Eric Hirsh

pianist, composer, producer

November 29, 2017
by Eric

Kickstarter Composer Package Sample – Deconstructing “The Miraverse”


As of writing this post I am nearly halfway through a Kickstarter project to fund my debut album as jazz composer/bandleader. One of the reward levels is “Composer Package” where “I’d love to share with you PDF scores of each of the compositions and arrangements that appear on the album, as well as some notes on the my process and the theoretical underpinnings of each tune.”

I want to give a good example of this so that more of you might be excited to pledge at this level. Thus, I am offering up, for free, the first two pages of one of my songs, “The Miraverse” as well as a draft of my notes on how I wrote it.

Here is the preview score

Download (PDF, 61KB)

If you want to listen to the music and follow along in the score, here is a video of me performing the song live

And now, the analysis


The genesis of this song, and the place from which it takes its name is Manifold Recording, a beautiful recording studio in Pittsboro, NC, whose proprietor, Michael Tiemann, espouses a concept of recording music that redefines the relationship between the listener/participant(s) and the composer(s) and musician(s). He calls this concept The Miraverse, and elaborates on what he means here.

Because The Beast had previously worked with Manifold’s Chief Engineer, Ian Schreir, I was lucky enough to get a call from him in the very early days, to put together a jazz ensemble so that he could run a test recording session before opening the studio for business. After that session, I started writing this tune.

The space itself is gorgeous – you can see pictures and videos on the website. Not just visually gorgeous, but more importantly acoustically gorgeous. Architect Wes Lachot used motifs of triangles, parallelograms, hexagons across every aspect of the facility. From Wes’ website:

Manifold “embodies and exemplifies the principles of Organic Architecture, wherein every part is integrally related to the whole, and the whole is in turn related to every part, so that nothing essential is missing, and nothing is included that is not essential. It is a type of fractal Architecture that reveals its truths at multiple scales simultaneously.”

I wanted to write a song where the entire composition organically grew from a few motifs, and also where each part joined together a la ‘fractal architecture.’

As a nod to the lack of right angles at Manifold, I chose to avoid duple time signatures (4/4, 2/4) and rely on my trusty, lopsided friend, 7/4 (or 7/8).

The entire song, from 2 measures of music

The song begins with piano, where the right hand and left hand are each playing a syncopated ostinato pattern.

The right hand rhythm is pretty close to the Brazilian bossa nova comping pattern, modified for a bar of 7 instead of two bars of 4.



The left hand part doesn’t directly complement the right hand part. In fact, the beats that it emphasizes sometimes conflicts with the syncopation of the right hand part. I want you to feel a little uncomfortable. Like when you are listening to a phase minimalist piece by Steve Reich and each of the parts sort of fit together, but not in a way that you are used to from popular music.

Every time the top of a measure of 7 comes around it’s like the needle on a record skipping a beat; each of these two parts lurches and resets itself to the beginning. You want to tap your foot on 1 and 3, hoping for a slow funky groove, but you never quite get it.

The piano is the instrument on which I am trained to perform, but the way I write at the piano and play in my group, I think orchestrally, like each of my fingers is a member of a symphony.

Next to enter is the acoustic bass. Usually the role of the bass is to anchor the band both harmonically and rhythmically. That tends to mean outlining the strong beats of a measure, providing something that people can dance to. This bass line offers no such repose. It is sparse (only two or four notes in an entire measure) and highly syncopated (does not help outline the downbeat). The final bass note lines up with a right hand piano chord, but not a very important one.

The only saving grace in all of this, the only Elmer’s Glue holding the entire house together, is that the drums have a very simple part – snare cross stick on every quarter note downbeat, hi-hat on every eighth note. But neither is the drum part funky – there are no accents. It’s almost as if the drummer is the metronome and the piano and bass are what provide some sense of ‘groove.’ The exception is that the drummer’s kick drum doubles the bass part – a flip of what the kick drum usually does (play downbeats then snare play upbeats).

So, now we have this intricate groove with four parts (piano RH, piano LH, bass, drum-metronome) chugging along. I like the uncomfortable feeling but I also strive for balance in my music. I’ll always remember a composition workshop I went to at IAJE where one of the composers talked about how she liked to hold some parameters constant while modulating others. “The Miraverse” plays with syncopated surface rhythm, so I opt for a much slower harmonic rhythm (chord changes only every two measures), and a saxophone melody that, if you look closely, is merely a re-ordering of the seven pitches of the diatonic scale (dorian mode).

