Embodying elements of Jazz, Rock, Down-tempo and New Age, composer / producer Stephan Earl's music flows across stylistic boundaries yet is focused on the principals of melody, harmony and rhythm. Enchanting and thought-provoking, Stephan composes music that is harmonically interesting and complex, yet accessible to the average listener. His music is the perfect fit for a nu-jazz world, something Stephan eagerly embraces. There are so many styles of music that I enjoy, said Stephan. Yet I wanted to create a body of work focused around Jazz with ambient textures that capture your imagination and melodies that touch your soul.
Stephan Earl's debut album Origins, released November 2009, aims to accomplish just that. Described as nu- jazz or contemporary jazz, this album is the culmination of Stephan's years of passion and love for music. Its inspirations range from classical music of the 1920's to world music to rock and contemporary jazz. I wanted the music of Origins to have the raw emotion of music I composed in my youth, yet represent my current thoughts and influences.
I've been so fortunate to have great teachers such as Justin DiCoccio at LaGuardia H.S. in New York and Barry Weaver in my younger years who taught more than music notes on a page. They taught about feel and connecting emotionally with the music. My musical influences today compose and perform with the same emotional content. Artists such as Keiko Matsui, Yellowjackets, Michael Brecker and Oystein Sevag just to name a few.
Your sound and approach to music:
I approach music melodically. To me I love a melody that stays in your head. So if you hear one of my tunes and you can't get the melody out of your head, than I'm happy. I also love harmony, but I take a very improvised approach to harmony. So for example my melodies are mostly scored and transcribed by the time I record it and the harmonies and supporting chords are mostly improvised as I'm recording. I like structure in the tune, but need freedom and this is how I find balance.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
I just love "Le Cirque Enchante." This is a song I've had in my mind for over 20 years. Finally one day while I was driving the melody came to me and I pulled out my portable recorder and composed the entire song while driving. Its inspiration came from when I was a kid and went to see the Cirque Du Soleil for the first time. The images and sounds were enchanting and stated with me ever since. The song is a tribute to that experience.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
The first Jazz album I bought was Politics by the Yellowjackets. It's still one of the most played albums in my library. Actually, Yellowjackets is the most played group in my library hands down. It really doesn't matter which album as they've all got something that I would consider classic. Around that time though I was also buy many of the classics by John Coltrane, Miles Davis and was discovering Michael Brecker.
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Jazz is such an important part of our American history, yet jazz is becoming more popular globally than here in the US. Now in order to attract big crowds at a local jazz festival many acts are included that I believe to be stretching the scope of jazz. You go to a jazz festival now and I hear more of what I would call soul, or R&B than jazz. But that's OK if this is what it takes to bring in a younger audience.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Radio stations that play jazz are slowly disappearing from major cities. It's unbelievable to me. Now there is limited access to the music outside of internet and satellite. There is some jazz that is very academic and not as accessible to the average listener, however there is plenty of jazz and nu-jazz out there that is more accessible to the average listener and it needs more exposure.
What is in the near future?
I'm currently working on two more albums that are different in concept. One will step away slightly from what I started with Origins and the other will hopefully take Origins to the next level. I also am working on publishing a book in 2010. I'm being selective with performance dates currently until I've released the second or third albums.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.