This week brings some new excitement! For a long time I have been inspired by the vocal quartet New York Voices. I admire their musicality and their understanding of their instrument, the voice. I have also taken strong interest in each of their solo projects. This semester I have the great fortune of working with their booking agency, AMI. While I put together their itineraries and get my feet wet in advancing for the group, I also had the opportunity to sit down with Peter Eldridge and discuss his upcoming US tour where he will celebrate his upcoming CD release of 'Disappearing Day'. I'm lucky to call them all my teachers, friends and mentors.
Last Monday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Eldridge on his ride to Boston about being a vocal leader. Peter, an Ithaca College alum, is the bass in New York Voices, an established singer/songwriter, and teaches at Berklee College of Music.
I asked Peter one question:
What does it take to be a vocal leader?
Here is what Peter had to say from a musical vantage point."It is important to gather as many tools as you can, including but not limited to: writing charts, understanding different grooves to be able to explain or demonstrate them to your band, basic harmony and chord changes. It is also important to have an understanding of the role of each band member, i.e. the specific relationship between drummer and bassist, as well as how guitar and piano function together/individually. It's like beginning the art of orchestration ultimately.I was initially a pianist, long before singing. I took formal piano lessons as a child, then for many years I took the information I learned in lessons and combined it with learning chords changes and progressions and playing more by ear. Slowly but surely I picked up the pieces again with more formal training in college (Ithaca), and this is when I realized that I could sing as well. Both these skills helped to inspire a fervent interest in songwriting.There are many musicians who have 'holes' in their education/upbringing, whether it's in reading music, the ability to successfully write a chart or lead sheet, or in your ability/inability to communicate your desires to your band. I was someone who 'learned by doing' on gigs and recording sessions as a freelance musician, but for a long time my frustration with my lack of fundamental chart-writing got in the way of feeling confident about my own compositions and communicating ideas to my band. For quite a while, I would express my ideas about specific grooves through demonstrating lines and harmonic ideas on the piano to the band, or playing a specific groove I was looking for by slapping my legs, or sometimes through vocal percussion. It was a means of expression that worked until my chart-writing became more informed.At the same time, some of his favorite songwriters or singers work almost sorely by ear, so ultimately they are still able to say what they want to say and create incredible tunes despite no real formal training. It's great to know, but try not to put yourself down too much if you don't. In other words, find your own way to express your ideas, but keep learning structure and harmony to build your own musical foundation as you go.A good leader lets his musicians offer their own creative input to the music, and as leader it's important (and beneficial for all) to allow others to 'drive the bus' at times, and let them feel part of the process. Knowing when to take the back seat is a valuable skill. You can be your own toughest critic but an integral part of growth is allowing feedback from fellow musicians (and try not take things too personally) then trying new things out with your band. It will also help you to stretch yourself musically and try something you would never try on your own."
Keep an eye out for Peter on the road and his upcoming release "Disappearing Day" and tour!
Check out New York Voices at newyorkvoices.com
“A superb musical alchemist, Peter Eldridge synthesizes modern jazz with not only pop but also R&B and latin music. The results are varied and dynamic but also aesthetically focused, as Eldridge’s mellifluous baritone and urbane lyrics brim with pop accessibility”(JazzTimes). Peter Eldridge ranks “in the celebrated tradition of melodic poets, most famously represented by such disparate voices as Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Steely Dan – singer/songwriters who create catchy, beautiful tunes with insightful lyrics that are both personal and universal” (allmusicguide.com). He continues to combine his talents into an eclectic mix of performing, composing and arranging, recording, as well as teaching (after almost twenty years at the Manhattan School of Music as the head of it’s graduate jazz voice department, Peter joined the voice faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston this past Fall). Peter was also recently asked to be the artist-in-residence at Western Michigan University. To this date he has released four solo recordings. Stranger in Town, characterized by its bittersweet swing garnered Best Jazz CD of the year by Boston radio station WICN, and released in the same year was Fool No More, full of Peter’s evocative original music in a sophisticated pop setting, were both released in the same year (Rosebud Records). Following on the heels of those albums was Decorum, a 2005 release of originals. Downbeat was noted as saying, “If musical intelligence and artistry were prompters to marketplace success, Decorum would grant him stardom. . . .strong, far-ranging voice . . hauntingly wistful”. Finally the latin-inspired Mad Heaven was released in 2011 on the Palmetto label. “Mad Heaven showcases Eldridge as a major player in vocal jazz, an artist of extraordinary depth and conviction” (Jazz Review). Peter is currently working on two new recording projects, one with jazz pianist Kenny Werner and strings, and the other a project of originals and covers with his trio (Ben Wittman on drums/percussion and Matt Aronoff on bass). Both projects are being planned for release in 2015.