Deriving the rest of the harmony and melody from those first two bars

…will have to wait until after this Kickstarter project is successful and you opt for the Composer Package reward level or above :)

The Future of Art in North Carolina: An Alternate Narrative to Moogfest

May 21, 2016 by Eric | 1 Comment

The Setup: Moogfest

I lead a dual-life as an artist and technologist. This week, those worlds collided geographically. By day I am a sales engineer at Bronto, an email marketing company with gorgeous offices on the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham. At the end of the workday on Friday, I wandered over to an American Tobacco building that had been taken over by Moogfest, which has ostensibly taken over the entire city of Durham, and any press about it. I wandered through a few aisles of modular and subtractive synthesizers for sale, feeling bad that, although the festival is to celebrate the pioneering work of Robert Moog, I have really been lusting after purchasing a synthesizer from one of his contemporaries, Dave Smith. And yes, they did have a Sequential Prophet 6 on display. And yes, I played it, and maybe I drooled on it a bit.

I’ve been following the Moogfest happenings on social media (#moogfest2016), partially because my Beast bandmade Pierce Freelon is heavily involved in the festival’s Afrofuturism theme with his community organization Blackspace. In fact, as I type this, I think he’s leading another session of his workshop on an app that lets kids around the world create sci-fi beats. On Friday, I could not stay and explore the free portion of the festival any deeper, as I had to drive two hours to the east of Durham, where I would be playing an evening concert in Goldsboro, with PrimeraJazz. PrimeraJazz is a contemporary Latin Jazz quintet I started 10 years ago with percussionist Brevan Hampden, who now leads the group, and has just received his Masters of Music from Queens College. Thank God he will be returning to reside in North Carolina. So many of us Durham jazz folks have missed him dearly.

The Moogfest/Durham narrative has been evolving for weeks and months before the festival started – a story that combines Durham’s entrepreneurial rise to national prominence with its inner conflicts over gentrification. Like those linked news stories about Durham’s future, Moogfest’s themes point at the future: of art, of what it is to be human.

Sipping my coffee on this Saturday afternoon as day three of Moogfest pans out, I feel compelled to tell an alternate story of the future of art and of North Carolina. As I drove eastward on Highway 70 yesterday afternoon, the trappings of urban renewal gave way to vast, flat coastal plains, billboards featuring farm supplies and vape shops, boarded up auto garages, Smithfield BBQ. And then, an oasis.

Enter: Wanye County

Turning from the relentless highway into the local road towards downtown Goldsboro, rural gave way to urban once again, but on a smaller scale. Downtown Goldsboro is steeped in history – just like similar coastal downtown areas (Kinston, Wilson, Rocky Mount) there are old brick storefronts, a former movie theater, a few blocks worth of neatly orthogonal streets. But also signs of revitalization: a roundabout with a fountain in the middle, and, even more telling, a burger-sushi concept restaurant with bay windows and trendy-looking menus.

Mentally, I was prepared for just-another-gig – Brevan called me and asked if I wanted to play with PrimeraJazz in Goldsboro a few weeks prior. I really didn’t ask for any details – I trusted Brevan that this would be interesting, be fun, pay decently, etc. What unfolded from the time I first pulled up to the building to my last goodbye at the end of the night was 1) an extraordinarily fulfilling and humbling experience 2) the tip of an iceberg of a much bigger story than just-another-gig.

As it turns out, this was a performance as a part of the Arts Council of Wayne County‘s Jazz Showcase. Furthermore, it turns out that this series has existed for a year now, and has been curated by Eric Dawson, a saxophonist Brevan and I knew from North Carolina Central University, who had moved back to the coast. Over the past months, he had made the case to the Council board that there is little return in investing grant money in has-been/third-tier New York jazz acts, but instead focusing a series on existing, under-appreciated North Carolina talent. So, Eric had been using his own network of colleagues to close the loop on North Carolina’s artists and its potential audience. Hence, him calling his good friend Brevan. The Council’s Executive Director, Sarah Merrit, a vivacious woman, has been so grateful for the work Eric has done with the organization, and has loved the growth of this monthly jazz series.

Oh, one other very important detail: the jazz concert series is FREE for all attendees. I’ll come back to this later.

The band was set up along one glass wall of a lovely corner building. Performance gallery on one end, gallery/store for local craftsfolk on the other. Paintings on the wall, tin roof celing, folding chairs on the ground. Free lemonade and brownies near the entrance. You can sort of get a sense of it from my Instagram picture at the top of this post.

The Show

Sarah kicked off the show with an update to the audience: over the past year, the series sponsor, PNC Bank, had cut their funding in half, but Sarah was still grateful that this year’s grant was quickly approved.

