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Artist Profiles

Eric Lewis: Future Music

By Published: October 28, 2003
Following this overpowering display of virtuoso runs, pounding, stride style grooves, rhythmic textures, and almost abusively concussive blows to the keyboard, Lewis presented the tonally nearly diametrically opposed “Wave,” by Jobim. As if to fend off criticisms of bravura, Lewis took the piece at a tenderly slow tempo. Robinson’s muted mallet-on-snare, with tom embellishments, provided a soft rhythmic bed for the slightly blues-tinged, deeply emotive rendition of Jobim’s oft-played classic. Using a soft attack, Lewis built his mood with slow deliberation, offering sporadic upper octave figures and careful phrasing. Giving Beaudry space to develop a long, mournful solo, perhaps his best of the evening, Lewis followed with his own lyrical improvisation.

These songs represent just two examples taken from a night of increasingly intense music that eventually left the audience shouting for more. Catching Lewis between the first two sets, he talked about his frequent trips to Washington, D.C.

AAJ: The last time I saw you here was with the standing trio you use at Cleopatra’s Needle in New York, correct?

Eric Lewis: Well, I’ve been using this bassist for quite a while now, but the drummers switch up a lot.

AAJ: It seems like you and Paul share a strong rapport.

EL: Yes.

(This is an example of how difficult it is to evoke Lewis’s speaking style. With this one word, he was able to imply an intense unadorned surety, and obvious trust of Beaudry.)

AAJ: Are you working towards an Oscar Peterson/ Bill Evans group improvisation style?

EL: Well, I’m a jazz fan, you see. So if I can draw from someone, I will. So in that way, I guess, it’s a jump-off.

AAJ: You seem interested in allowing everyone their own voice.

EL: It’s more a matter of being as professional as possible based upon the cues of the environment....It depends on what everyone’s mood is. Sometimes they want to let me be band-leader, sometimes I want to, you know, let them be the band-leader.

And he laughed, slumping back a little, implying somehow that the latter only happens when he’s feeling self-indulgently indolent.

AAJ: You’ve been coming down to HR-57 fairly regularly.

EL: Yeah, yeah, about every two, three weeks or so.

AAJ: Are you from the area?

EL: No, no, I’m from Camden, New Jersey. I had a gig over at the Cosmos Club and was looking for something to do...and I came over here [to HR-57]. Me and Tony hooked up. The rest’s history.

AAJ: I heard you may record for the HR-57 label in the future, is that possible?

EL: It’s possible, it’s possible.

AAJ: Because people are anxious for you...

EL: get some stuff out there, I know.

AAJ: Exactly. You definitely have a very distinct style. I’d like to take a minute to discuss that specifically.

EL: Sure.

AAJ: I noticed you seem to leave an unusual amount of space for yourself and the other members of the trio to improvise.

EL: Yes, that’s right... You see, there are many different scenarios that can happen, so it is important to have as much flexibility as possible, so as to quickly blend into the environment. A lot of decisions have to be made in a split second—so it’s the same reason an airplane gets really high off the ground... (He paused, fixing me with a mischievous look.) You know, in case something...funny...happens. You need room to maneuver.

At this point we were interrupted by a fan Lewis recognized. Lewis sprang up, shook the man’s hand, and spoke with him for a few minutes, his voice rumbling with good-natured laughter. After excusing himself, he again sat down and waited for me to continue.

AAJ: I also wanted to ask about your compositions. Could you describe your process? Do you compose on paper?

EL: I rarely use paper, unless I’m using it to communicate music to somebody else. Generally, I’ll write a composition when I become impressed by something, or someone. A lot of my tunes, I’ve written about certain people. If I were an artist, I’d probably be very much into portraiture. A lot of my tunes are portraits of friends, or landscapes, a particular place in my heart, lore of New York City...a landscape of a place in my heart.

AAJ: Your compositions leave a lot of material for improvisation.

EL: Because that’s what I like to do. A lot of individuals seem to like tunes that make it tough for the improvisers to get through. But I like my tunes to be simple enough so that the audience can follow along, also the improviser. Easy to remember, so the challenge becomes how much personal involvement you can commit.

AAJ: That approach seems similar to Monk’s seemingly simple melodies, those catchy tunes that provide such fertile territory.

EL: Yes, right. Sing-ability is something special for me. I want my tunes to have easy access for the average listener.

AAJ: You seem to emphasize repeated rhythmic figures. Is that a conscious choice, to explore rhythm?

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