no matter how far he will go. I try to push every student to the best of his/her ability, but it is most imperative for me that in any outcome my students would learn to appreciate good music in any style, form or expression. I teach my students the masterful skills, but most importantly—to understand and therefore to love music.

Your dream band:

Oh, don't get me started; I am getting really excited now! As a jazz composer, I absolutely need other musicians to complete my work. I can write marvelous melodies, skillfully develop them, make an intricate music structures, and even fix my spontaneous improvisations in notes. But when I get together with other sympathetic musicians, the magic happens, and my composition comes alive and sees the light as a baby having just being born. Ah, to be able to share the music making with the true masters—yes, that is my paradise on Earth! And I was able to reach this paradise three times in the year of 2010, when my music underwent metamorphoses of been processed through the work of such superb musicians as Mads Vinding
Mads Vinding
Mads Vinding
b.1948
bass
, Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
, Morten Lund, and Darek Oleszkiewicz. And I keep dreaming and making plans to play and record with the top musicians in the modern jazz world.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: Ones, back in 2007, I played a concert with my band with a scratched cornea in one eye, while my other eye could not focus as well, and I did not see a single note. That was the worst experience, even though I ended up playing well, and the concert was not unsuccessful.

Favorite venue:

I have not performed at my favorite venue yet.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Typically, I am partial to my last recording. At this moment, this is my album, Flying Steps, which I've recorded with Darek Oleszkiewicz on double-bass and Peter Erskine on drums, last August in California, and which is due to release before the end of this year.

Actually, this is going to be my third release this year (unusual thing ever for me, because normally I produce an album per year,) and I am really fond of the other two, Cold Sun, with Mads Vinding on double-bass and Peter Erskine on drums, and Grass Catching the Wind, with Mads Vinding on double-bass and Morten Lund on drums.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Something by Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young
1909 - 1959
saxophone
Trio, and Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' Kind of Blue.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I hope that I will leave my mark as a composer, because I think that the most valuable of my assets is my original music. By 'my music' I mean my written compositions which hopefully will survive throughout the times, even when the sound recordings the way we know them might become extinct. I hope that my compositions might be picked up by future generations of musicians in the same manner as classical music is performed and interpreted by the newer generations of musicians. The ways to perform constantly evolve and performers change, but music stays. Certainly, only the time will show if my music has this kind of quality or not.

Did you know...

I don't like surprises.

CDs you are listening to now: I rotate CDs in my 25-CD changer quite often, but I always try to keep at least one each of Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
b.1944
piano
, Arild Andersen
Arild Andersen
Arild Andersen
b.1945
bass, acoustic
, John Taylor
John Taylor
John Taylor
b.1942
piano
, Marcin Wasilewski, Manu Katche
Manu Katche
Manu Katche
b.1958
drums
, Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
b.1947
sax, tenor
, Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
b.1942
trumpet
, Enrico Rava
Enrico Rava
Enrico Rava
b.1943
trumpet
, and Eberhard Weber
Eberhard Weber
Eberhard Weber
b.1940
bass
in there. I also must say that I try to listen to everything new that I can spot on the scene of improvisatory creative music and buy a lot of CDs, even though I end up not liking some of them after giving them a closer consideration. I also listen to a lot of classical music, but separately from jazz, and some of my favorite composers are J.S. Bach, F. Chopin, L. V. Beethoven, F. Schubert, R. Schumann, S. Rachmaninoff.

Desert Island picks: Since in my books that would definitely be more than five, and likely even more than fifty, I do not find possible to answer this question adequately. But if the question would be rephrased to something like: "Which five albums come to mind without much thinking if you are asked to name fist five?" then my list would look something like this:

Arild Andersen, Triangle (ECM);
Bobo Stenson, Cantando (ECM);
Peter Erskine, Juni (ECM);
Marcin Wasilewski Trio, January (ECM);
Stefano Bollani, Stone in the Water (ECM).

How would you describe the state of jazz today? All art suffers nowadays from the computer revolution. Nevertheless performing arts are still quite alive, even though they are not flourishing in the US as much as in Europe. It is hard to say why; maybe musicians here are not paid enough for the gigs...

Therefore it is encouraging that traditional jazz still stands its grounds and attracts many musicians to be its dedicated followers. I myself have made my first steps in jazz playing the standards and evergreens. At the same time, I am delighted to witness that jazz took turn and is developing into something else. These days you cannot tally all that new sprouting directions into the jazz idiom. You have to clarify either this is traditional, or straightforward jazz, or modern-free-avant- garde jazz. Many just say—improvising music, the merge, or cross-breed. I like that. I am for the innovative ways for a jazz musician to communicate the creativity and free spirit. Melting jazz into diverse body of classical music or vise-versa; wow, what a mind-blowing potential here!

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Exposure and education are the only ways to keep something alive and growing. Sadly, jazz, especially the modern jazz, does not get almost any space on radio, TV, etc, verses pop music. The same picture, by the way, is with classical music channels: there are just outnumbered by the others. This is a shame, because for people like me and likewise, there is often nothing to listen to on radio. Not mentioning that the trip to the grocery store, doctor's office or anywhere where music is forced on you, could be a living hell. I wish there would be more powerful people somewhere out there who would give jazz a fair chance to be heard.

What is in the near future? I plan to have two recording sessions in 2011; one of them in Europe, and to produce at least two new albums. The players have not been settled yet, although I have pretty good idea.

By Day:

Private piano teacher; choir director, pianist and organist at church.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Visual artist (oil-on-canvas painter).


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