The performance was wonderful. I always enjoy playing on a real grand piano instead of a keyboard (sorry, Moogfest). The band was on fire: Al Strong on trumpet, me on piano, Kenny Phelps-McKeown on bass, Orlandus Perry on drums, Brevan on percussion. Mostly what struck me, though, was the audience.

We were one. They listened, we turned up. Brevan got everyone to stand up and clap plena rhythms. They cheered. They supported. They smiled. We ate brownies together at intermission.

I’ll guesstimate a crowd of about 60 people. 60% black, 40% white. Most folks in their 40s through 60s. But at least 4 families with children. Some babies, some toddlers with iPads. One adorably precocious 8-ish-year-old girl who came up to me at intermission, perhaps urged by her dad, who told me she liked my piano playing and “HOW DO YOU DO IT!?!?!” to which I gave a good story about keeping up with your practicing. I went over to the parents later: turns out her dad is a conservatory-trained pianist, no longer working as a musician, in order to support the family. He’s the one giving his daughter lessons. I told the parents how grateful I was that they were exposing their children to the arts. In turn, they thanked me and the other band members for driving out from Durham to be here.

People came in and out over the course of the evening. The glass-storefront walking traffic proximity-to-burger-concept-restaurant location helped the series. The free ticket helped it the most. Brownies were a bonus. Those are explicit decisions on the part of the Council to make the arts accessible to the community.

The precocious girl waved goodbye to me through the glass, while I was in the middle of taking a solo, as the family walked to their car.

After the show, I got to know Sarah and Eric a bit more, as well as a woman who had been photographing each show since the series’ inception, and who used to be a high school arts teacher until she was ‘let go’ for a series of ‘infractions’ that ultimately tallied up to ‘actually letting kids express themselves and not be subject to arbitrary censorship and misunderstanding of culture on the part of the superintendent’ (my words, not hers).

It sounds like the Wanye County team is really proud of the history of their arts council – Sarah tries to be as progressive as she can – allowing contemporary jazz, nude paintings, a photography exhibit about the people of Afghanistan. The lattermost incurred lots of hateful phone calls to her complaining about endorsing ‘ragheads’ – her calm response to those people was ‘just come see the show for yourself.’ After seeing the exhibit, some percentage of those folks called back to apologize.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of art. And an argument for why it is even more necessary in underserved areas than in steady-momentum areas like Durham.


By the 2015 census estimates, North Carolina’s population is around 10 million. If you take out the top three metropolitan statistical areas (Charlotte/Gastonia/Salisbury, Raleigh/Durham/Cary, Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point), that leaves about 3.7 million people living in places that look more like Goldsboro than like Durham.

The girl learning to play the piano, the man from New York who is caring for his mother in Kinston, but mostly, the systemically oppressed black population of coastal North Carolina (ok, all of North Carolina, ok all of America) – those are individuals and groups that the Arts Council of Wayne County serves. And Eric Dawson knows that it still takes individual sacrifice and innovation to continue to serve these groups. I got the sense that the parent Arts Council of North Carolina organization has a rolodex of familiar artists, even in the African/American category, and there maybe not yet a fluid system to find, attract, and retain young, rising, black artistic talent in the state, and find work for them across the smaller towns.

Sarah’s stake at the executive level is very important. But so is Eric’s. As a professional musician himself, he aligns with the working/tradesman stakeholders. He knows there are local artists hungry for work, and then they see their cities booking touring acts instead of its own people. He knows that his musician friends, besides having ideals like ‘reach out and connect with people’ more directly need to be able to make a living and find work. The artist fee minimums he has set in place are better than the competitive market for restaurant work. That’s important, even if it’s not yet sustainable for the grant-supported presenting organizations.

It’s an endless struggle. Eric fully intends to make this model work in Goldsboro and then bring it to nearby cities – he wants to create a reliable performing circuit for his peers. But it’s like he’s having to cut down the grass and clean the roads that once existed anyway. There was a thriving Atlantic coast circuit of regional funk groups in the 60s and 70s – see the research work of Jason Perlmutter at Carolina Soul, his discographies, his blog.

I’m also thinking of things like the Ocrafolk Festival and that one of my former work colleagues Chris Sawin is now the Executive Director of the Dare County Arts Council, waaayyyyyy out on the Outer Banks. Forget Moogfest and even forget the breed of intellectual jazz that I enjoy – how important is it that some beach music concert might very well change the lives of a few kids who are otherwise being influenced by the ubiquity of Netflix and the internet?

