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Take Five With Brian Eaton

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Meet Brian Eaton

From sitting in on drums at an L.A. jazz club at age nine to jamming with Gilby Clarke (former Guns 'N Roses guitarist) in his older brother's band at 11, Brian Eaton found the spark in a pair of sticks that ignited his passion at an early age. The Allegra Drums Artist, musician, composer/songwriter, engineer, and producer has gone on to be a multi-genre force in jazz fusion and rock, who uses the studio as the ultimate instrument to wield his imaginative creativity. Eaton has been featured in Bass Musician Magazine, All About Jazz, and World of Jazz, and has received praise from jazz greats Jean-Luc Ponty, Paul Wertico (Pat Metheny Group), and Frank Catalano.

After studying music theory and jazz piano in college, Eaton opened his own studio and label, Eatin' Records, outside Chicago. There he recorded and produced scores of artists including TD Clark (Dee Snider guitarist), who toured with Bad Company and Ted Nugent while promoting his debut Eatin' release. And where Eaton eventually launched his multi-genre solo career. Hailed as a "studio wizard" and "diverse performer," the Illinois Entertainer called Eaton, "a multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist...," and WWOZ jazz radio proclaimed, "Eaton is an amazing composer and artist."

Instruments:

Drums and percussion are my first love but I also play (or I should say, attempt to play because it is a continual work in progress) guitar, bass, keyboards, and, sometimes, vocals. I'm currently endorsed by Allegra Custom Drums and play their Master Craft kit in natural maple. But My very first drum kit was a Gretsch in orange sparkle.

Teachers and/or influences?

In college, I was fortunate to have studied with Skip Green. He was a great jazz pianist, and teacher, in Chicago. He opened up a whole new world to me. At the time, it was exactly what I was looking for and what I needed.

As far as influences, there's been so many over the years. Early on it was the great rock and prog drummers. Mitch Mitchell was the first to grab my ears. I just loved the way he grooved and swung with Hendrix and how the two complimented each other. He was such a dynamic and innovative player and added so much drive and excitement to the music...I was immediately hooked. Neil Peart and Bill Bruford also had a pretty huge impact on me. Later, as my taste in music expanded, I was absorbing as many great jazz and fusion drummers as I could including Buddy Rich, Lenny White, Dave Weckl, Paul Wertico, Vinnie Colaiuta, Chad Wackerman, and Antonio Sanchez to name a few.

As I expanded to other instruments (mainly piano/keyboards and guitar), I found myself gravitating to players like George Gershwin, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery, and the like.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

Probably the moment I first picked up a pair of drumsticks at the age of nine. Of course, there was ample encouragement in my household from both my guitar-playing brother, Bill, and my jazz-loving father who's a bit of a singer.

Your sound and approach to music.

For drums, I like a crisp, clean sound with lots of character, tone, and resonance. Guitar sounds are mainly driven by the style of music and there are so many tones I love. So, it just depends on what fits best for each particular song. In fact, that tends to be my overall approach to sounds and tones: the song dictates what is best and what works.

Compositions tend to develop into their own entity. They take on a life of their own and sometimes evolve in ways you would have never expected or intended. The finished product can be a real metamorphosis at times. So, I guess my approach to writing is to just be a conduit of musical ideas and then foster those ideas to evolve on their own. Sometimes the results are great, and sometimes... well, you know...

As an engineer, I adopted famed mastering engineer Bob Katz's philosophy of recording years ago and employ many of his techniques. My goal is always to achieve a wide dynamic range, depth, and dimension with minimal or no compression. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, so I don't like shortcuts. As I have always explained to artists, follow best practices: the best mixes make the best masters. In fact, a perfect mix may need little to no processing at all during the mastering session. Therefore, take the time to craft good, if not great, quality mixes and not be of the mindset of "we'll fix it during mastering."

Your dream band

As an engineer/producer, I think my dream band to record would be Pat Metheny on guitar, Charlie Parker on saxophone, Oscar Peterson on piano (Chick Corea would be my backup if Oscar wasn't available), Jaco Pastorius on bass (remember, this my dream band... so anything is possible), and Dave Weckl on drums. Can you imagine the sound?!

Road story: Your best or worst experience

The craziest gig I ever played was when I was only 12 years old. I was playing drums in my brother's band at a huge party that some friends from his high school coordinated at a clubhouse outside of Chicago. There were hundreds of people (mostly high school students) there and, if my memory serves me right, something like 23 kegs of beer. We were the only band there so we had center stage and rocked for hours. I even got to perform a drum solo... or as the rest of the band calls it: a beer break. As the night thrashed on, people were getting pretty loaded and out of control. The "breaking" point came when someone either fell or was pushed through a large plate glass window. Then all hell broke loose, the cops showed up and people scattered in all directions. All I remember at that point was my brother directing me to pack up my gear into the van as fast as possible so we could exit stage left... and we did. It was truly a night, and a gig, to remember.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

That's a tough one. That's like picking your favorite child. Probably one of my favorite jazz/fusion tracks is "Standing in the Midst" from my latest album, All The Earth Will Mourn. I'm really happy with the way the composition turned out and the overall vibe. However, I'm really happy with the album as a whole... it's one of my top favorites. A lot of the pieces just seemed to come together so nicely on so many levels. And it's a great album to listen to on headphones.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Well, that would have to be my individuality. No one else can create my music but me. And for me, a big part of that is not limiting myself to just one genre. I love all kinds of music, and if I want to play or write something that moves me, no matter the genre, I'm going to do it. Why should any artist be limited by genre? It's ridiculous and repressive... but that's the music industry for you. I'm glad I'm not bound by any of those shackles.

