M5: What were your most early influences when you started to play the piano at the age of 11?
JE: Pretty much anything on pop radio at the time that was piano or keyboard heavy. I missed Elton John somehow but Billy Joel was big for me. And bands like Journey, Hall and Oates, ELO. Also TV and movie themes like "Hill St. Blues" and "Chariots of Fire". My brother bought Jackson Browne's "Running On Empty" and I must have listened to it twice as much as he did. I'm still a big Jackson Browne fan. I didn't get hip to Steely Dan until a little later.
M5: When studying music performance in San Diego and getting to know the local music scene, what do you recall as having been significant in those days?
JE: I had a really great piano professor at San Diego State University. His name is Rick Helzer and he was heavily into jazz harmony and chord voicings and all the different possibilities in re-harmonization. He was crazy about the Miles Davis Quintet of the late 60s, Wayne Shorter tunes, Herbie Hancock. While I was never particularly drawn to that stuff, and you probably wouldn't hear that influence in any of my music, I'm really thankful to have had that kind of exposure to it. And to have had a teacher who was so enthusiastic about all the subtleties of chord voicings, I feel like I got a good grounding in jazz harmony there. As for the local scene, at that time there was a lot of Latin and Brazilian jazz happening. My first steady gig was with a salsa band. So I had to study those styles, learn to play montunos, etc. There was a period there of a year or two when I felt at least halfway competent as a latin piano player. Now I almost never play that stuff, but again I'm thankful to have had so much exposure to it. I know enough to know how much I don't know.
M5: You moved from California to Chicago in 1997, what made you relocate?
JE: I was looking for a city with more jazz. At the time it seemed like the few jazz gigs that were out there were going to a small handfull of guys, and all too often I wasn't one of them. So I wanted a place with more clubs, more opportunity. A couple friends of mine were in the same boat so we all moved together. I was also just wanting a change of scenery. I'd lived in Southern California all my life and wanted to try a whole different locale with four distinct seasons and really cold weather. Believe it or not, cold weather was sort of a prerequisite. I figured the perfect weather in San Diego was keeping too many people outside on the beach instead of inside the clubs. I think there's something to that, but looking back I see that the San Diego music scene was much better than I gave it credit for. And there are some outstanding musicians there.
M5: Your first CD, 'Contemplation' was released by Astarte Records, an independent label founded by acclaimed singer-songwriter Joy Eden Harrison. The CD has four piano/bass duets with Steve Rodby, known as being the bassist/producer for the Pat Metheny Group. How did the two of you meet and what was it like to work with him on your debut album?
JE: I was working at a record store soon after I got to Chicago and Steve wandered in one night with his wife. I said "hello", told him how The Pat Metheny Group is one of my favorite bands, but more importantly that one of my all-time favorite albums is a duo record that he (Steve) did with guitarist Ross Traut. "Which one?" he asked. I said "You mean there's more than one???!!!" I was speaking of "The Duo Life", but apparently they also did one called "The Great Lawn". It was out of print by then, but a few days later I went in to work and found that Steve had dropped off a copy for me that he had laying around in his garage--still in it's longbox! ( remember those? ) Anyway, when it came time to record, I e- mailed him to see if he'd be willing to play on a few tracks. I figured he'd be too busy, but I guess my timing was good. He's a super nice guy, great to work with. My only regret is that it was over too quickly. He showed up, read my charts and played beautifully. It was so very inspiring and I just really love his sound. One of the songs "The Universe and Dave", I wrote with Steve in mind. It's built around a simple 2 bar vamp that I thought might be fun for him to play on bass. He improvised an intro that felt so good and was so much fun to listen to I had to work really hard to keep from laughing out loud while tape was rolling.
M5: Your second album, 'And So On', also has an adapted version of Steely Dan's 'Third World Man'. What made you decide to perform this composition and what other Steely Dan songs do you like in particular?
JE: "Third World Man" was a favorite of mine, but I wasn't sure if it would work as an instrumental for just piano, bass and percussion. I considered a lot of different Steely Dan tunes, ( I'd learned a bunch of them years ago sitting in with a great Steely Dan cover band in San Diego called THE STEELY DAMNED ), but just couldn't hear them done in our trio setting. I couldn't get the original recordings out of my head. Perfect, right? But I brought "Third World Man" to a rehearsal and it was Patrick Williams, my bass player who wasn't really familiar with the song, who convinced me that it could work. That sort of double time percussion groove was either Patrick's or Chris' idea. I was still a little sceptical. I thought maybe only Steely Dan fans would enjoy it, but to my surprise and pleasure lots of people have told me it's one of their favorites---and they've never heard (gasp! ) the original recording. Other favorite Steely Dan tunes: "Home At Last" is possibly my very favorite. Also love "Babylon Sisters", "Gaucho", "Aja", "Kid Charlemagne", "Any World", "Sign In Stranger". And Donald Fagen's album "The Nightfly" is on my top 10 list.