I’m humbled by the work of artists and arts institutions in rural areas. On a daily basis I wrestle with the future of everything, not just music, as served by global connectivity and virtualization, and the extent to which there might be a glass ceiling and we tend to abandon the timeless importance of the limitations of real, physical presence in the manifest world, of face-to-face relationships, and by extension, of the pure un-scalability of live art performed in front of a small crowd. What is my role to play in those two overlapping dimensions of reality? As an artist? As an entrepreneur?

In closing, thanks Brevan for the gig, thanks Sarah and Eric and the lovely people of Goldsboro for a great time. And you, if you made it to the end of this article.



Why Durham and why Jazz? Three Reasons.

August 13, 2014 by Eric | 3 Comments

On Monday, Art of Cool Project co-founder Cicely Mitchell guest blogged at ArtsNowNC in a piece called “Why Durham, and why jazz?” She presents a few reasons for why Durham is poised for innovation and growth in jazz, both artistic output and audience. The argument is fine, but it doesn’t dig deep enough, since the real purpose of the article is to raise awareness for the Kickstarter round for the 2015 festival. I’ve been thinking about this same subject for years now. I’ve been a Triangle resident since 2000 and a member of the professional musical community since 2006. Plenty of people who might read this post have a few more decades of authority than I, but that won’t stop me from opining :).

Glossing over the fact that an entire generation before mine laid the foundation for the current jazz scene (names like Jim Ketch, John Brown, Gregg Gelb, Chip Crawford, Glen Ingram, and dozens I’m missing), I have been thinking about why the scene was stagnant in the aughts, and finally saw the beginnings of a renaissance around 2010. I’ll put forth three possible contributing factors. I’d like to think Richard Florida and his healthily-funded Creative Class lab would be proud.

 1. The End of Brain Drain

It was quite a common occurrence for the best, most creative jazzers to come through an undergraduate program at UNC, Duke, or NC Central, and emigrate to New York, Chicago, or New Orleans upon graduation (see: human capital flight). This left the Triangle bereft of a critical mass of compelling, proactive musicians willing to invest in the area. At some point, for whatever reason, some people not only didn’t leave but others were coming back. Maybe it’s a love of the Bull City, maybe it’s a strategic move. Something about the area let these musicians know they could forgo the financial hardship of living in a big city and still find meaningful artistic work in North Carolina. Al Strong, co-founder of The Art of Cool Project, is a classic example. Undergrad from NCCU, masters from Northern Illinois University, which degree allowed him to come back and be an adjunct/assistant at NCCU and St. Augustine.

Furthermore, NCCU had the resources to start a graduate program in jazz. This not only retained some of its undergraduates from leaving the state, but also began to draw applicants from outside of North Carolina, infusing the local jazz scene with artists from other parts of the country. James “Saxsmo” Gates is from Virginia. Ernest Turner, while not a student at NCCU, came from New Orleans. Tension, fusion, friction, collaboration. These are ingredients for innovation.

2. Taking a Page from the Indie Rock Playbook

I’ll be the first to tell you that jazz musicians, as a trope, aren’t the most social, business savvy individuals. We wish we had a rabid fan base, a national tour, and great CD sales, but all we end up doing is messing around in different combinations of each other (The Joe Smith Duet ft Charlie Rogers, The Charlie Rogers Quartet w Joe Smith and two other guys) as background music at restaurants, all of us playing the same 50 tunes. Obviously, there’s a disconnect between the dream and the reality.

The Triangle had already seen wave after wave of indie rock/punk resurgence, especially with the proliferation of affordable home recording tools and a DIY/guerrilla marketing approach to fan building. As you might have read, the kids these days (even the classical and jazz ones that go to Julliard) listen to a lot of techno, pop, rock, reggae, and hip hop. So I’m thinking somewhere in there a few musicians watched the way local bands would help each other grow and take the risk of playing for the door at music venues (go where the audiences are) instead of steakhouses, and took a page from that book. That book also includes the idea of branding – having a visual and conceptual representation of your music that people can remember, to help spread the word. Here are some examples of bands that gained traction in the early 2010s:

  • The Mind Julep Jazz Band – specializes in swing-era dance music, and even dresses up in pre-WWII clothes
  • Peter Lamb and The Wolves – hey, that’s how you name a rock band. Residencies at Humble Pie, Casbah playing tangos and the Mario Brothers theme = wider appeal
  • The Brand New Life – Hailing from Greensboro. Come for the high-energy African/fusion stage show. Stay for the post-tonal, Mingus-like compositions.
  • Orquesta GarDel – Okay, yes, this is my own band. The relevant point is that we decided to stop playing exclusively at social-dance-produced restaurant events and start self-producing at the same clubs and festivals as the rock groups. (It worked.)

