Jazz pianist Taylor Eigsti appeared via Zoom Friday night for the third event of the 2021 Virtual Harker Concert Series. Speaking with longtime friend Dave Hart, Harker’s upper school instrumental music chair and artistic director of the Harker concert series, Eigsti got attendees caught up on his recent activities, showing off the setup he had put together for online lessons. “I spent my entire life not doing online lessons,” he said. “It was something that I was pretty staunch about.”
With in-person lessons now infeasible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eigsti spent considerable time preparing for online lessons, and expressed amusement at his newfound obsession with cameras and live sound. During one of the very few live gigs he played in the past year, he found himself chatting with the sound crew. “I’m picking the brains of the sound engineers,” he said. “It really is a deep dive into all of the other things since we have to do all of this stuff ourselves now.”
Discussing life as a member pf legendary trumpeter Chris Botti’s band, Eigsti stressed the importance of making time for oneself. “If you’re doing 270 gigs a year in one band, it’s hard to do anything else. You’ve got to balance it out with some white space,” he said.
As a bandleader himself, Eigsti learned a great deal from how Botti led his ensembles. “He just has a real structure to the show. It’s like a well-oiled machine,” he said, drawing a distinction between Botti and the way he had been accustomed to performing different music every night.
Eigsti’s next album, titled “Tree Falls,” is scheduled for release on May 21 through GSI Records. The first single, a cover of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark,” features former “American Idol” contestant Casey Abrams. “This is the project I’m the most proud of in my whole life,” Eigsti said. “I haven’t released an album in 11 years, so it’s wild to release an album now.”
His other major project is a collaboration with the Community School of Music and Arts called “Imagine Our Future,” in which he has been commissioned to write a piece based on ideas sent to him by Bay Area students. “When I’m composing I really like to take a lot of ideas that could really come from anywhere,” he said. “This is definitely a little bit more of a challenge than I thought it would be. It’s really interesting to see how it’s naturally coming together.”
Answering a question about compositions played by his band, Eigsti noted “it’s different every time. Sometimes we’ll do a show and everyone in the band might have some tune that’s written by them.
“I tend to like to play the music of my friends and also my own music and different songs that people know that could be covers or jazz standards,” he added.
On the process of composing, Eigsti said he believes “only 10 percent of what we write is actually good, so you might as well just keep writing.” He also encouraged exploring many sources for inspiration and experimenting with ideas. “Try things out in different keys,” he said. “Sometimes we think of ideas where their home is somewhere else.”