Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 19, 2010

Back to basics

Jazz musician Taylor Eigsti explores new bands, new styles, but goes solo on March 28

by Rebecca Wallace

Jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti is all over the place. A typical page in his calendar might include gigs with his trio and quartet, a two-man show with guitarist Julian Lage, or a concert with a symphony orchestra.

Then there's his newest band, Free Agency, in which the musicians spice it up with dashes of R&B, electronic music and Romantic classical music. The band features drums, electric bass, voice, Eigsti's piano and other keyboards. As Eigsti says on his website, "I don't believe in absolute musical monogamy."

On March 28, Eigsti goes back to basics with a solo piano show. The New York musician, 25, also returns to his Peninsula stomping grounds — he grew up in Menlo Park — to perform at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto.

Eigsti doesn't often perform solo, he said in a phone interview. The venue has to be just right.

"I like it to be a very comfortable setting," he said. "Playing solo piano is like the loneliest art form. I'm used to going to a gig and being really inspired by other people."

But he said he feels good about the "nice, intimate vibe" at the Palo Alto church, where he'll play in the main sanctuary that was renovated in 2007 with the help of two acousticians, and seats about 400. Once Eigsti gets rolling in a solo concert, he said, "you go into a trance-like state and live in the moment and see what comes out."

What comes out will probably not be just jazz. Eigsti has become taken with the minimalist sounds of the Spanish Catalan composer and pianist Federico Mompou (1893-1987), and plans to play some works by him. Also in the mix: music by the alternative rock band Coldplay.

"I try to get away with as strange a combination as I can," Eigsti said, laughing.

The March 28 concert is part of the ongoing jazz series at First Congregational. Past performers have included pianist/keyboardist Dick Hyman; local duo Tuck & Patti; and the quartet Le Jazz Hot. Concerts are followed by Q&A sessions.

Tyler Cobbett, who runs the jazz concert series, said he hopes Eigsti's talent and youth will inspire younger audience members to take up an instrument. "Taylor's performances combine the excitement associated with contemporary composition with great respect for past jazz giants," Cobbett said.

Eigsti's unusual blend of musical styles is more than just a young player testing his wings. He's already a seasoned performer, having started his stage career at the age of 8. By 12, he was opening for Al Jarreau and Diana Krall. His recordings have earned him two Grammy nominations, and he's played and recorded with jazz musicians including Dave Brubeck, James Moody and Ernestine Anderson.

"He's the most amazing talent I've ever come across. Remember him," Brubeck was once quoted as saying about Eigsti.

Eigsti traces his musical evolution, with its blend of styles, to watching the jazz pianist David Benoit play when Eigsti was growing up.

"I would go see him do a show with the San Francisco Symphony and see him play his music, which was really energetic," he said. "I'd watch him have the support of 115 musicians all around him, and the textural landscapes that you get into when you're using the symphony orchestra."

Now Eigsti is exploring those same landscapes. In January he and Free Agency performed with the Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, and in May he and his trio will be on stage with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. The San Jose concerts will include an original work written by Eigsti.

Another big project for Eigsti is his new album, "Daylight at Midnight," set to come out on Concord Records on July 27. It's a four-musician album also featuring singer Becca Stevens, bass player Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland. Eigsti is clearly pleased about the group's camaraderie, especially since the musicians will tour together once the CD is out.

"One of my general rules now is I try to only travel with good friends. Or new good friends," he said.

Eigsti said "Daylight at Midnight" is melody-focused and accessible. "They're mostly tunes that come out of the rock world, and some of my tunes and classical pieces," he said. "There's complexity throughout the record, but a melody drives the whole thing."

Eigsti is also including an instrumental quirk: Besides playing the piano on the album, he also did some tooling around on a Mellotron, an early electro-mechanical keyboard that can also have the flavor of, say, strings or a flute because of the attached audio tapes that play back recordings.

The band's CD-release party will also be the last concert of the summer at this year's Stanford Jazz Festival, held Aug. 7 at Dinkelspiel Auditorium on campus. Eigsti will also perform with trumpeter Nicholas Payton on Aug. 3.

What: Jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti plays a solo show.

Where: First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, 1985 Louis Road

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 28

Cost: Tickets are $30.

Info: Contact the church at 650-856-6662 or go to www.fccpa.org. Eigsti's website is at tayjazz.com.

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