Eric Hirsh

pianist, composer, producer

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)


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!

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!

Listen to a track from Silence Fiction, The Beast’s debut album

September 14, 2009 by Eric | 0 comments

Silence Fiction cover

I am thrilled to announce the release of The Beast’s self-produced debut album, Silence Fiction, on October 16th, 2009 with a killer release party at Duke Coffeehouse in Durham that same day.  Here is a link to the press release about the album.  I feel like I’m having my first baby (except that it’s a 4-way collaborative birthing process, and it did take nine months from rehearsing/tracking to mastering/album art).  Silence Fiction is my first experience co-producing and releasing a full-length album on a significant scale (indie budget, professional studios, robust sales plan, etc.) and as such I will post a few articles over the coming weeks reflecting on what I’ve learned in the process and what you can expect to hear when you purchase the album.

As a teaser, here is “Translation,” the lead single from Silence Fiction.  Featured on the track is my other major project, Orquesta GarDel.  Pierce’s lyrics are inspired by the true story of when he took Raphael Saadiq to see a GarDel show after his own concert at DPAC.  Methinks there are more hip hop/salsa collaborations in my future…

I hope you enjoy the track, let me know what you think!

Video of The Beast on NBC17’s Sessions At Studio B

July 10, 2009 by Eric | 0 comments

Yesterday The Beast headed over to the local NBC studio to tape a segment called Sessions At Studio B.  Jake Seaton, Content Producer and Music Blogger for the station, has done a great job featuring local bands by producing 30 minute concerts and streaming them live to the web.  We had a lot of fun hanging out with the crew, learning how to play to a robotic camera, and performing new songs from our EP and upcoming album.  Check it out!

Download a new EP from The Beast for free!

June 19, 2009 by Eric | 0 comments

designed by Brendan Ward

I’m happy to announce The Beast’s second release, entitled Catalyst.  This came about through working with the Durham Arts Council and Sound Pure Studios to do a fundraiser concert.  We wrote two songs for the occasion, with two great collaborators in mind: vocalist Nnenna Freelon and guitarist Chris Boerner (The Proclivities, Mosadi Music).  The entire Catalyst project came together in just three weeks from songwriting to tracking to mixing to album art, a fantastic effort from everybody involved.

Please tell all your friends that you can download the album for free at our newly redesigned site:  I hope you enjoy it!

From the press release:

Durham, NC – On May 21, 2009 visionary hip-hop quartet The Beast, and Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon performed an intimate benefit show for the Durham Arts Council at Sound Pure Studios. Held entirely within the recording studio, Freelon performed one song which she, along with Sound Pure staff members, used as an opportunity to explain the recording process for the attendees. The Beast closed the show, performing two original songs: “Once Again,” featuring Nnenna Freelon, and “Come Up, Come Down,” featuring guitarist Chris Boerner. This intimate live performance, recorded and mixed at Sound Pure Studios, will be released Monday, June 15, 2009, as a free downloadable EP entitled Catalyst, exclusively at

The Durham Arts Council billed the show as “a unique evening of music, fabulous food, and an inside look at the artistic process in a recording studio.” With only 25 seats available, the event sold out quickly. All proceeds went towards the Durham Arts Council’s arts education program and grants. While Catalyst is available as a free downloadable EP, The Beast encourages a donation to the Durham Arts Council, with the hopes that their music will continue to support the arts in Durham beyond the May 21st performance.

Catching up

May 23, 2009 by Eric | 1 Comment

I wonder if a histogram of bloggers and their usage habits might mimic a Gaussian distribution (remember the bell curve from high school?). On the low end is a chunk of people who set up a blog and forget about it the next day, leaving their two posts in the dust. On the other end are the entrepreneurs who are trying to make a living at it: posting meaningful content every day, linking the crap out of their peers, and Tweeting faster than they can breathe. But in the middle of the graph sits a giant hump of interesting, but inconsistent writers who sometimes have spurts of genius but otherwise never log in.

Color me some version of the middle variety: I want to write, but haven’t found the focus of this particular blog. Is it for me to announce achievements, shows, and new tracks? Is it to posit myself as an expert in my field (at least a dozen books for $15 on Amazon tell you to use your blog to do this)? Is it to post whimsical life observations? I suppose it is a mixture of all three, which represents the present state of my life. I am not yet a full-time “career artist”, I am not on the hustle 24/7. A large part of my creativity and energy goes into my role as a technologist and researcher at Zenph Studios (which I love). Another large part goes into directing or participating in The Beast and Orquesta GarDel. There’s my ever-maturing relationship with Lauren. And somewhere on the side is a guy who practices and composes and is just waiting to leap out and speak his true voice more often. A fractured life? Perhaps. But a disconnected one? Hardly. A thread of gratitude and experiential education weaves through everything.

I wanted to use this post to “press reset” and catch you up on some of the cool things I’ve done in the past few weeks. Each deserves its own well-written post, but a list will have to suffice instead.

1. Orquesta Gardel played its first out-of-town gig at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Andy and I rehearsed the group, packed a cooler of killer sandwiches and ferried 13 people 300 miles away in 5 cars (couldn’t afford a van rental). It’s tough to play to a crowd of strangers, especially ones who are serious about their Latin music, but we made a lot of friends by the end of the night. The DJ even announced us in at the after party!