Did you know...

I was once a bellhop and airport shuttle driver for a large resort outside Chicago (Pheasant Run Resort). On one shift, I was called on to escort a party from their hotel room to the shuttle and then drive them to their private plane at the airport. When I got to the room and knocked, it was, to my surprise, Roy Clark and his band! They had just wrapped up a few nights of performances at the resort and were checking out. Roy and his band were so nice and down to earth and very generous with the tip. I got to drive right up onto the tarmac and help load their gear onto the plane...almost as though I was one of the roadies! Of course, Roy is gone now (and so is the resort), but I will always remember his kindness and generosity.

The first jazz album I bought was:

I'm not sure which was first, but it was either the Pat Metheny Group's "White Album" or Bill Bruford's One of a Kind. I'm pretty sure it was the PMG.

However, there's a cool story about how I serendipitously discovered Bruford's album. I had been on a mission to find more recordings of guitarist extraordinaire Allan Holdsworth since hearing him on Jean-Luc Ponty's Enigmatic Ocean album. One evening in '79, my father and I were driving in L.A. when I saw Gary Burton's name on the marquee of a jazz club. I pointed it out to my father, who never misses an opportunity to see live jazz, and we decided to should check it out to see if Burton was performing. So we turned around and headed to the club (unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the venue). It was still early evening and not very busy, and there was no Burton on stage. However, there was a pretty good band playing some jazz fusion with, what I thought was, an electric violinist leading the group (it turned out to be an electric viola). So we planted ourselves at the table nearest the band and listened to their first set. When they took a break, my father waved over the violist/leader to our table and he happily obliged. I told him I was digging the music and that he sounded a bit like Jean-Luc Ponty. He was happy with the compliment and said he knew Ponty personally.

This got me excited since I was a huge Ponty fan and the potential that he might know Allan Holdsworth too, or at least know more about him. So I asked if he had heard of him, knew anything about the guitarist, or knew of any other recordings he had performed on. His eyes lit up and he told me, like a wise sage, that I needed to go down to Tower Records in West Hollywood and buy Bill Bruford's new album, One of a Kind. I was like Bruford? You mean the drummer from Yes and King Crimson?? "Yep," he said, "and it is truly one of a kind... it will blow your mind!" It was almost too good to be true, one of my favorite drummers had a solo fusion album with Holdsworth! Of course, this was way back before the internet and Google, so discovering and finding new jazz/fusion albums wasn't a mouse click away, it was through word of mouth much of the time. Well, you know where I went the next day, and I not only bought that album but Feels Good to Me too! Those two albums saw some pretty heavy rotation in my Sony Walkman, right alongside the PMG album. I'm sorry... what was the question again?? Just kidding.

Music you are listening to now:

As a playlist editor/curator, I listen to a lot of music. So, here's a small sample of some of my recent favorites...

Emmet Cohen: Finger Buster (Mack Avenue)
Marco Pacassoni: Life (Giotto Music)
Pasquale Grasso: Be-Bop! (Masterworks)
Julian Lage: View With A Room (Blue Note)
Antonio Adolfo: Octet and Originals (Self Released)

Desert Island picks:

It's so hard to pick just five... but here goes:

Chick Corea Akoustic Band: Chick Corea Akoustic Band (GRP)
Pat Metheny Group: Pat Metheny Group (ECM)
Jean-Luc Ponty: Enigmatic Ocean (Atlantic)
Yes: Close to the Edge (Atlantic)
Rush: Hemispheres (Anthem)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

In flux. Jazz ebbs and flows in popularity, but it will always prevail as long as there are musicians. Jazz is the place where there are no boundaries and, for a musician, that is exciting. It's hard not to love a genre that encourages you to explore, invent, experiment, push boundaries and approach a canvas that is limitless and open... jazz is the musician's playground. Sure technology may change certain things or usher in new trends over time, but jazz will abide... it's been doing so for over a hundred years!

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

We need to continue to foster growth in musicians and recruit new musicians, especially young ones. This will ensure we continue the cycle... jazz needs musicians to stay alive and grow, so we must feed it. There's another side to this also: as we foster and bring new musicians into the fold, we also create new jazz fans.

What is in the near future?

Continuing to promote my new album... but hopefully soon, more writing and recording. I've been piecing together some new ideas in my head that I need to explore.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

Probably every musician's greatest fear: making a mistake the audience is aware of.

By Day:

I'm the playlist editor for All About Jazz and working on other tasks for my business.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

One of my previous jobs: either a paramedic or RN. I went back to school after nearly a decade of running my studio/label full-time. I figured a needed a backup plan in case this music thing didn't work out.

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Maybe Pat Metheny or Jean-Luc Ponty... either would be amazing! It would also be cool to work with Frank Catalano again. He's an amazing saxophonist! Or perhaps Brad Mehldau or Aaron Parks... there are just so many that would be amazing to work with and to learn from...

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