Peter is also a founding member of the vocal group New York Voices, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and has recorded eight albums (including ‘New York Voices Live with the WDR Big Band Cologne’ released earlier in 2013 and Let it Snow, the group’s first holiday album also released in 2013). Two projects they collaborated on received Grammy awards (one with the Count Basie Orchestra, the other with Paquito D’Rivera). The group continues to make numerous guest appearances, and tour internationally, with appearances including Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Kennedy Center.In addition, compositions by Mr. Eldridge have been included on albums by many other artists: 'Minds of Their Own', written with Brazilian composer-performer Ivan Lins, was included on Nancy Wilson's R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) on the MCG Jazz Label, which won the 2004 Grammy award for Best Jazz Vocal Album; 'Difficult' was recorded by Cuban saxophonist-clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera for his The Jazz Chamber Trio, a 2005 release on Chesky Records; ‘Postcards and Messages’ was recorded on Denise Donatelli’s 2012 Grammy nominated album ‘Soul Shadows’, and ‘Difficult’ was also used in comedian Zach Galafianakis’ DVD ‘Live from the Purple Onion’. Jane Monheit, who was at one time one of Mr. Eldridge's many talented students, features Peter's song 'Surrender' as the title track on her acclaimed 2007 CD and also features the Eldridge duet 'Around Us', based on a James Thurber quote, on her 2003 Encoded Music DVD, Live from the Rainbow Room. Jane and Peter also recorded a duet for her 2012 album Home entitled “It’s Only Smoke”. One of his many choral pieces, simply entitled 'Prayer', was recorded by New York City's own Marble Collegiate Sanctuary Choir, on its recording With Many Voices, and his arrangement of the indie-pop band Elbow’s song ‘Mirrorball’ was just recorded by the choral group Chanticleer for its most recent album ‘Something New’.
In spring 2008, Peter was invited to join Kurt Elling, Jon Hendricks, and Mark Murphy for a ‘concept concert’, the Four Brothers. He is also a member of the vocal group Moss, which combines the talents of Luciana Souza, Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, and Lauren Kinhan. The debut album by Moss was named one of the best CDs of the past decade by Downbeat. Peter continues to perform with his own band in venues domestically and internationally. He has also recently begun a new duo called Foolish Hearts with bassist Matt Aronoff, which just released its first studio project (an EP entitled New Definition) and has already had two tours of Europe and the States. Peter has also worked with Bobby McFerrin (lending his voice to McFerrin’s ‘Vocabularies’ project), Michael Brecker, Meredith Monk, Fred Hersch, Becca Stevens, George Benson, Kenny Werner, David Byrne, Jim Hall, Larry Goldings, the Roches, Jonatha Brooke, Bill Charlap, Betty Buckley, Joshua Redman, Janis Siegel, Denise Donatelli and many others. Peter recently wrote the musical score with composer/conductor Adam Waite for the PBS documentary film, ‘No Job for a Woman’, which tells the account of women reporters in WWII, as well as writing his first full-fledged musical ‘The Kiss’ with Chicago playwright Cheri Coons about the life, loves and art of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Peter’s music was recently featured in NYC’s Playwright’s Horizons production of the play called THIS by Melissa Gibson. He is regularly asked to lead master classes and workshops around the world, and as guest conductor has directed All State groups including New York, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.