Eric Hirsh

pianist, composer, producer

Towards a Tipping Point – 2012 Jazz Releases from the Triangle

January 13, 2013 by Eric | 6 Comments

I was listening to the radio (WKNC’s Post Rock Block to be precise) on my drive home from Raleigh to Durham this evening, excited for the upcoming recording session for The Beast + Big Band, and thinking about how both Peter Lamb and the Wolves and The Mint Julep Jazz Band are both working on Kickstarter-funded albums. I wondered just how prolific my jazz colleagues were in 2012 as measured by commercially released recordings. We don’t yet have enough newsworthy happenings to warrant a journalist to champion consistently the scene or to put together a year-end list. Inspired by the Independent Weekly’s annual appraisal, I couldn’t rest until I determined how many local jazz albums came out in 2012 for myself.

Without further ado, here are the 12 jazz and jazz-related albums Triangle musicians released in 2012, organized approximately by release date. If I’ve missed an album, please let me know and I’ll update the post.

Jim Ketch, A Distant View (Summit Records)

Jim Ketch, A Distant View

Buy on Amazon

Kate McGarry, Girl Talk (Palmetto Records)

Kate McGarry, GirlTalk

Buy on Amazon

Ecco La Musica, Morning Moon (Big Round Records)

Ecco La Musica, Morning Moon

Buy on Amazon

John Brown, Quiet Time (Brown Boulevard Records)

 Buy on CDBaby

Doug Largent Trio, Right In The Pocket (self-released)

Doug Largent, Right In The Pocket

Buy from artist website

Branford Marsalis, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music)

Branford Marsalis, Four MFs Playin Tunes

Buy on Amazon

Keith Ganz & Kate McGarry, Smile (Edition Longplay)

Keith Ganz Kate McGarry, Smile

Buy from German vinyl store

Jo Gore and The Alternative, The Herstory (self-released)

Jo Gore, TheHerstoryjpg

Buy from artist website

The MPS Project, Goes Without Saying (self-released)

The MPS Project, Goes Without Saying

Buy on CDBaby

Ira Wiggins, When Freedom Swings (IWiggs Music)

Ira Wiggins

I can’t find an album cover. But here is a press release. I’m pretty certain it has been released – it shows up on jazz radio charts here and there.

Yolanda Rabun, Christmastime (Yodyful Music)

Yolanda Rabun, Christmastime

Buy on CDBaby

Nnenna Freelon & John Brown Big Band, Christmas (Brown Boulevard Records)

Nnenna Freelon, Christmas album cover

This CD marks my first credit as a big band arranger. I arranged Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime Is Here” as a 3/4 Latin songo. A far cry from the original melancholy ballad.

Buy on CDBaby

I think the Triangle made a fine showing in 2012 in that this list reveals a good diversity of styles. Not only will you find straight-ahead jazz, but also some contemporary/progressive, some blues, some neo-soul, even some world influences.

Coming next week: the year ahead – what to expect from the Triangle jazz scene in 2013. I’m going to make a lot of calls and tweets to my artist friends and determine as many albums slated for release that they’re willing to tell me about. I already know that Stephen Anderson, Kim Arrington, Peter Lamb, and Scott Sawyer are on that list. More details to come!

Also, I recently made a list of Triangle jazz musicians on Twitter. Please let me know if I should add someone to the list!

Community Chorus Project endorsed by R.E.M.

August 18, 2011 by Eric | 0 comments

This summer I was commissioned with Shana Tucker to co-arrange two pop songs for high school chorus and band.  The end result after two weeks of rehearsal at a summer camp would be a fully produced recording session and music video.  The first video, a cover of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” dropped this week, and is quickly picking up views from around the world.  Check it out, please share it with your friends, and then read the backstory after the jump!

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Eric receives fellowship from NC Arts Council

August 15, 2011 by Eric | 0 comments

I am thrilled and humbled to announce that I have been named as one of two composer recipients of a $10,000 fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council to support creative development and the creation of new work.  From the press release:

Raleigh, N.C. — Eighteen artists living and working in North Carolina are recipients of the 2011–2012 North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship Award in the categories of poetry, prose writers, songwriters, composers, playwrights and screenwriters. Artists receive a $10,000 fellowship to support creative development and the creation of new work.
Recipients were selected by panels comprised of artists and arts professionals with expertise in each discipline. Since the program’s inception in 1980, more than 500 artists have received awards.
The Artist Fellowship program operates on a two-year rotating cycle by discipline. Applications will be accepted this fall for visual art, craft, film/video and choreographers.

