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!

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!

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.

Top Five Artists Whose Work I WishTo Explore Deeply in 2010

December 27, 2009 by Eric | 0 comments

Over a year ago I wrote a post about my top 10 favorite albums, mostly with a metric of personal fondness more than any sort of aesthetic consideration. As I look ahead to 2010, I see a very busy technologist (researching instruments for Zenph Sound Innovations) and bandleader (with The Beast and Orquesta GarDel) and new-husband (hi, Lauren!).  I want to make sure I am never too far from my deep passion for the arts, that need to appreciate and explore music, soaking it all up and seeing what sticks in the end.  There are a few artists in particular whose work and whose real-life struggles and philosophies have struck a chord with me, yet I’ve not yet had the time to get to know their music.  So in the spirit of end-of-year listmaking, here are my top five artists to get to know better in 2010.

5. King Tubby

Who knew that a sound engineer from Jamaica would have such a significant influence on electronic and hip hop musics?  Mixing (and re-mixing) as an art form, I love the delay-drenched sound of dub music, and it’s high time I take an in depth survey of one of the great pioneers.

4. John Hollenbeck

He is being called a modern jazz master.  With a prodigious output ranging from big band to chamber music to experimental improvisation, I identify with a lot of Hollenbeck’s contrapuntal/ostinato/polyrhythmic concepts and look forward to studying them.

3. Darius Milhaud

I love this guy, there is something fun about a French composer ahead of his own time falling in love with jazz and the music of Brazil.  What’s his take on it?  Let’s listen to La creation du monde and find out!

2. Astor Piazolla

I suspect one could spend a lifetime studying the music of this tango innovator.  He tried to write “proper” classical music, was ashamed of his jazzy tangos until Nadia Boulanger chided him for not being true to himself.  The rest was history, I suppose.  Such a fantastic combination of heart-string romanticism with improvisation with exacting composition, and I can still appreciate that it is based on music of the people, music for dancing.

1. Charles Ives

I’ve been told on occasion that my career path and my music remind people of Charles Ives.  How is it that an insurance salesman could conjure such poignant images of American life in such quirky compositions?  Again, a man ahead of his time.  I cried a bit when I heard “The Things Our Fathers Loved” from 114 Songs as well as “The Unanswered Question.”  I also look forward to reading a collection of his essays and other writings.


Wayne Shorter, Fela Kuti, Bob Dylan, Me’Shell NdegéOcello, Nas

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!

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)!

Eric accepted into the 2009 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead residency

February 10, 2009 by Eric | 1 Comment

I am honored and excited to be chosen as a participant in the 2009 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead residency which is presented by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  I will get to attend two weeks of masterclasses and workshops in late March and give performances with other young jazz musicians from around the country.

From the 2008 BCJA press release:

Betty Carter founded Jazz Ahead as a vehicle to bring new life into jazz and teach the most promising fledgling artists what she knew. She originally developed the program in 1993 at 651, an arts center in Brooklyn, and the first concert was presented at the BAM Majestic Theater. In 1997, the Kennedy Center and Dr. Billy Taylor invited Carter to bring Jazz Ahead to Washington, D.C. On April 15, 1998, a delighted audience in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall heard the results of Carter’s intense week of work with a group of 20 young jazz artists. Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead had a new home and Carter was filled with hope for the future of the program. After Carter’s death in September 1998, Dr. Billy Taylor and the Kennedy Center decided to continue her legacy by making the Jazz Ahead program, with the principles Carter laid down as the foundation, an annual event. Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead alumni include Cyrus Chestnut, Jason Moran, Jacky Terrasson, Aaron Parks, Lage Lund, Andre Hayward, Marco Panascia, Ameen Saleem, Miri Ben-Ari, Daniela Schaechter, and more.

As the date of the residency approaches, I’ll post about my experiences there, as well as information about the concerts, which will be free, open to the public, and also broadcast live on the internet.

**UPDATE 03/23/09**

It seems this post is the fifth most popular result when you search for “betty carter jazz ahead 2009.”  I’m here in DC on the first day of the residency and multiple participants have mentioned to me that they stumbled across this when looking for more information.  Hi guys!

Lessons from the School for Improvisatory Music

February 8, 2009 by Eric | 1 Comment

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently attended a winter workshop at the School for Improvisatory Music in Brooklyn.  The overall experience was nothing short of eye-opening and soul-liberating.  I worked with a wonderful group of musicians, peers, and teachers from all over the world.  Because the nature of our exploration wasn’t focused on style or technique, but rather raw expression itself, the entire week had strong parallels to a spiritual retreat.  Many of the truths being put forth pointed just as much to the human experience of the divine as much as they did to the human relationship with creativity.

The SIM philosophy in a nutshell is that beyond style, beyond tradition, beyond unexamined beliefs about what music is and is not, lies an approach where the emphasis is on creating and performing with openness and honesty, devoid of judgment.  This “musical authenticity” is explored through the practice of improvisation.  The faculty likes to say “spontaneous composition” because “free jazz” is a term that promotes misunderstanding.  When dealing with music in such an abstract/transcendent way, I noticed how words can sometimes only vaguely point to a truth instead of embody it.  That said, here are some of my favorite quotes from the faculty:

“Free improv isn’t a pre-conceived style, but rather a clean slate, a point of departure: it is ‘all-composed.’ ”

“People don’t want to accept, they want to own.”

“We are exploring the possibility of a universal ‘tonality,’ a place where traditions dissolve into pure sound.”

“Thinking is the deathknell of everything.”

“Don’t feel like you always have to go somewhere.”

“You can’t be aware of music if you aren’t aware of life.”

If these sounds like koans, well, they are.  If a rational, dogmatic musician (or listener) were to walk into the room in which we were playing, they would have heard nothing but awful noise devoid of “meaningful” structure.  This is what I heard as well until I could get into a deeper space and really Listen.  Then it was beautiful.

Thankfully, the practice of spontaneous composition isn’t a dark art with no easily definable path of mastery.  Bassist J. Granelli pointed out that the quantifiable skillset has to do with fostering two things: listening and intent.  Whenever we create music, either in a straight-ahead rock band or an avant-garde collective, we are called to be aware of our musical surroundings: what we are playing, what others are playing, the aggregate sound and what it is asking of the players.  This involves getting out of the way of our thoughts and taking on an observer role.  Meditation, anyone?  Intent is to really “mean what you play”: although you can be open to your surroundings, you don’t necessarily have to be swayed by them.  There is great power in truly “believing in yourself,” an idea that jazz-spiritualist Kenny Werner also promotes in his text, Effortless Mastery.

It is difficult for me to be succinct in this blog post; many of these discussions and ideas can be so paradoxical.  If anything, the SIM workshop helped me understand that (in a way) no one can teach you anything, you have to learn and know for yourself.  I am starting to realize that growing up (as an artist and a person) has a lot to do with becoming your own teacher, accepting and enacting your journey through life.  I came away from the workshop totally energized to have an amazing year of art and connection with community.  I also came away with an utter sense of gratitude, knowing that there is a community of humble, open artists exploring the unknown and sharing the results with each other.  This year I hope to be more open to my music-writing process instead of immediately critical of what comes out.  I have also planted the seed of an idea for a dream ensemble that weaves together umpteen musicians and dancers, improvisation, latin rhythms, theatrics, moody lighting, spirituality, and joyousness.  I know it will come together one day, I can already hear faint strains of the music we would play.

Here’s to a fulfilling, creatively rewarding 2009 for everyone.  May you know the path you walk along is the right one.

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.