All three groups use one of the following: a website, Facebook, Twitter. Hey, this is a good time to plug that I curate a Twitter list of Triangle jazz musicians. Which is probably due for some updates. Suggestions?

3. The Art of Cool Project

And finally, The Art of Cool Project happened. Modern, current jazz never had any infrastructure in the Triangle. Jazz musicians, especially those making their living freelancing and teaching, weren’t able to put any extra effort into organizing, web developing, administering any sort of advocacy group. But Cicely has a bio-science degree and looooooooooooves data. Which is perfect for a non-profit in the digital age. So, here they come, and their fist tactic is to put on a series of well-curated (see above: branding, quality, trust) concerts in an intimate art gallery. They took the risk and burden of producing and promoting concerts, giving the movers and shakers and jazz innovators of the area a chance to be heard. Then other, maybe youngers,jazzers looked at the relative local success of those slightly more established jazzers and got inspired. They learned from their mistakes, sent out surveys, outgrew their original venue, and came back for a stronger second year. Their tax structure is “non-profit” but the way they behave is “lean startup

The Art of Cool Project can’t be all things to all people, and doesn’t represent all of the jazz that is happening in the Triangle (generationally, sub-genre-ly), but that’s the whole point. It can’t. It has the good sense to have a focused mission. And look! They consistently accomplish their goals!


Welp. That’s where my thinking has been. I’m sure we could tell the evolving story many different ways, and that I have missed out on some possible contributing factors. Also, kudos to the establishments that have come and gone and allowed Durham jazz to have a home. I’m talking about Whiskey, I’m talking about Casbah, I’m talking about Labour Love. They took risks on us. We need to thank them for that.

Looking forward to the next chapter.

My Week at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute

July 16, 2014 by Eric | 1 Comment

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In my last blog post I announced that I had been invited to the prestigious Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute for a one-week jazz residency at their Chicago festival campus. It has been almost a month  and only now am I  able to decompress enough to write about my experience there.

When is the last time you had the luxury to focus on only one thing? My time at RSMI was a luxury, a blessing. At the opening session, on the first day, our coaches (jazz and education luminaries Dr. David Baker, Dr. Nathan Davis, Rufus Reid, Curtis Fuller) challenged us to explore our artistry deeply, to be open to learning from each other, to focus on growth. It was like going into a cocoon to transform. Normally, my daily life entails a tech job at a software startup, my wonderful wife, the three or four bands of which I am a member. All of a sudden that faded away. One stage, thirteen practice rooms, one kitchen, one dorm bed, and fourteen other top-notch jazzers. That’s it. Wake up, 3 hours of rehearsal, eat, 3 hours of rehearsal, eat, 3 hours of practice, sleep. Repeat.

But we weren’t entirely isolated from the world, only from our own responsibilities. Maybe less a cocoon and more a womb –  the Ravinia festival was our mother, nourishing us with the energy of touring acts playing right outside our window, the anticipation of tens of thousands of music lovers dining on the lawn waiting for their beloved John Legend, One Republic, Prairie Home Companion to serenade them. Us fellows could come and go, through the membrane, to witness the reality and logistics (ticket sales, trash cleanup) of making a career in live performance and then retreat back into the solemn space of the practice room to compose another four bars.

I was the eldest fellow. Most of the other musicians were still finishing their jazz undergrad or had recently graduated. Two were high schoolers from New Orleans, proving that even though the city has been through some rough times, its music community is still strong and its framework for mentorship produces jaw-dropping artists, wise beyond their years. All of the fellows were skilled technician at their instruments, possessed strong compositional tendencies, and most importantly, were kind, funny humans, adamant about jazz and teamwork. We had synergy. We were on the same page. We responded to each others’ suggestions, whether spoken or improvised.

The residency wouldn’t be possible without the Steans staff – a small militia of music majors preparing for grad school, taking a summer job in arts administration. Or maybe they were a gang of hooligans. Either way, they drove us around, printed our parts, and made sure we were amply fed. Fried chicken night twice? Thai night? Yes, please.

At the end of the week we put on a recital in which we divided into three quintets playing five pieces each – one for every fellow. During the week I had found inspiration to start writing again. That piece remains unfinished, but I know it will be called “To Comfort A Shadow.” Instead, at the recital, my group played another of my  recent compositions, “The Miraverse.” Here is the recording from our recital. In fact, you can listen to all of the great pieces on

I can’t tell you that I had a major epiphany at Ravinia. I can tell you that I reconnected to my musical self. The womb was nourishing and now I must bring that energy back into my own, local community. I need no more external validation – I continue to walk along the artistic path, writing and playing for those who would listen.

