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Q&A with Saxophonist Eric Person

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I wanted to have a hand in every phase of making and releasing a CD. The pictures, the art, the concept, the studio, the engineer and the musicians. It's more work, but I know I'm moving forward.
Although you recorded "live" before ( Live At Greenwich House and Live at Caravan of Dreams both with Ronald Shannon Jackson) this is your first live recording. How was the process different being a leader?

Eric Person: Everything is different when you are the leader. It's a lot of weight on your shoulders. People looking at you for things, instead of others. With the Shannon Jackson "live" recordings, I was a sideman, and a young one at that, I just came and played. Now with my recording Live At Big Sur, I produced the recording in my head first. I thought of what I wanted this band to say on the gig along with the CD. It worked out fine. It was two great performances.

All About Jazz: Many of the compositions on the "live” recording seem to be based on riffs or vamps...please comment.

EP: The concept I take with all my releases regarding the songs, is that I'm for compositional variety. We have a wide range of styles on the CD, but it's the Meta-Four sound that ties it all together.

I like strong melodies. Melody that have an immediacy, and harmonically it can be many things. Like "Magenta" which has a progression and a open section that’s off Gb lydian. "Tiger in The Maze" has what I call a modal progression, with a few II-V cadences in there. "Special Someone", Survival Instincts" and "I'll Be Just fine" have real chord progressions to blow on. Really the only song on the CD that stays in one place harmonically is "Issues", but it's not a vamp. The solos are basically on G7, but it goes to a few different places, based on where the rhythm sections want to take it. Some things are a little deceptive, and the listener may pick up on the underlying complexity with each listen. It seeps in them.

AAJ: On Live At Big Sur you give a lot of solo space to pianist John Esposito...

EP: That’s what my father said, but it just turned out that way. I dig what John is doing and I think it was two of his best performances. I think the CD shows that Esposito is one of the leading piano players in this music. Folks will learn that over time. His use of unique contrapuntal left hand technique is fascinating.

AAJ: Dou you think you will ever use another expanded ensemble like on More Tales To Tell ?

EP: I was just thinking about that the other day. One of the main reasons I make CDs is to document my development as an artist. I want to give the listeners something different to listen to. No matter how great it is, I don't think I'm going to have ten Meta-Four CDs out there. So the next release will be something different. It's not going to be big band though. The flute, acoustic guitar, bass clarinet and bassoon on More Tales To Tell was fun and I am thinking about an expanded band these days. What comes to mind is me playing all my horns, that is soprano, alto, tenor saxophones and flute, add some vocals, percussion, guitar and rhythm section. And add maybe another horn or two.

AAJ: How did you come up with Meta-Four what is the overall concept behind the band?

EP: I came up with the name after much thought. You know, it's not easy finding good band names. I mean, everybody uses quartet; quintet; sextet and group. I wanted something to distinguish us from other bands. At the time I came up with it which was 1998, the band's concept and personnel was solidifying. The band's concept is to feature original music and to pursue and discover new directions. There is a seeking sound to this band. It's exciting and I feel this is my best band. John, Kenny and Peye are scary I get chills playing this music live and the music has grown since the "live" CD, which is the point.

AAJ: When you look back over your career (St. Louis high school prodigy; son of a local saxophonist; stints with Dave Holland, Chico Hamilton, Ronald Shannon Jackson and WSQ) do you think that this resume of working with great artist is hard to come by for a young cat?

EP: It’s all a blessing. GOD is good. When I came to my father at age seven saying I was ready to start playing saxophone, he knew I was serious. I took over his jazz collection! I had the best of everything at Normandy High School, and I played in a Jazz quartet on the weekends. I was reading album liner notes, getting hyped about visiting New York City, and when I did I knew I had to get out of St Louis. My last year at Normandy I was so restless, cause New York City was calling. But the opportunities I have been giving to work with those great musicians is indispensable. There are so many talented musicians, but with few real bands to attach themselves to learn, grow, and get their name out there. I would say it's harder now, but no impossible. You have to really want it and have some luck too. It helps to have a goal and a plan. But another thing that is essential for the contemporary musician is to learn all the facets of the music business. If you are looking for happiness, longevity and fruitfulness in this game, educate yourself, it will serve you well.


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