Normally, lightning striking twice in the Berkeley Hills would be a cause for concern, but when trumpeter Erik Jekabson is the force responsible for the conflagration, it’s an invitation to let the good times roll.
The Berkeley High alum wasn’t expecting to record a live album when he brought his talent-laden quintet featuring percussion star John Santos to the Hillside Club back in 2011. Thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate with Santos, he wrote and arranged a passel of new music, and when he listened to the recording of the concert months later he was so pleased that decided to make it available on the CD Live at the Hillside Club.
Featuring bassist John Wiitala, drummer Smith Dobson V, and pianist Grant Levin, Jekabson’s quintet returns to the intimate venue Saturday to celebrate the new album’s release (the group also plays the Jazzschool on April 18).
A grant from San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music helped Jekabson pay the musicians a recording session rate, but he hails the Hillside Club’s music director Bruce Koball with making the CD possible by putting in many hours of post-production work. … Continue reading »
Allmusic Review 3/2014
TOP TEN CALIFORNIA RELEASES OF 2012: (By Andy Gilbert)
4) Erik Jekabson “Anti-Mass” (Jekab’s Music)
Berkeley-raised trumpeter Erik Jekabson’s startlingly beautiful CD “Anti-Mass” features his original pieces inspired by works in the permanent collection of the DeYoung Museum (compositions commissioned by SF Friends of Chamber Music and the museum itself with Intersection for the Arts). Exploring an array of textures and forms, he makes full use of the brass and strings sextet with violinist Mads Tolling, violist Charith Premawardhana, bassist John Wiitala, drummer/vibraphonist Smith Dobson and tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens.
Channeling Chet Baker
By Paul Freeman
For The Palo Alto Daily News
“To me, Chet Baker always sounded fresh and musical,” says Jekabson, “like he was singing and playing from the heart. He never sounded cliched or contrived. Just like creating pure melodies. That’s like the best you can get, when you play jazz. And, to me, every time he played, it sounded like something new and different.”
The quintet will present updated arrangements of some of Baker’s legendary tunes, spanning his entire career, from 1950s Gerry Mulligan collaborations to soulful 1970s material. “It’ll be a wide variety, but hopefully all capturing his musical spirit,” says Jekabson. “With the Mulligan stuff, part of the fun is to play those fairly close to the originals, because they’re so great, so tight, and the counterpoint is really interesting.
“Others, we took in new directions. ‘My Funny Valentine,’ one of his big hits, we revamped a lot, made it much more modern. Some of the others, we came up with our own spin. And I wrote an original, inspired by him. He didn’t really spend a lot of time doing arrangements himself. He would show up and just play and create his arrangements on the spot. And we also try to keep some of that looseness.”
Trumpeter Jekabson and tenor saxophonist Smith Dobson V will handle the vocals on such classic Baker numbers as “Let’s Get Lost.” They’ll be joined by guitarist Mike Abraham, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Hamir Atwal.
Jekabson has read biographies of the desolate, addicted Baker. “I’ve seen the documentary and talked with people who actually had some interaction with him. You can’t help but think about the fact that he led a tragic life, especially when you hear some of the ballads. The lyrics hold even more meaning, when you know how much rough stuff he had to go through, the inner demons that he fought.”
Baker’s work influenced Jekabson, both as a trumpeter and vocalist. “I am fairly new at the vocal part. Aside from singing in choirs, this is really the first time I’ve sung on gigs. And vocally, I feel OK to try these things. I have kind of a higher voice, and it seems to work on his material. And he certainly had an impact on me, as far as the trumpet goes. His rhythm is incredible, as is his improvising and phrasing.
“I really admire his sound. It’s difficult to get a sound as big and lovely and warm as his. He did have great technique, even though, supposedly, he never practiced. He was just a natural.”
Jekabson says the art of trumpet didn’t come as naturally to him. “I’ve had to constantly work towards being able to play what I’m hearing in my head. That did not come super easily. I’ve been studying with different technical teachers, ever since I got serious about the horn, which was in high school. I’m 39 now, so, it’s been more than 20 years that I’ve spent trying to figure out the trumpet,” he says, laughing.
He grew up in Berkeley.
“Berkeley public schools had a renowned jazz program. I started improvising in fourth grade and studied with Dick Whittington, the pianist who played with a lot of major figures. He was also choir director at our elementary school. He gave me Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy, when I was in fifth grade.
“The Berkeley high school program produced a lot of really talented players, like Joshua Redman.
“That was like the equivalent of the Berkeley varsity football team. It was something to aspire to. While I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, I really decided that I wanted to be a musician. And I never changed my mind. It’s so much fun to play with good musicians. That really sustains you, even if you’re not making a lot of money.”
At San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Jekabson earned a master’s degree in classical composition. He works as a composer and arranger, as well as a performer.
“They feed off one another.”
Much in demand as a freelance trumpeter, he often performs with such local favorites as The Jazz Mafia, Terry Disley, Marcus Shelby, Larry Vuckovich, Kenny Washington and Lavay Smith. “I learn a lot from those experiences.”
He spent six months on the road with tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. “He came up from that whole old school. We’d have these marathon, eight-hour rehearsals at his house, the day before a tour or concert. We’d just do tunes over and over.”
Jekabson also toured with John Mayer.
“That was completely different and, musically, not as challenging. But it had its own challenges, just playing in front of 15,000 or 25,000 people and knowing that you can’t mess up. Or playing on ‘The Tonight Show.’
“There’s a whole other level of making sure you’ve got a handle on your nerves. And, of course, it was valuable, seeing inside that whole aspect of the music industry, seeing how he handled the business side.”
Jekabson’s current album, “Crescent Boulevard,” features an array of remarkable original tunes. And like Baker, Jekabson’s trumpet playing reveals great sensitivity, expressiveness and tenderness. He’s working on a new album, which will feature strings and more of a classical flavor.
Jekabson is also involved in education, currently teaching at several colleges. He is also regular instructor at the Brubeck Institute and the Stanford Jazz Workshop. “I’m constantly having to try to figure out new ways to try to explain jazz improvisation and it helps me in my own playing. If I remind students to practice a certain thing, then, naturally, I have to practice it, too, to be able to demonstrate it. Even beginning students, I can remind them of their posture and I’ll remember that I have to sit up, as well.”
Of Stanford’s jazz program, he says, “It gives students a complete immersion in jazz — concerts, hanging out with others equally involved in the music. And the faculty is fantastic, from here, around the country and around the world.”
Based in El Cerrito, married with a three-month-old baby, Jekabson says, “It’s challenging to be able to manage my time. There’s a financial challenge to being a freelance musician. But I really love my job, playing with the great musicians in the Bay Area. There’s a huge variety of different styles. It’s really open and there’s a lot of mixture between different players and different scenes. Players will go from a Latin gig to avant garde to playing in a chamber symphony. It’s that cross-pollination that I really like.”
What: Chet Baker Tribute with The Erik Jekabson Quintet
Where: Campbell Recital Hall, 541 Lasuen Mall, Stanford
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $15-$40; stanfordjazz.org