I Have Been Invited To Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute

April 24, 2014 by Eric | 2 Comments

I recently received the most surprising, amazing phone call  – I have been invited to participate in a one week long jazz workshop with other young, rising jazz talents at the Chicago area’s famous Ravinia Festival! This is the kind of thing that you can’t even apply for – industry folks nominate you and…well, you ‘get the call.’

The full name of the program is Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI), which has been nuturing artists for over 25 years . Me and umpteen other artists will gather for one week under the guidance of an amazing faculty, learn each others’ latest compositions, and perform at the festival on Friday June 20th. I’ve already worked under two of the faculty at the 2009 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Institute – Dr. Nathan Davis (saxophone) and Art Blakey’s legendary trombonist, Curtis Fuller. I hope they both remember me. Rounding out the faculty are David Baker, a hardworking figure in jazz education (especially composition and arranging) and none other than Rufus Reid on bass.

I am humbled, honored, and excited to take part in the RSMI this year. And I know I could not have gotten to a place in my artistic career such that the ‘right folks’ would take notice if it hadn’t been for the Durham music scene, all of my wonderful colleagues, and especially my bandmates in The Beast, Orquesta GarDel, New Music Raleigh, and Shana Tucker. Thank you, thank all of you so much. It takes a village to raise an artist. That’s a Hillary Clinton thing, right?




Eric’s 2014 Art of Cool Festival itinerary

April 16, 2014 by Eric | 1 Comment

It’s finally here! I’ve observed, performed for, and occasionally advised the amazing jazz advocacy team over at The Art of Cool Project ever since its inception. I couldn’t be more excited for and proud of this crew as we are two weeks away from Durham’s first annual Art of Cool jazz festival! The lineup that AOC has curated skews heavily towards the current generation (my generation) of progressive, innovative, genre-bending jazz artists, which is fantastic, considering they could have easily booked the Count Basie Orchestra, a Miles Davis sideman, a Blue Note artist or two, and called it a day. Props to Cicely and Al for favoring the up-and-coming over the well-established luminaries. I think Durham is in for a treat.

Like those Triangle journalists who salivated over the first few years of the Hopscotch festival, I wish I could catch every single act at the festival, but here in this blog post, I have whittled it down to a [somewhat] realistic itinerary of what I plan to see. My plan is anchored by the fact that I am performing at the festival twice – Friday night with The Beast and Saturday night with Shana Tucker. I made a decision to avoid seeing most of my Triangle-based peers (I can, and will, support them other times) in favor of the out-of-town artists. For reference, here is the schedule page for the festival line-up.


My morning marathon rehearsal with The Beast and fresh-off-the-plane Shana Tucker will be cut off by the fact that Pete and Steve have to go set up for the 4pm kickoff concert – Peter Lamb and the Wolves. In my mind, PL&TW are the Triangle’s jazz ambassadors to non-jazz people through their longtime residencies at Humble Pie and C Grace. After getting a bite to eat and soundchecking at The Pinhook, I’ll hop over to Motorco to catch Raleigh-bred, Oberlin-trained, New York-refined guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and his band. His concept is super-out-there, but so very very deliberate – bring your big ears and get lost in the groove. Then back to Pinhook where bassist Gizmo is playing a set before The Beast goes on – I first met him at the LEAF festival last October where he was playing with Zap Mama and am curious to hear what his own music is like.

As soon as The Beast is done, all of us will probably throw our equipment in a pile and get over to the Hayti as fast as we can to catch the end of alt-soul vocalist Bilal’s set. His drummer is Steve McKie, who is producing The Beast’s latest album. If if if, I have any energy, I’ll try to get back to Motorco for Thundercat’s late set. Otherwise, I’ll feel like I’ve earned a single-malt scotch and a jam session.


Sleeping in (obv.). The afternoon features two free concert tracks – one jazz-based, one hip hop-based. I’ll certainly be on the American Tobacco campus by 3:30pm for the Revive Big Band. Revive da Live / Revive Music Group is a New York-based jazz advocacy group that I suspect was one of the models for The Art of Cool Project. The Revive Big Band is also one of the inspirations for my own The Beast + Big Band. You know me, I’m addicted to large ensembles. So, I have to see what’s up there. I also want to check out Inflowential who I don’t believe have been together for a few years. I miss the days when the Kooley High crew lived in Raleigh, because their emcees were half of what made Inflowential a refreshing act on the hip hop scene. The other half is that there is no DJ or rhythm section, rather a beatboxer, bassist, and guitarist.