I have won composition contests before, but never a full-blown artistic fellowship.  The NC Arts Council’s program is one of the more generous in the country, which I’m sure has benefited all of the recipients across time, and thus the cultural wellness of the state.  I hope to use the fellowship to make my first big moves towards being more of a jazz/post-jazz composer and bandleader.  I’d love to do a big collaborative, community oriented project, or delve into some serious training and artistic development with an album at the end.  It’s too early to promise any deliverables, but the vote of confidence has certainly inspired me to turn towards a side of myself that is informed by, but often takes a backseat to, my work with The Beast and Orquesta GarDel.  Thanks from the bottom of my heart, North Carolina!

As A Sideman

August 1, 2011 by Eric | 0 comments

If you ever find yourself looking at the discography of a jazz artist, you’ll often see at least two sublists: “as a leader” and “as a sideman.”  The second list is usually longer, as this reflects the way in which a musician makes his living and cuts his teeth.  In my case, my musical life outside of technology research consists of little-to-no freelancing and two ensembles which of which I am an equal member or a leader.  So, my sideman list is nonexistent.  It’s more a tongue-in-cheek sort of game: I’m certainly not evaluating my career-to-date based on a certain amount of music commodities.  But you know how your LinkedIn profile “is 83% complete and will be 86% complete if only you would add some Interests and Hobbies?”  Well, now my musician profile gets another 2% because I am finally a sideman!

Two projects, two Durham-based artists whom I deeply admire and respect.

First up, Greg Humphreys explored some new territory on his latest album People You May Know by writing some songs in jazz-influenced, Tin Pan Alley style.  Greg called on me, Pete, and Steve to come to his basement on a frigid winter afternoon to track entirely live into some old ribbon microphones, myself on a beat-up Great Lakes upright with sticky keys.  Talk about an authentic production process!  Of the two tracks we did with Greg, my favorite is the ballad, “Must Be The Moon.”  I just wish we could have had Lester Young noodling in the background.


Around the time I was tracking for Greg’s album, another Durham bright light was releasing hers.  Shana Tucker, singer/songwriter/guitarist/cellist asked me to play on the title track of her debut album, SHiNE.  Ever since she moved to the area from New York, we had been itching to work together.  Shana and I teamed up recently to co-arrange and co-teach some songs to a new all-star youth choir in Chapel Hill.  More on that soon.  In the meantime, here is the hauntingly simple “Shine.”


Please support Greg and Shana by visiting their websites and purchasing their great music!

Two Recent Interviews

April 25, 2011 by Eric | 0 comments

I haven’t spoken as myself in public lately.  Most of my efforts have been administrative, refining the underpinnings of The Beast and Orquesta GarDel, letting those entities speak on my behalf.  Each band has developed a nice blogging presence on their respective websites, so I feel less of a need to cross- or re-post on my own site.

There are, however, two interviews that I am pleased to share:

  1. The spring edition of the NC Arts Council’s Artful Living newsletter, where I and other bloggers recommend places to catch live music in North Carolina.  Not surprisingly, I focus on jazz, R&B, soul, and world genres.  This newsletter also features a great story about Zenph Sound Innovations, my employer and technological passion.
  2. WXYC 89.3FM Chapel Hill hosts a Global Music Show, and moderated an interview with myself, Nelson Delgado, and David Garcia about our respective roles in founding Charanga Carolina and Orquesta GarDel.  I think this is the only time the three of us have gotten to talk at length about those formative years at UNC.  This episode of the Global Music Show features recordings from both groups, and the awesomely lame attribute of being in the Real Player format.  Happy listening!

Freedom Suite, new album from The Beast and Nnenna Freelon

November 19, 2010 by Eric | 0 comments

I am thrilled to (belatedly) announce my biggest project of the 2010 calendar year: The Beast’s second album, which is a collaboration with Nnenna Freelon, entitled Freedom Suite.  The album is being offered as an exclusive free download from The Revivalist, the new jazz arm of hip hop website  Revivalist, in turn, is the web presence of a wonderful New York-based organization called Revive da Live, which supports the confluence of live jazz and hip hop music.

