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Taylor Eigsti: The Prodigy, Revisited

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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My left hand feels like this old wise Grandpa with arthritis, while my right hand is this chihuahua that's running all over the place, bringing his little doggy bones to Grandpa.
Taylor Eigsti In 2004, I interviewed both Taylor Eigsti and his mother, Nancy, about what it was like to be (and to raise) a prodigy. In the four years since then, Taylor's career has continued its nearly-vertical trajectory, with two Grammy nominations, two prestigious Piano Jazz shows with Marian McPartland, three jazz magazine covers, and multiple Down Beat Magazine critics' poll recognition.

Now, at the ripe old age of 23, Eigsti continues to carve his place in the jazz tradition while being very much of his own generation. For example, his MySpace blog features a list of "things that suck," which have included "arrogant sound engineers," people who steal cell phones, airlines, laundry, and cilantro. Eigsti also has a genuine social conscience, and will donate a rare solo performance to people who give $2500 or more to the Jazz Foundation. Eigsti and his girlfriend Ashley recently went to New Orleans, where he did a big benefit for ACORN, the non-profit community organizing group. The couple also helped restore a mural in a park in the lower ninth ward. Eigsti describes it as "a sobering experience to see all of the damage that still exists there. It looks like the hurricane hit yesterday in most parts. Unreal!"

While Eigsti outgrows the prodigy status that's dogged him for the past 15 years, his music is maturing, communicating more on a deeper level, and his astonishing energy powers a formidable technique that's an absolute delight to watch. This interview took place in May of 2008, just before his CD release party; it was held at the Jazz Standard, which may offer the best music and food and the most welcoming atmosphere in New York. Among other things he discussed his ideas about bringing jazz to the next generation, his use of "note bombs," and what he hates about his own playing.

All About Jazz: I went back to our first interview, from four years ago.

Taylor Eigsti: Yeah. That sucker always pops up on Google whenever you type in my name.

AAJ: I think it's the word "prodigy"—people are always googling it to see if they've got one at home. Whatever the reason, it's gotten more reads than any other interview I've done.

TE: That's really good. It's an honor to have that status.

AAJ: We'd get even more hits if we found a way to put "Nude American Idol" in the title. But that would be cheating. Anyway, back then you said that being a prodigy was like being "a bearded lady," a freakish kind of thing. So here we are four years later: your first Concord CD (2006's Lucky To Be Me) spent 23 weeks on the jazz charts, and your second has just come out to great reviews (2008's Let It Come To You, also on Concord). This makes six CDs as a leader, so far. You've also gotten two Grammy nominations [for best jazz composition, "Argument" and best jazz solo, on "Freedom Jazz Dance"], and you're playing and recording with some of the brightest lights in jazz. So the question is, have you finally caught up with yourself?

Taylor Eigsti

TE: I hope so. That whole prodigy business was always a double-sided thing. I always felt that if there was any enjoyment that people might take from knowing that I'm young—if that added some additional thing—I'm all for it. But I didn't want people to like what I did just because a young person was doing it, and wow, not many young people do this kind of stuff...

AAJ: You didn't have much choice in the matter, though.

TE: Exactly. I've been young my whole life, I don't have any other means of comparison—it's no novelty to me, it's just what I've done. Fortunately some of the accomplishments of the last few years are helping; I've done some things, instead of being the "brand new kid."

AAJ: Like the Grammy nominations?

TE: That helped. It was great to have that. And recently I notice that people can actually remember certain songs I've done. I have some distance from the prodigy thing now, although it's a hard situation, when you have a team doing publicity: "Hey, don't make me look too young!" Another change is that I hated bad reviews at first, but now I love them because they make me seem a little more legit. When I started to come out, everyone gave good reviews, 'cause I was just a kid.

AAJ: Except for Howard Reich [his very negative review was Taylor's first].

TE: Yeah, well. He's a bitter guy with an impressive vocabulary; I think people read him mostly for the shock value. Then there was a bad review of Let It Come To You—some guy on some blog talked about the Concord marketing machine, and how it was also promoting [20 year-old singer-songwriter] Erin Boheme and [24 year-old trumpeter] Christian Scott. He called us "The Mod Squad," and he gave my CD a terrible rating, but he never said anything about the music. Whenever there's more attention on the marketing aspect of things—however that manifests—the music gets lost. I just want to put the focus back on the music, which is all I'm trying to think about.


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