Yelena Eckemoff is an internationally renowned Russian-born pianist, composer, poet, and visual artist who organically blends classical elements with jazz improvisation in evocative and uniquely distinctive works that strike a delicate balance between through-composed frameworks and open-ended exploration and improvisation. Eckemoff is highly prolific composer and recording artist who produces the albums that are listed worldwide among the best releases of a year. Each release has its own charm and expression, involving the greatest celebrities of the world jazz scene, but always bears the personal signature of the composer/pianist. Yelena Eckemoff is a virtuoso pianist who played numerous piano solo recitals and lead her various all-star bands performing at prestigious venues, including Birdland NYC, Jazz Standard, Saint Peter’s Church, and Ronnie Scotts in London.
Her career can be divided into halves: Before 2009, she focused primarily on classical, folk, and sacred music as well as jazz, and after where jazz became her primary mode of expression— albeit still classically informed and occasionally tinged with experimental rock. The 2013 album Glass Song is widely regarded as her most important recording.
Eckemoff was born in Moscow and began playing the piano by ear at four. A year later, she was formally studying with her mother, a professional pianist. At seven, she attended Gnessins State Musical College, a school for gifted children, and after high school, studied classical piano at Moscow State Conservatory. After completing a Master's degree in piano performance and pedagogy, she worked as a piano teacher in a Moscow music school, gave solo concerts, attended courses at the Moscow Jazz Studio, played in an experimental jazz-rock band, and composed instrumental and vocal music.
In 1991, Eckemoff emigrated to the United States with her husband. While assimilating in her adopted country and raising children, she put her musical career on hold, but still worked at music itself whenever possible. She founded her own piano school and served as a church choir director. She experimented with synthesizer and MIDI sequencer in her tiny home studio, then formed a working ensemble from a pool of local musicians. She self-released some 13 albums in various genres including classical, vocal, folk, Christian, and original music, all through her own label, L & H Production.
In 2010, she issued the album Cold Sun, that signaled her shift to jazz in a trio setting, with American drummer Peter Erskine and Danish bassist Mads Vinding. Based on a winter theme (all her subsequent albums would be conceptual), the set explored improvisation within the setup of the jazz piano trio in four extended pieces that alternated with six slightly shorter, more straightforward jazz tunes. Chosen as one of the finest recordings of the year, reviews of the recording compared it favorably with the gold standard: ECM's many recordings of piano trios.