M5: Can you tell us something about Chicago, the city and the music/jazz scene, the musicians you've met and work(ed) with?
JE: I really don't feel like an expert or the best representative of the Chicago music scene. There are still so many musicians I don't know or who don't know me, so many venues I haven't played in. But I can tell you that there's an awful lot of music here and all kinds of genres represented. As far as jazz goes, my impression is that Chicago really loves its bluesy and its hard-swingin' straight-ahead jazz. It likes things acoustic and raw. Is it the same in most other cities? I don't know. There is also a huge avant-garde scene here. My own music is really none of the above and for that reason I don't feel like I've quite found a home here yet. But at the same time I love living in Chicago. We've got so many great musicians here and an audience that does a pretty good job supporting live music. As for musicians I've worked with, one of my favorites is drummer Redd Holt . Redd used to play with Ramsey Lewis in the 60s and countless others throughout the years. I've had the pleasure of playing a few gigs with him lately and it's been very inspiring. Not only does his playing sound and feel so good, but he's the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. And he's in his seventies and still out there playing his ass off and having fun. That's pretty special I think. There's a folk/rock/americana band here called Dolly Varden which I had the good fortune to perform with once. They've become one of my favorite new bands. They're led by a husband and wife who sing the most beautiful harmonies together. And lately I've been playing with a wonderful jazz singer named Stephanie Browning. She's planning to record a CD sometime this year which I'm hoping to be a part of.
M5: What music do you listen to, can you name some of your favorites?
JE: I can name plenty of favorites. I've loved the Yellowjackets for years and years. Their blend of composition and improvisation has always been just right for me. Also love the Pat Metheny Group and Lyle Mays' solo albums. In the last few years I've become a huge fan of Neil Finn, both solo and with Crowded House. I've also fallen for a band called The Innocence Mission and a Celtic folk-singer named Kate Rusby. I listen to a lot of Yes, a lot of Bill Evans ( mostly his trio from the early 60s with Scott Lafaro and Paul Motion ), Keith Jarrett ( mostly his solo piano recordings and the albums "My Song" and "Belonging"), and Steely Dan is huge of course. And I can't go without mentioning Jellyfish. Do you know Jellyfish? Jellyfish was a spectacular band that released only two albums ( and some EPs which are really hard to find these days ) back in the early 90s and then disappeared. What a loss.
M5: When you studied in San Diego, did you have any specific plans for the future, as in any ambitions or wishes?
JE: I never got specific about future ambitions. But I know I imagined myself recording more, touring more places and more often, reaching more people. My dream gig then ( and possibly still now ) is to be part of a band like Yellowjackets or Pat Metheny Group, to be up at that level of musical success and recognition. Or I'd love to tour with a band like Steely Dan or someone like James Taylor--to know the feeling of playing such great music for such a huge, appreciative audience.
M5: Your music is described as blending the best of styles and music genres, like new age-pop-jazz ... Your compositions kind of take the listener by the hand, away from the busy world we live in, into a realm of peace, but with a light-hearted playful nod as well at times. As you name your work, titles like 'Nostalgia's Last Stand' or 'Montrose Harbor' clearly seem to lead into certain directions. What is it you translate in music, do you have an image in your mind, or a story, or ...
JE: I don't usually have an image or a story in my mind. I've rarely if ever written specifically for something. I just follow my ear to see where it leads me. Song titles tend to surface somewhere in the middle of the writing process, or sometimes after the song is completed. I'll play and listen, then ask myself "what was happening in my life when I was writing this?" or "what, where, or who does this make me think of?"
M5: You are working on a third album. Can you tell us something about it already and when can we expect it to be released?
JE: The next album is in the early stages right now. Songs are being written, ideas are brewing. I know I want to record again with Patrick Williams and Chris Cash and to have this one be even more of a collaboration. We'll probably go for some more covers of rock tunes. I'm also thinking of adding a guitar on some tracks. I know some wonderful guitar players, but it's too soon to tell. I would love to record the next album sometime this year. The only question is whether or not I'll have the money or the backing to do it right. So for that reason, I can't say yet when it will be done.