Unbridled, adventurous jazz joy.
Taylor Eigsti Group
Unbridled, adventurous jazz joy.
When Taylor Eigsti was twelve, his idol, Dave Brubeck, told the world that Taylor was the most amazing talent he’d ever seen. Eighteen years later, it seems Dave wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Taylor’s musicianship has dazzled collaborators such as Chris Botti, Esperanza Spalding, Joshua Redman, Dave Douglas, Lee Konitz, Eric Harland, Gretchen Parlato, and others with an unbridled spirit of delight and a blindingly comprehensive mastery of seemingly every style of music. As a student at SJW, he met his saxophone soul mate, Dayna Stephens, and the two bonded musically and personally. Now, over a decade later, the mutual admiration is still palpable. Though this Grammy-nominated recording artist is rarely in one place longer than a day or two — Taylor’s been touring the world with his own band and with artists such as Chris Botti, Becca Stevens, and Julian Lage — he still makes time to compose pieces for his own band and orchestral works that feature himself and colleagues as soloists.
Taylor Eigsti, piano
Dayna Stephens, saxophone
Ben Street, bass
Obed Calvaire, drums
Robert & Sharon Yoerg
Taylor Eigsti has spent much of his life in the company of his musical heroes. At an age when most of his contemporaries were still banging through basic piano exercises, he was sharing the bandstand with Dave Brubeck. At 31, he’s more than lived up to his promise as a former prodigy, but even with all his far-flung experiences Eigsti can’t remember a night quite like June 19. He had watched his beloved Warriors fall to the Cavaliers in the minutes before taking the stage as part of an extraordinary tribute to McCoy Tyner at Davies Symphony Hall with Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Marcus Robert, and Geri Allen. Anyone who knows Eigsti understands that the defeat was something of a gut punch, but from the depths of fan despair he instantly faced an Olympian summit.
“The second the game ended the immenseness of that gig hit me like a truck,” says the Menlo Park-raised pianist, an essential member of the SJW family for some two decades. “I did a solo tune and in between that and the end I had a heart-to-heart with Benny Green that helped get me grounded. For the last tune we came out for this encore and it felt like I was dreaming, sitting at the piano next to Marcus Roberts and across from McCoy and Benny Green. It all went by so quickly I was only able to process it afterwards.”
In many ways, Eigsti’s career as an accompanist has unfolded like a dream, with a succession of high profile, and often creatively charged gigs, like subbing for Fabian Almazan in trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective. It’s a sign of the respect that Eigsti engenders that the gig molds around his inclinations rather than they other way around.
“I enjoy playing Terence’s music, but Fabian gets into a lot more keyboard synthesizer stuff,” Eigsti says. “I’m more of an analog guy. It’s the same reason I don’t play organ. I respect the legacy of the sounds being created by people who really know it. I could try it and probably come up with something cool, but it would be uninformed by the history. I’ve put so much into learning the subtleties of acoustic piano, so on that gig I try to simulate a lot of that on piano and Rhodes.”
Ready for just about any interesting assignment, Eigsti tries to abide by his two-out-of-three guideline. Before accepting a gig, he considers the music, the people, and the money. If he feels good about two of three, he’s usually game, like a recent trifecta with violinist Joshua Bell. “He played some notes I’ve never heard, like ultra violet, the highest possible note,” Eigsti says. “He’s unbelievable.”
For the past several years Eigsti’s primary musical commitment has been touring with trumpeter star Chris Botti, a luxuriant situation that has taken him to plush concert halls and festivals around the world. But he’s not interested in making it a full-time gig. “There are too many other things I like to do,” he says. “Playing solo, trio, or with a full orchestra. I learn something different from every bandleader. It can get confusing, waking up somewhere and wondering whose gig is this? But it’s nice to put a lot of different music through your fingers.”
For tonight’s performance Eigsti plans on trying out some recent compositions, a move he’s got the confidence to make because he’s playing with Dayna Stephens “who I’ve known since I was 10 years old,” he says. “There’s never any problem at Stanford. It’s a chance to try out some new music. I put a lot of time into each set list. I know that auditorium and that audience. Last year, Dayna and I stayed up until three or four in the morning coming up with the set list, looking at the keys and feel of each piece.”
The pianist has only played once with Ben Street before, and that was on Stephens’ 2007 debut album The Timeless Now (Contagious Music). But he’s played with drummer Obed Calvaire in numerous situations, including as a sub in his trio for Eric Harland. On a New York scene brimming with brilliant drummers, Calvaire has moved into the top echelon over the past decade. He’s been a creative catalyst for the quartet of trumpeter Sean Jones, toured with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and played an essential role in the music of Yosvany Terry. Eigsti can’t remember if he first played with Calvaire on a gig with Terry or the Clayton Brothers
“I’ve actually played with him most often in my trio,” Eigsti says. “He knows all of my music, and I’m anxious to see him and Ben together. Obed is one of those rare
musicians who’s so prepared and professional and versatile. He puts me in a comfort zone, just a very strong supportive player, a badass who exudes good energy.”
With musicians at this rarified level, rehearsal is less important than the bandstand communion. Even if there was time for extensive preparation with the band, Eigsti prefers “natural moments where someone does something by accident,” he says. “Such as at this concert at Small’s with Mark Guiliana, Orlando Le Fleming, and Chris Potter. I didn’t get Chris any of the music in advance. We did one song, and he played a glaring wrong melody note, but with so much conviction, I went and rewrote the tune.”