Headed into the evening, I can’t wait to see King at the Hayti. This West Coast group of three female vocalists/instrumentalists/producers got so much buzz off of a 3-song EP (including from Prince!). Who knows what the live show will be like or when they’ll be in NC again. Now, as much as I love Foreign Exchange and as easy as it would be to stay put at the Hayti for their set, I’ve got to get over to the Carolina Theater see what is probably the headlining/premiere concert of this festival, the special Carolina Soul Tribute arranged by/led by violist/composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. This single show hits on everything that I love about music, and many things I try to espouse in my own career – cross-genre collaboration, large ensembles (with strings and flutes!), specially curated programs. And the guest list – Bilal, N’Dambi, Gerald Clayton, Marcus Strickland, Nnenna Freelon? Damn.

I’ll have to duck out of the soul tribute early to go play with Shana Tucker (not that that’s a bad thing). She and I are musical BFFs. I’m making it Twitter official. Duet album coming..eventually/soon. After packing up, I’ll walk up the street to Pinhook to catch Kneebody.

This was a tough blog post to write – I want to be in three places at once for the whole festival. I believe in every single artist that will be gracing the stage. I’ll be Instagramming and Tweeting as much as I can without losing focus from what’s most important – being present to the music, and letting the music open you up.

See you at the festival!

Inside The Score: Beast + Big Band edition

February 1, 2014 by Eric | 0 comments

Though I did not blog about it when it happened, one of my favorite artistic achievements of 2013 was the release of The Beast + Big Band’s debut EP, Gardens. We titled the album Gardens for two reasons: 1) we initially assembled this thirteen-member hip hop ensemble for a Duke Gardens summer concert 2) from the success and synergy of that show grew a desire to cultivate the group, arrange more of our songs for big band, perform with the group more often, and even bring it into the recording studio.

For a hybrid pianist/keyboardist/composer/arranger, this recording project was a dream come true. I got to bring my talented, musical friends into a recording studio for a weekend, eschew the conveniences of digital editing and overdubbing, and record lush, orchestral hip hop music all together, completely live.

With each additional show the Big Band played last year, it felt less and less like a quartet with nine other musicians feverishly executing their written parts, and more and more like a unified group in its own rite. We all had so much fun on stage, and I hope it was palpable and magical for the audience.

Now that Gardens has been released for a few months, I wanted to offer everyone the chance to get inside the band. The beauty of the internet is that you have direct, Twitter access to some of the world’s foremost artists, and countless videos on YouTube. I’m inspired by one of my favorite contemporary big band composers, Darcy James Argue, who makes full scores of his works available on his website, completely free. You can pay him for the individual parts if you want your ensemble to perform his works, but he has no qualms about you studying his scores. Open source artistry, y’all. I think it is a great move to help a future generation of jazzers be able to learn from the best.

In that spirit, I’d like to offer up the full score to the third track from Gardens, “Cost of Living.” Between Pierce’s lyrical concept, and the song’s balance of tightly calculated harmonies and open, collective improvisation, I think this one track is our manifesto for the whole Big Band project, putting forth what we think a big band can be for hip hop music (more than just catchy horn lines behind a spoken hook).

Here is the audio on SoundCloud…

…and here is the score. Follow along! Enjoy the 7-flat key signature and three-bar phrases of the refrain. I also transcribed all of Pierce’s lyrics. Notated rap? Why not?

Download (PDF, 341KB)



October 3, 2013 by Eric | 3 Comments

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the best decision of my life so far – to embark on the sacred journey of marriage with Lauren Ann Schlenger Hirsh. Early  in our courtship, Lauren gifted me a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic, The Prophet. Part of her inscription to me reads “Few books have touched me so deeply as The Prophet. The very act of reading Gibran’s words is like uttering a prayer. It has been the same way with loving you.” We carried this idea of poetry-as-prayer forward a few years, when preparing for our wedding ceremony. Though Lauren is not a musician by training, she has the soul of one (and is certainly a gifted artist in other media). We thought it would be both fun and meaningful to compose a song together for the ceremony, and it became obvious rather quickly that we should set some of our favorite parts of The Prophet to music (specifically, excerpts from “On Love” and “On Marriage”).

So many aspects of our lives were woven together in this collaboration. To this day I maintain that we truly did co-compose as equals, with me suggesting ideas for the rhythmic and melodic trajectories of text at the piano, and Lauren giving lots of feedback on those choices. We wrote the song for three (count ’em, three!) sopranos, as both of my sisters, Rachel and Rebekah, are lovely singers, as well as my college BFF, Catherine Jones. Another college friend, Yuri Broze, played piano at the ceremony, while Lauren and I stood watching, teary eyed, in front of my parents’ farmhouse in rural Chapel Hill on a beautiful fall day in October of 2009. A few months later, I brought Rachel, Rebekah, and Catherine into the profoundly magical acoustic space of Zenph founder John Q Walker’s recital hall to make a recording of this composition for posterity. But I have been sitting on the raw tracks for years, never finding time to mix and master the performance.