The album features three new songs from The Beast, remixes of Beast and Nnenna Freelon tracks, guest artists such as Phonte, Carlitta Durand, Darien Brockington, Igmar Thomas, and a series of interviews with Herbie Hancock, ?uestlove, Branford Marsalis, and Angela Davis.  One of my favorite tracks from the project is an all-live cover of Mos Def’s “Umi Says” with Nnenna taking on the voice of the narrator.  The studio chemistry between the five of us is a moment I will never forget.

Please download the free album and tell all your friends!

Zenph website relaunch and live show

November 9, 2010 by Eric | 0 comments

Greetings all, I am back after another blog hiatus to bring you exciting news as the year accelerates to an end.  I have wonderful things to share from each of my musical endeavors and from Zenph Sound Innovations, where I am on the R&D team.

For starters, the new Zenph website has just launched, and I invite all of you to explore it.  We are debuting a new logo, a new color scheme, and refreshed content about our mission, our technology, samples of our music, and much more.  We also have a storefront for our albums and eventually our software products.  In a week or so, I will begin writing for the company blog with a string of posts about the effect of technology on “liveness” so please check back here for that launch date.  Zenph also has a super-awesome social media coordinator, so please get involved in discussion with our Facebook presence if that suits your fancy.

Secondly, do you remember when I co-wrote and co-produced a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem?  Well, Zenph is proud to announce a second run of that show, “Art Tatum: Piano Starts Here” in Raleigh, NC this coming December.  We’ve revamped the show with a new cast and crew, and are presenting it in an intimate black box theater at the Progress Energy Center.  Check out the Zenph show page and Facebook for information and tickets.  You won’t want to miss this compelling historical narrative interleaved with exquisite live performances from Art Tatum himself.

GarDel interview in Carrboro blog

August 1, 2010 by Eric | 0 comments

GarDel playing in the rain at Saxapahaw

I probably should have posted this a week or so ago, but it is still worth sharing.  I was recently interviewed on behalf of Orquesta GarDel by The Mill, the online blog of The Carrboro Citizen newspaper.  I thank Ashley Melzer for giving me some time to ponder the dynamics of what it is like to play in, and operate a twelve-piece band that is unique to its geographical region.

Here is the link to the interview, I hope you enjoy it!

Return of the Blog

July 20, 2010 by Eric | 0 comments


After a spring hiatus to focus on songwriting with my bands and research with Zenph, I am happy to return to the blogosphere.  The rest of the year will feature countowns to some projects I am very excited to share with you, including:

1. a mixtape from The Beast called Freedom Suite, hosted by 9th Wonder with a roster of guest vocalists, MCs, jazz musicians, and DJs so thick that I can’t tell you who they are (…yet :-) )

2. Orquesta GarDel’s debut EP with two original songs, and a big dance party to celebrate its release

3. The free re-release of a past album, very near and dear to me (no hints yet!)

4. more new videos, essays, surprise collaborations

5. I am in the pre-pre-pre-pre planning stages for my debut jazz album as a bandleader.  Not a very musical process so far: applying for grants, thinking about material selection and recording logistics. I’ll be writing about the project as it unfolds; I’ve been waiting all my life to do this!

This week The Beast heads out on the road to Washington DC, New York, and Providence.  Please come support us if you live in the area!

Eric receives the 2010 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composers Award

February 25, 2010 by Eric | 2 Comments

I am extremely honored and proud to be a winner in the 2010 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composers Awards.  This marks the second time I have won the award (as well as having twice twice received Honorable Mention).  I submitted my latest jazz composition, “somehow it seems to help” which was premiered by a wonderful group of musician peers, and now good friends, at the 2009 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead concert at the Kennedy Center.  You can watch a video of that performance in a previous post, and I’m happy to make this song available for download right here in this post.  I hope you enjoy it!

From the press release:

This program, established in 2002, was created to encourage gifted jazz composers from throughout the United States. The recipients, who receive cash awards, range in age from 15 to 29, and are selected through a juried national competition. The ASCAP composer/judges for the 2010 competition were: Wycliffe Gordon, Rufus Reid and Henry Threadgill.