2. The Beast has been working hard on its full-length album. We are finally bringing to life the tracking session we did in January at Sound Pure studios. Songs are being rearranged, I’m writing a lot of horn charts and programming some clever synth stuff. This will be the biggest recording project I’ve worked on thus far. Our baby has a far way to go, but it promises to be a very unique album.

3. I got to hear and meet Moldover at Alliviah’s in Durham last weekend. This is the guy who coined the word “controllerism,”: a true instrument developer and sound-reimaginer. His original music is really cool, and his efforts to educate and build a community around controllerism are to be respected. I really look up to him for combining clever programming with meaningful musical results, one day I’d like to have more time to develop this side of my craft.  Check out his videos here.

4. I have an intern at Zenph.  This kid is brilliant. As an electronic artist, he goes by the name Hidden Cat, and his songs have been reviewed by Rolling Stone and charted in the U.K.  Awesome!  We’re working on a re-performance of rock legend, Jerry Lee Lewis.

That’s all I can think of for now, time to go buy some basil plants at the farmer’s market (how Saturday of you, Eric!).  Stay tuned next week for a big announcement about a special Beast release (not the album, something sooner and sweeter)!

Getting back in touch with the Earth: playing at Shakori Hills this weekend

April 15, 2009 by Eric | 0 comments

orquestra gardel

GarDel at Spring Shakori '08; photo credit Jeff Fowler

I feel like my life has been on fast forward with no pause to breathe over these past three weeks.  Upon returning from the Kennedy Center residency and concerts, I dove into rehearsals for Orquesta GarDel and The Beast,  founded and performed with a dream project of mine, a live electronica quartet (great first show, guys! let’s do it again soon!), as well as helped Zenph Studios finish up our third album (Rachmaninoff), annnnnd filed the dreaded income taxes.

But it is all worth it because this weekend is the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance.  Every time I come to this festival as a performer, I am energized by the positive, appreciative vibe of the attendees, campers, and volunteers.  Being surrounded by woods with no internet is also invigorating, of course.  This festival marks some firsts for me:

1. Orquesta GarDel will be unveiling an original song (one of many to come) as well as a re-vamped stage show (Thursday 10:45pm Dance Tent)

2. Not only will The Beast be playing (Saturday 5:20pm Meadow Stage), but also giving two workshops about harnessing the power of creativity through understanding the story of African-American music, as well as hosting a jam session for teenagers.  I am really looking forward to seeing who shows up and contributes to these experiences.

3. This is the first Beast show to feature a live horn section (featuring my great friends, Andy Kleindienst and Tim Smith, both also in GarDel).  I wrote the charts late last night, we rehearsed today, it really gives a new element to the show.

4. Lauren (my fiancée, I will do a separate post about how awesome and wonderful and amazing she is and how we are totally pumped that we’ve got a wedding date on the calendar) and I are camping overnight.  So long taxes, hello vegan food, campfires, ponchos, and hula hoopers!

Day and weekend passes are still available at the Shakori website.  Come find me and say hello!

New music posted!

January 15, 2009 by Eric | 0 comments

It pleases me to announce that I have reformatted the music page on my website and uploaded tons of new music for your listening pleasure.  Well, maybe not tons, but something from each of my major projects in 2008.  It feels good to have an up-to-date representation of my artistic journey, and I look forward to sharing the results with you.  I suppose I should re-code with a really interesting Flash player, but I kind of like the old-school html links and that you can download hi-res mp3s if you wish.

Of all of the new things you will find on the music page (jazz compositions, an electronica piece, tracks from The Beast and Orquesta GarDel), I am most proud of “Reach Me.” It is the most involved classical piece I have written to date: an 8-movement song cycle for soprano and tenor.  While I spent many hours in my room developing motives, dealing with a notated piano accompaniment (I’m a jazz guy! we just make it up!), the creative essence of the piece came from collaborating with some of my great friends from the UNC Music Department.  We had dinners together – composer, lyricist, pianist, and vocalists – and talked about what piqued our curiosity, what troubled us about the human condition.  Katherine Lloyd came back with an unexpected set of lyrics about love, fear, and cell phones.  Initial musical ideas where developed through improvisation, aided by wine and Tootsie rolls.  We ended up with something resembling more of a musical theatre piece: my job was more to give life to two characters than to use post-tonal harmonies and abstract structural ideas to assign meaning.  Patrick Massey, Rachel FitzSimons, and Katie Cole premiered “Reach Me” at Patrick’s senior recital in April of 2008, and we recorded it at Zenph a few weeks later.  Collaboration, friendship, open participation, improvisation, musical exploration, music as healing, these are things I love about being a musician.

I invite you to find some time to listen to the whole 15-minute piece if you can.  Close your eyes if you wish, you can almost see the two lovers running around the city.  And of course, let me know what you think of any of this music, criticism is most welcome.

Speaking of songwriting, The Beast is currently rehearsing before we go into the studio to start tracking our first full length album next Thursday!  This will be the first time I get to work at a professional studio (as opposed to self- or home- recording), and I will write about that process as the date nears.