So, Lauren, today I gift you with the completion and publication of our first, but definitely not last, song together. We titled it “Orphalese,” for the city from which the prophet delivers parting words of wisdom to his community.

Here is the audio:

And for all you music-types out there, here is the score, should you want to study it or even perform it. On a professional note, I think this is some of my better arranging and engraving for classical piano. So far at least. I am ever a student of the craft.

Download (PDF, 195KB)

Love you, babe! Happy anniversary!

So Many September Shows!

September 9, 2013 by Eric | 0 comments

I am so excited for this particular month. It is chock full of great performances, and I get to play in no less than five configurations, from solo jazz piano, to singer-songwriter, to orchestral hip hop ensemble. Highlights include The Beast + Big Band opening for the great Nnenna Freelon, and a short tour with sister-from-another-mister Shana Tucker.

Here are all of the shows, grouped by artist and then date. Hope to see you at one of these!

Eric Hirsh Quartet  

Date City Venue
09/13/13 Eric Hirsh Quartet in Durham The Carrack
Time: 6:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 111 West Parrish Street.
Solo jazz piano set at a gallery opening for Gabe Eng-Goetz.
09/26/13 Eric Hirsh Quartet in Durham Durham Centre Plaza
Time: 7:00pm. Admission: Free. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 300 W. Morgan Street.
Eric Hirsh Quartet at The BIG, a potentially-record-breaking community networking rooftop party.

The Beast  

Date City Venue
09/06/13 The Beast in Raleigh North Carolina Museum of Art
Time: 5:30pm. Admission: Free. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Come for The Beast, stay for the wine and tapas.
09/14/13 The Beast in Raleigh Duke Energy Center
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 2 East South Street.
The Beast + Big Band opens for Nnenna Freelon

Orquesta GarDel  

Date City Venue
09/21/13 Orquesta GarDel in Raleigh Latin Quarters
Time: 10:00pm. Admission: $15. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 7335 Six Forks Rd.
Mojito Night
09/28/13 Orquesta GarDel in Durham Rock Quarry Park
Time: 12:00pm. Admission: Free. Age restrictions: All Ages.

Shana Tucker  

Date City Venue
09/15/13 Shana Tucker in Wilmington Thalian Hall
Time: 7:00pm. Admission: $14/$22/$28. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 310 Chestnut St.
09/27/13 Shana Tucker in Greensboro Greensboro College
Time: 7:30pm. Admission: $10. Age restrictions: All Ages.
09/28/13 Shana Tucker in Roxboro Kirby Cultural Arts Complex
Time: 7:30pm. Admission: $8-$20. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 213 North Main Street.

Emily Musolino  

Date City Venue
09/21/13 Emily Musolino in Durham CenterFest Arts Festival
Time: 1:00pm. Admission: Free. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 120 Morris St.
First time backing this awesome soul/r&b singer songwriter. At The Herald Sun Stage.

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Transcription: “Face Plant” by Blanko Basnet

August 9, 2013 by Eric | 0 comments

As we here in the Durham music community continue to grow up as artists and humans, we also move through different projects to accommodate our changing visions. Pierce is putting a lot of time into the Beatmaking Lab in addition to The Beast. Phil Cook has His Feat in addition to Megafaun. Hammer No More The Fingers‘ Duncan Webster is working on Prypyat and now guitarist Joe Hall just this week released the eponymous debut album for his new band, Blanko Basnet.

I was working through the CD on progressive commutes to and from work. This morning, a short instrumental, “Face Plant,” came on, and it immediately resonated with me (my compositional aesthetic? something deeper?). Take a listen: 

a) It’s in 7/8 which for some reason has become my go-to meter of late; it feels so natural now. b) I could hear how the riffs must lay nicely on a fretboard, but I am not a guitarist and I needed to “see” the notes become phrases on a grand staff. So, after work, I came home and transcribed and engraved the song and, with Joe’s permission, have published the results here to share with you. Instead of embedding a PDF, I tried using Noteflight, a cloud-based notation program that doesn’t require any additional plugins beyond Flash to display and playback music. You can add comments, change key, tempo, etc. Check it out below, and click the icon in the lower-right corner to expand to a full page printout. I used some annotations to do a little bit of theoretical analysis on how the main riffs of the song are constructed. Bach would be proud: the opening eight notes are very efficiently reused and expanded upon.

Digging your new stuff, Joe! Keep up the great work!