Last September, I saw Eldar at Founder’s Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, Calfornia. There was a lot of hype about this young man and I was a little skeptical going into the concert.
He came out with his trio and sat down at his piano. Then he started playing and about half way through the first song, I knew that what I thought was hype was just the truth. Eldar can play the piano! Eldar can make jazz with a trio! Watching him play is an experience that I look forward to repeating in the near future.
So when my editor notified me that Eldar was available for an interview, I wanted to do it. Speaking with Eldar is nearly as much fun as watching and hearing him play.
JAZZREVIEW: Hi Eldar, this is Jerry O'Brien
ELDAR: Hey, how you're doing?
JAZZREVIEW: Very well thank you, yourself?
ELDAR: I'm doing great.
JAZZREVIEW: How's school going?
ELDAR: Well, I'm out.
JAZZREVIEW: Oh great. Is it okay if I record this?
ELDAR: Yeah, man. Absolutely.
JAZZREVIEW: Okay, what is your summer looking like?
ELDAR: Man, it's busy. We're traveling all over the place. I'm actually going to start a of lot of things. Today is the last I'm at home basically, you know what I mean. I'm going to go to a little thing that I'm doing in Rochester, New York for a second time, and then I'm coming back .
JAZZREVIEW: Is that up at Eastman?
ELDAR: No, it’s not at Eastman, it's the Jazz Radio Summit that I'm presenting for, and I’m playing there. Then I’m coming back to the Playboy Festival, 2 weeks in Japan and then coming back to L.A. Then [I'm]going to The Blue Note and playing there for a week so.
JAZZREVIEW: That will be in New York?
ELDAR: Yeah, back in New York, then just doing a bunch of clubs all around the East Coast area and just working a lot over the next five weeks.
ELDAR: I'm really excited to get back and start the promotion for the new album Live at the Blue Note.
JAZZREVIEW: Yes, that's a hot album. I've been listening to it quite a bit in the last couple of days.
ELDAR: Oh, thank you.
JAZZREVIEW: Yeah, it’s also very cool. Do you get a chance to play with any of the other young and upcoming pianists, like Gerald Clayton, Taylor Eigsti or Tamir Handleman?
ELDAR: Well, Taylor is a buddy of mine. We used to hang out every week and chill together, but yes, I know all of them and some of them I know pretty well personally.
JAZZREVIEW: I first saw you this last September. You know, the way they were talking about you, it was like the piano was invented for you and nobody else had played it. Then I saw you play and you lived up to the hype.
ELDAR: Oh man, come on!
JAZZREVIEW: No, it was actually a great thing to see you play. You play a very physical piano.
ELDAR: Well, you know, I just sort of do something .I'm just trying to express myself. At the very end, it’s just expression. Being honest to yourself is what it’s all about. And whatever it is, I try to do it.
JAZZREVIEW: You're in an arena that is full of great young piano players and they're getting noticed. For a while, there weren't that many young players getting this kind of attention. Now there's a lot happening. Does that get your competitive juices flowing? How is that affecting you?
ELDAR: It's not competition. I look at other musicians and I want to learn something from other cats. It's all about listening to everybody, you know, all the musicians just growing up and developing as musicians and as an individual.
I would listen to thousands and thousands of records because my dad used to have a huge collection. He would play Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. He really had quite diverse tastes. He had all kinds of music there, but especially jazz, just a lot of all different kinds of jazz, but especially a lot of piano players he had in his collection. That's what really caught my attention. He always had Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Chick Corea or Herbie playing and I was listening to all those cats play. I was in awe of what they were doing.
The first piano player I was conscious of having heard in my life was Oscar Peterson. That was when I was about five. He made quite an impression on me, you know what I mean? I was listening to his records for years and years after. Just growing up as a musician, I try to listen, try to become aware of as much music as possible--really know what's going on and paying attention to what other people are doing, what they are trying to express.
JAZZREVIEW: You are also doing a lot of your own compositions.
JAZZREVIEW: You're initial instruction was with your mother?
ELDAR: My mother was a professor at a conservatory, a Russian classical conservatory. [When] I was five, she started giving me the first, as you would say, formal lessons. My introduction to the study of music was with my mother. She, actually, was there physically with me while I was practicing the piano and showing me the concepts, basic keyboard skills. From the very beginning, she was my teacher.
