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Take Five With Erik Friedlander

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Meet Erik Friedlander:

Cellist Erik Friedlander is a composer and an improviser, a first-call studio player and a jazzbo. A veteran of NYC's downtown scene, his 12 CDs as a leader recently include, Block Ice & Propane, his solo cello reinterpretation of American roots music; The Broken Arm Trio, a trio tribute to jazz bassist Oscar Pettiford; and Volac, a romantic collection of virtuoso solo cello pieces by John Zorn. Erik has performed on 100's of recordings and soundtracks including work with Laurie Anderson, The Mountain Goats, Ennio Morricone, and Courtney Love.

Instrument(s):

cello

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

I sang or played music since I could make a sound. I started guitar at age 5 and cello around 8. When I told a friend when I turned 20 that I was thinking it was music for me as a career, he just looked at me stonily, saying, "No big news there."

As a 19-year old I was lucky enough to meet Harvie S at a club where he was playing with Stan Getz. Harvie had a quintet idea he was trying to make happen with cello as one of the lead voices. He had been working with one of the top studio guys at the time, Jessie Levy, but needed someone with a little more free time (hey, I had nothing but!) so I went to see what I could do. It turned out I could do little more than play the parts—my improvising skills were non-existent—but this was OK, everyone else in the band was amazing (Benny Arnov, Peter Grant, David Charles, Randy Brecker and later John DEarth on flugel horn) so Harvie was able to arrange things so my weaknesses were hidden. Playing with this group, playing original music, with musicians who were established on the scene was a mind-blower. I wanted to be a part of the scene too and that's when it clicked with me.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

At the end of European tour my quartet Topaz (Andy Laster, Stomu Takeishi, Satoshi Takeishi) left for southern France from Amsterdam early one morning. It turns out we were traveling during a French holiday we were unaware of and the trains were packed. We arrived in Arles late in the day in time to perform two sets and then have a spectacular dinner outside by the Rhone River. At midnight we boarded a van which took us 2.5 hours further North where we were left at a deserted train station. Instead of waiting there for 2 hours I rented a hotel room and we snoozed. Four alarm clocks chimed to make sure we woke up on time. We separated and boarded a sleeper car and joined others already asleep in the 4-to-a-room bunks. 3-4 hours later we arrived in Basel, Switzerland where the band caught a flight home to New York.

The lesson learned is to check for local holidays and make your reservations early, otherwise you may have routing problems.

Favorite venue:

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the old Knitting Factory (the old one, on Houston Street) for its right time, right place capturing of the Downtown scene. The sound system could be wonky, the green room was a dive but the excitement generated by so many great musicians, making amazing music was unbeatable. I remember seeing Arcado (Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, and Hank Roberts) which opened up my horizons: They made it clear to me that it was possible to be a string player in improvised music and make a vibrant, alive music that was new and touched on all the influences that a kid born in 1960 would be familiar with: rock, pop, world and classical... not just jazz. I saw an early Blood Count gig that I will never forget. Tim Berne's music, when played like Blood Count could, is thrilling. Plus there was a chemistry working between Tim, Michael Formanek and the younger guys then, Chris Speed and Jim Black.

TONIC is also on my "best list." Melissa and John had a moment too when the Downtown crowd made Tonic the go-to place and once again, music thrived there in a big way. A more gentile place than the old Knit, Tonic was spacious and dark like a nightclub. I had more than a few great times there but I will always remember Zorn's 50th birthday month when he performed every night. We made some great recordings that month. One hot summer I and writer Michael Greenberg put together a live radio-style drama there over the course of 6 weeks with a live foley guy, 6 or so actors and my band Topaz plus a guest violinist. Rehearsing the actors, writing the music and putting on the show was a down-to-the-wire experience each week.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Grover Washington Jr.'s Paradise with John Blake.

Did you know...

What many people don't know is that I played JV Basketball at Columbia University and hit a last second shot to put the final game of the season against U. Penn into overtime. Then hit a the shot to win the game in overtime and earned the nickname from my friends, "Iceman."

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