Jazz Unites: Look to the Sky – Discovering Eric Wyatt

By June 3, 2018 Blog No Comments

Discovering Eric Wyatt was a journey from China through Brooklyn, New York City to Kuala Lumpur.

Early one morning, at about 4 am in April 2015, I was trawling through YouTube for American Jazz musicians performing in Asia. I stumbled on a video of trumpeter Theo Croker’s performance in Shanghai, China. That was a name familiar to me after having been introduced to me by my friend, bass player, Christy Smith a couple of months earlier.

As I watched the video, I saw this huge guy, wearing dark glasses, with a gleaming tenor saxophone hung around his neck like it belonged there permanently. Standing alongside Theo, I waited for this guy to play his instrument. When he began to blow his horn, he blew me away!

I was stunned. It was a completely fresh sound, with a hint of Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Very unique, raw and a very Led Zeppelinish heavy sound. Muscular, gusto and full of confidence, this was definitely hard bop from the heart of New York.

No frills, no sideshows and no antics. He wasn’t overdoing anything, just pure play of the tenor saxophone. At that very moment, I knew that I had to bring him to Kuala Lumpur for the upcoming KL International Jazz Festival in September 2015.

And so, the search began. I saw his name listed below the video and found further details of this amazing tenor sax player who astonished me before dawn that day.

On his website, Eric Wyatt from Brooklyn, New York had just released his fourth album titled “Borough of Kings.” That was in July 2014.

I sent him an email and requested for his mobile number. Couple of days later, Eric replied with his phone number.

I called him. As we spoke, he told me the sad news that his mother passed away a couple of days before he received my first email. They were preparing for the funeral service at the time.

However, it was only later did he mention to me that his mother always said, “Eric, one day you are going to play in far away places”.

True enough, he made his way to Kuala Lumpur and then to Singapore in 2015.

Subsequently, whenever I end my conversations with Eric, I always said to him, “So long Eric”. It was always in reference to the song composed by Charles Mingus – Eric Dolphy – when Dolphy left Mingus’s band and went to Europe. Incidentally Dolphy didn’t make it back to the US as he passed away in Berlin.

Finally, one day, I decided to explain to Eric Wyatt, why I always ended my conversation with him as such. Eric was surprised and he told me that his mother had named him after Eric Dolphy. She was a huge fan of Dolphy as she used to watch many of his shows in the clubs. A strange coincidence and meeting of the minds.

Eric Wyatt’s latest album “Look to the Sky” was released on 27th of October 2017, by Whaling Records, USA. Since it’s debut, it was on the Jazz Week Charts for 20 weeks and spent 8 weeks in the top 20, considered an achievement for a first timer who made it to the charts.

It is a rare classic album that received fantastic reviews from critics. It is also a very personal album dedicated to his parents, Charles Wyatt and Phennie Wyatt and to his sister Carol Wyatt.

The album made it to interviews with Jazz Times and Downbeat described it as ‘ honoring family’.

Track Listing & Composers

  1. E-Brother (Benito Gonzalez)
  2. Look to the Sky-Sister Carol (Eric Wyatt)
  3. My Favorite Things (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
  4. Jolley Charlie (Eric Wyatt)
  5. A Psalm for Phennie (Eric Wyatt)
  6. One Finger Snap (Herbie Hancock)
  7. Afro Blue (Mongo Santa Maria)
  8. Starting Point (Benito Gonzalez)
  9. Tenderly (Walter Gross)

Personnel

(Eric Wyatt – tenor, alto and soprano saxophone; vocals (track 3); Benito Gonzalez – piano; Keyon Harrold – trumpet; Eric Wheeler – bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi – drums; Kyle Poole – drums (tracks 4-6); Andrea Miller – vocals (track 3))

In the liner notes of the album, Eric explains why he recorded the great jazz standard, My Favorite Things. It was because I had requested him to sing the song as very few had done both singing and playing the tenor sax for that tune.

The liner notes in the album by Pete Fallico begins with ‘Look to the Sky is a masterpiece for two simple reasons: the music is not only performed magnificently but the totality of this recording represent the story of one man’s life. Eric Wyatt’s purpose here is to express and reveal the love of family and friends that has been so vitally important in the realization of his music.‘

Nicola Gaeta, writer and reviewer for Musica Jazz Italy wrote, “Rich in Swing: Robust saxophonist, gifted with great inventivity both harmonically and melodically, Eric Wyatt pays great tribute to the great tenorists of the past. His sense of swing, his pulsing solos, the streaming phrasings, his lyricism and his fastness, make us state without any doubt that we are before someone who will give us emotions for a long time.

If we had to give a name to his style, we would say it is a very sophisticated hard bop, with an instrumental approach in perfect syntonic with the great masters of the old school: Sonny Rollins for example, but also Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon, just to names some widely known to jazz aficionados.

This work is a testimony of Mr. Wyatt’s versatility. His advantage point is to have called on board as companions in his journey, a few among the top names of the Big Apple scene. I happened to attend live sets of Eric performing with pianist Benito Gonzales and trumpetist Keyon Harrold – I can guarantee they are extraordinary performers, able to pull the listener’s emotional strings. As for the rhythmic section, Eric Wheeler on upright bass with Shinnosuke Takahashi and Kyle Poole on drums are parts of a propulsion machine with a fluid and passionate interplay, rich in swing and very catchy.

What strikes me again about Mr. Wyatt is his ability of being parsimonious with ballads – in this work there are two great breadth: “A Psalm for Phennie”, an original tune written for Wyatt’s mother, and a cover of “Tenderly”-both underlie a class not only instrumental, of elevated profile. And if you’d like to abandon yourself in listening to authentic sheets of Coltranian sound, then dive into the lullaby “My Favorite Things”, rendered with the added value of the soulful voices of Mr. Wyatt himself and vocalist Andrea Miller. Great music. Stay tuned.’

Some of the other reviews include:

In 1998, Eric was nicknamed the King of Brooklyn by his colleagues for running the best jam sessions at the club Porknockers that featured some of the best new voices in jazz with whom he would later record on his 3rd album titled the Blue Print Family Business in 2003. It featured Robert Glasper, Keyon Harrold, Anthony Wonsey, EJ Strickland, Daryl Hall and Sax legend James Spaulding as a special guest. It was self-produced. His debut album aptly titled ‘Godson’ was recorded with Musicians who played with Sonny Rollins. Al Foster, Rufus Reid, Mark Soskin,  Dan Kostelnick, Shinobu Ito  and Brazilian percussionist Guilherme Franco.

Since his debut in KL and Singapore in 2015, Eric returned once more in September 2017 to perform at the KL International Jazz & Arts Festival 2017. He played two nights (one night being a tribute to his Godfather, the venerable Sonny Rollins) and the other was of his own compositions. Accompanied by his long time pianist, Benito Gonzalez, they received standing ovation on both nights.

After playing in KL, he travelled down to Melbourne for three nights of performance at Bird’s Basement.

Looking back to when it all started, his mother was right, “Eric, one day you will play at far away places”.

Good musicians are promoted, but Great musicians are discovered.

Rodin JS Kumar
Co-founder, KL International Jazz & Arts Festival

3 June 2018