I started playing classical music. For many years I was playing classical music, but at the same time I heard the sounds of jazz. So I was playing both at the same time and the way I thought about music was not as categories, but as music itself. You know, it didn't matter to me whether it was jazz or classical. To me it was all music because when you're young, you take an innocent - for lack of a better word - approach. My awareness was of music and that's what I understood. As I became older, I realized there were different genres and different categories that music fell into. I tried to get away from the notion of this is this genre, and this is that, you know. I try to look at music as an entity rather than as boxes of categories, so nothing would really limit me, musically.
JAZZREVIEW: I think that you're hitting that on the new album because Live at the Blue Note has a lot of classical overtones. I think it is much less of a genre album and it’s not a bebop album. This album has music that I think would appeal to people who don't listen to jazz at all.
ELDAR: I think it all goes back to the first album that the band made, the self-titled album. That was an album that I wanted to be a record of all the things I grew up listening to, of all the things I love playing. I wanted to record music that came out of me, my original compositions. I wanted to create a diverse cycle of music--music where there are different things hinting at, and creating innuendos of what I'm trying to express. Yet the cycle has a major thematic base with jazz as the concept. We are really playing the music with those kinds of themes. The Live at the Blue Note album expands on having this band, which has been my touring and working band. We've been traveling and working everywhere together.
Capturing the band playing live was a really special moment for me. We've been playing with each other for so long. Once you play and know each other for a while you get this chemistry. It is a certain connection that's beyond words that you establish with people. When you take that chemistry to the bandstand, it becomes very special. It becomes part of you. It becomes something that is not part of three people; it’s three that become a part of one person, one band. It's not about a piano. It's not about a bass. i\\It's not about the drums. It's about establishing a certain sound, a group sound that we've all been striving to create over the time period that we've been playing together.
On this album, what you hear is what actually happened on the stage. There are no edits. There are no overdubs on anything. It is exactly moment-to-moment what happened on the stage. What I heard is really too tight to play around with and try to conceptualize. What I heard was what the album was going to be. It’s raw. It’s the band, and it’s the music in the moment. You know, it’s the music as we created it on the stage at The Blue Note on a particular night. We had played for four or five days when we recorded Live at the Blue Note and the record is exactly how it sounded on stage.
JAZZREVIEW: When I saw you at Founder’s Hall in Costa Mesa, I was about 10 feet behind you. I was watching you play and I was noticing that you actually would hit one, two and three keys before the first of the keys would get all the way back up. I was just awed; that's pretty fast. Your bassist on that set, that was Jeffrey Chambers?
ELDAR: Yes, Jeffrey Chambers on that show. That's a great band.
JAZZREVIEW: Do you play with them much now?
ELDAR: Yeah, you know we used to play a lot. Right now, all the tours that I'm doing this summer is going to be with Todd Strait on the drums who was on the record ,and Marco who was on the bass and also on the new live record.
JAZZREVIEW: Just watching Jeffrey watch you while you were playing, of course I was behind you so I couldn't see your face, there seemed to be a tremendous connection going on while the music was being played. It seemed to be almost, I don't think you were talking to each other, but it really did seem like there was an awful lot of communication going on.
ELDAR: Yeah, well just like I was saying about that connection, when you establish a certain connection with a certain person, when you come up on the bandstand, you can kind of read each other. You can kind of expect what's going on and surprise each other at the same time--get yourself in places that challenge you, challenge the band, and make you listen and create something new with normal spontaneity and surprise.
JAZZREVIEW: And with that, you are doing a lot of your own composition.
ELDAR: Yeah. As I said, this album, Live at the Blue Note, is an evolution of the band. [It's]an evolution of the sound that kind of updates, puts a new version of what it used to be from the last album. It's captured in a live setting and I wanted to achieve the same thing where I wanted to record things that I love, things that we have played on the road and that I wrote. This package projects the group sound and speaks for what the music has to say. As you can tell, I try to include a lot of different stylistic themes and stylistic hints. I wanted to draw inspiration from a lot of sources. . .reach beyond certain things and really learn from other things and put it into this album. I tried to do as much as I could creatively in that setting.
JAZZREVIEW: You had four of your own original pieces on this album.
JAZZREVIEW: And on your last album, you had three or four also?
ELDAR: I had three or four there.
JAZZREVIEW: Now that you are at USC, are you studying music there?
ELDAR: Yeah, I'm studying music at USC.
