Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Mark Eisenman only gigs when he can do justice to the music

WATERLOO, Tuesday Dec. 9, 2014 --- Mark Eisenman brings his trio to The Jazz Room Saturday night and a lifetime of respect for the music.

Eisenman, a veteran jazz pianist from the  Toronto scene, plays with Steve Wallace on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. All played The Jazz Room in the past and are enormously popular with club regulars. This will be a night steeped in tradition and straight-ahead jazz.

"I have worked with these guys so many times it is so easy to play," Eisenman says in an interview with New City Notes. ""If people want to hear a lot of standards, I like playing them because then you can just call tunes that everybody knows."

Eisenman, Wallace and Clarke have played together so much they don't need a set list for the gig.

"You are just diving in there with creative musicians," Eisenman says. "The  best music I ever heard are guys communicating on the level of songs, and being so good at it, they just don't need to have anything planned."

Eisenman records, and teaches in the jazz program at York University. He picks and chooses his gigs. You can read more about him here, www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com.

"Sometimes I turn down a lot of work because I want to play real pianos," Eisenman says. "That's why The Jazz Room is so important to me, because I can go play a good piano in front of nice people who are listening."

The Jazz Room stage is dominated by the Yamaha C7 grand piano. No talking is allowed when musicians are performing.

"I figure if I am going to out now and I am going to play this music, justice has to be done to it. And having a good instrument to play is the first step. Now it is up to me after that. If it's not good, it is my problem," Eisenman says.

When it comes to respecting the music, Eisenman never forgot what happened the day he headed for the the Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street in the early 1980s to hear the Johnny Griffin Quartet for a Canada Day gig.   He was looking forward to the show. Griffin was a bop and hard-bop tenor saxophonist who played with a long list of greats,  starting in the 1940s with Lionel Hampton.

 Before his death in 2008 Griffin played with Thelonius Monk, Paul Chambers and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, among many others. Eisenman arrived early for the show, and secured a seat near the stage. One member of the quartet came in, played a few chords on the piano and shook his head. Eisenman never forgot what that musician said: "'This piano is not tuned. We will be back to play when the piano is tuned, as per the contract.'"

Eisenman was born in New York into a musical family. His mother was born in Toronto, and loved to sing. His dad played piano, saxophone, accordion and composed music.

 Eisenman's dad was a Holocaust survivor who came to Canada in 1948 after living through the horrors of Auschwitz. He arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax three years after the war ended. Eisenman's grandfather on his dad's side was the principal flutist in the Lodz symphony in Poland before the Second World War. Everyone in Eisenman's father's family perished in the Holocaust, except for Eisenman's dad, and his dad's youngest brother.

After arriving in Canada and meeting Eisenman's mother, the family moved to New York, and back to Toronto more than once.

"He did a lot of different things, including some piano teaching and taught me a little bit," Eisenman says. "He was always going around teaching kids. He used to be a substitute teacher. So music was always there. My mother did a little singing. There are some demo recordings I have of my mom and dad from 1954, just amazing."

Eisenman started in  jazz studies at York University in 1974. It was a ground-breaking program, one of the first at a Canadian university.

"I really learned a lot about it there with the guys who started the jazz program  there, John Giddings and Bob Witmer," Eisenman says. "They were both great players."

He teaches at York now. The list of alumni from that program includes the leading players on the scene today.

Following his gig at The Jazz Room (www.kwjazzroom.com) on Saturday, Eisenman will be back on stage on the Jazz Bistro in Toronto with his quartet on Friday, Dec. 19 and Saturday, Dec. 20. It includes Kelly Jefferson on sax, Neil Swainson on bass and Morgan Childs on drums.

The Mark Eisenman Quintet is at The Rex in April, and includes Steven Wallace on bass, John McLeod on trumpet/Fugel horn , Pat LeBarbera on saxes and John Sumner on drums.