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Take Five with Joel Fairstein

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Joel Fairstein:

Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, Joel Fairstein has earned critical praise as jazz pianist, composer, producer, and studio musician. His first album, Umbra, an LP recorded at age 24 with eighteen sidemen has since become a sought-after collectors item.

Joel graduated from Berklee college in 1983 and freelanced regularly in Boston before performing cruise ship gigs in the Bahamas and Hawaii. Returning to Knoxville in 1985, Joel began an extended period of engagements with his piano trio and earned his Masters in Music in 1992 at the University Of Tennessee, where he studied with Donald Brown.

He has appeared with Monica Mancini and the Knoxville Chamber Orchestra, Eddie Henderson, Ray Anderson, Oteil Burbridge, R.B. Morris, Sam The Sham, Hector Qirko, Dave O'Dell, and many others. Joel has produced six albums of jazz compositions and appeared on dozens of other recordings.

Joel has just released a new CD, Emergence. Deep Latin-Soul grooves set off solos that emerges from understated restraint to pianistic heights.


Piano, organ, synths

Teachers and/or influences?

Donald Brown, Art Blakey, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Timmons

Your sound and approach to music:

My musical approach is about finding original grooves, themes, and solos in which every note counts. That's how the Southern musicians I grew up listening to approached everything. Once the feel is there, you can take chances and explore the musical landscape without losing your listeners.

Your dream band:

I'd love to work with Carlos Santana one day.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

I was playing a six-week engagement at the Ocean Pier in Daytona Beach with a rock band back in the late '70s. Our guitarist, John Brown, who looked and sounded like Jimi Hendrix, would treat the audience to some electric bluegrass—Turkey In The Straw"—but we turn him on his head, and he would play it upside down!

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Art Blakey Buhaina is the hardest grooving and one of the best produced jazz records I've ever heard. It covers Benny Golson tunes; Jon Hendricks, and Cedar Walton, are the icing on the cake.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Max Roach, Deeds Not Words

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

Instrumental jazz that is communicative without pyrotechnics or pandering to common taste.

CDs you are listening to now:

Deep Blue Organ Trio, Folk Music;

Robert Glasper, In My Element;

Sam Yahel, Hometown;

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Split into numerous camps—a bit fragmented.

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

Let's get away from the "jazz history" syndrome and realize that some of the best jazz is being recorded now, and it may not be like anything you've heard before.

What is in the near future?

My new CD, Emergence, started out as a soundtrack to a short film on Brazil but ended up being a full-length audio CD. It could be described as soulful Latin-Jazz.

By Day:

Recording engineer/producer.

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


Photo Courtey of Joel Fairstein


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