JAZZREVIEW: Who are you studying with and what was the reason you picked USC?
ELDAR: Good question. The thing is that, one thing about USC. . .one thing that I wanted to do at USC was to study with a beautiful piano player educator named Shelley Berg. Shelley Berg is a genius. That guy has a beautiful mind, [and is a] beautiful musician and fantastic player.
Right now my parents reside in San Diego. I wanted to be close to home and be close to LA. USC seemed to be a good choice. I remember being in high school and a high school student, and being on the road a lot. There was a balance that I had to keep between traveling, working and being in school. I think it just kind of took another step in the same progression where I am still traveling, still working, and going to school the same time there. [I'm] kind of managing my time and wanting to do two things at once, but trying to do the best that I can for different reasons, to achieve different aims. So I love what I do. I want to play as much music as I can, play as many places as I can, and I also want to go to school and complete a degree. At least, that's what my aim is now. That's what I've been doing and I hope it works out.
JAZZREVIEW: So far, it seems from the perspective of what I see and hear, which is only, of course, the performance side, everything seems to be going great.
ELDAR: You know, it’s quite a road, being a musician and playing since I was really young. It’s been quite a rollercoaster sometimes. I’m just weighing things. Managing things is part of it and performance is another part of it.
JAZZREVIEW: And also, you write pieces of music that are fairly long. "Chronicle" is over ten minutes long, so that's got to take you some time too.
ELDAR: Well, a lot of these pieces are developing a group sound and then being creative at the same time. Certain pieces take long. There are certain things [that] don't take long. So, I mean, it’s a creative process. Everything is just a balance of time and if you have the time to do it, then you can do it. You can go to school, you can travel and work at the same time. Sometimes there are certain points that you wonder if you can do it or not.
Whether you want to go to school or whether you don't want to go to school, that's the first choice that you make because playing is your passion. That's what I want to do. That's what I want to do for as long as I can. I want to make as much music for as long as possible. You've always just got to weigh what happens in the mix and live in the short term future. . .kind of go with what you want to do with schooling. You know what I mean. So I'm always taking one step at a time.
JAZZREVIEW: Right. The fact that you conceivably could be playing in the 22nd century, you've got time to lay down some good music and you've gotten off to a very impressive start.
ELDAR: I appreciate it, man.
JAZZREVIEW: I also understand that you're going to be back at Founders Hall this year.
ELDAR: Yeah, we're going to be back. We're going to have the band back and I can't wait.
JAZZREVIEW: You just released Live at the Blue Note. Are there plans for another one?
ELDAR: You know, it's funny man. When I recorded this album, I started working on another album. I started working on some concepts on how I wanted the next album to sound. I wanted a certain change, a certain different take on who I am as a musician, on what I am trying to express. So I started working on the next album before Live at the Blue Note was released. I got a sense and wrote a lot of the music. Before Live at the Blue Note album was released, I was done creating the next album.
JAZZREVIEW: Is that also going to be with SONY Classical?
ELDAR: SONY Classical, yes. Yes, definitely!
JAZZREVIEW: Out in time for Christmas?
ELDAR: Well, I don't know what the plans are. I don't know any logistics of what's going to happen and I haven't laid a finger in the studio yet. But I think it is going to be a really interesting project to work on.
JAZZREVIEW: Now you’ve played with an awful lot of great musicians so far, too long to go through, but who are you looking forward to playing with in the near future?
ELDAR: I just want to play with anybody who can play and who I love. And man, it's so many people-- anybody who is honest and who expresses themselves. I want to listen to them, play, and realize what they are trying to say...just be a part of that never ending learning process.
JAZZREVIEW: Do you get many invitations to play on other people's albums?
ELDAR: You know that’s something that I think I want to do more of in the future, but right now I'm doing my own thing right now. That’s what I concentrate on, my own band and the sound we're trying to create.
JAZZREVIEW: Well, like I said, it's very impressive. I promised that I would only keep you on the phone for 20 minutes and we're already about 25, and this is your last day with your parents?
ELDAR: Yeah, but man, thank you so much for calling me.
JAZZREVIEW: It was my pleasure. It was absolutely my pleasure.
ELDAR: Well, thank you man, thank you.
JAZZREVIEW: Have a great summer and we look forward to seeing you at Founders Hall.
ELDAR: Likewise. Thank you so much.