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Artist Profiles

Eric Lewis: Future Music

By Published: October 28, 2003
EL: Well, timing is a dynamic of improvisation that one must be very comfortable with. An element that must be really custom fitted. Everything we do is timed, is a timed event. Whether or not we intend it to be, it is tied to one’s sense of timing and so it’s important to become familiar with the stringencies, and the liberties... So that when you initiate something, you are comfortable with what you’ve begun, how it represents our inner workings... That’s why I focus on timing, placement. Leaving space for judgment.

After speaking for a few moments more, Lewis received a nod indicating it was time to begin the next set. Turning back to me, he finished what he had been saying.

EL: I always try to be conscious of the audience. I’m very audience oriented. I’m part of the audience, too.

With that, he shook my hand, and headed back to the stage.

Free from all other thoughts, I returned to my seat to absorb the next set. Lewis began with two solo pieces, a blazing “Cherokee” and a long, dazzling piece, named “Thanksgiving”. Listening as he then called the rest of the trio to the stage to join him, along with longtime friend Antonio Parker, I became amazed all over again at Lewis’s facility. He danced through Wayne Shorter’s “Pinocchio”, and then handed Parker the lead for a beautiful rendition of “Bye-Bye-Blackbird”. He finished with a powerful, intricate version of “A Day in the Life of a Fool”, laughingly dedicated to Tony Montana. (It’s genuinely one of Tony’s favorite songs.) This last piece exemplified Lewis’s playing—strong, assured, full of imaginative flights and humor (for example, a sudden quote from the “Saberdance”), and an insatiable desire to push, and be pushed, into new territory.

It is clear that Eric Lewis has absorbed much of piano jazz’s history. He plays with a James P. Johnson strength and an Earl Hines inventiveness, but is by no means a revivalist. There is nothing analytically cold or forebodingly authoritarian in Lewis’s music; he presents neither vivisection nor practiced artistry. Lewis’s playing seeks its next instant of brilliance by presenting a confluence of styles within each moment, simultaneously leading back to early jazz foundations, and pushing forward into the realm of experiment. In this way, Lewis’s music builds the future of jazz piano with every performance. But the real key to Lewis’s music is that each performance bestows a revelation. This revelation is not proffered on a silver platter of prefabricated excellence; it is induced through the ecstatic revelry Lewis experiences himself. In the end, Lewis becomes a medium through which the music speaks, and like all ecstatic guides, he is equal measure showman and participant, guide and seeker, savant and trickster.

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