David Eyges was one of the first cellists to emerge as a group leader, releasing his debut record The Captain at the height of the late-70s loft jazz movement in New York City. Since then, Eyges has been continually active as a performer, composer, and more recently, label owner of MidLantic Records. Ludwig vanTrikt caught up with Eyges in late 2003 for a brief discussion of the cellist's affinity for the blues and alto saxophonists.
Your deep affinity for the blues separates your playing from other improvising cellists. Please comment?
When I was young the blues had a profound effect on me. I met people like Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker at Club 47 in Cambridge. I played blues guitar for a short time but continued my cello studies and transformed the syntax and sense of the blues to the cello. This became a basic element of my style on the cello.
Most of your recordings have been in a duo context; what is it about doing duos that fascinates you?
The duo recordings I have done showcase the cello in a variety of contexts. There is a natural conversational flow to a fine duo recording. Recording Night Leaves with pianist Jaki Byard was a wonderful experience and I feel fortunate to have recorded with the master pianist-composer before he died. Here and Now with the late singer Jeanne Lee was also a terrific experience. In my estimation Jeanne deserved major stardom, which she never achieved. The saxophonist Arthur Blythe and I have done two duo recordings: Today's Blues and Sky. Arthur is a close colleague, and in my opinion, the finest alto saxophonist in jazz.
There seems to be a penchant for you hitting with alto saxophonists...
When I was a student at the Manhattan School of Music in the late 70s, I was mesmerized by the sound of an alto saxophone. I was just becoming familiar with jazz at the time and there was just something about the sound of an alto saxophone that hit me. To this day, the alto saxophone is one of my favorite instruments.
The career that you have established is almost singular in that you seldom perform as a sideman...
I have chosen to establish myself as a leader in the music although I have recorded as a sideman with several people, including the pianist Paul Bley, the drummer Bob Moses, and the bassist Cecil McBee. Having realized a considerable part of my musical inspiration as a cellist/composer, I have changed hats for the time being, working as a producer for the MidLantic label, which is a small record label I run on a day-to-day basis.
In composing do you use basic rhythms/riffs, or do you approach composing melodically?
Depending on the composition, I use basic riffs/rhythms and/or compose melodically. The two styles are not necessarily discrete.
Does the advent of the internet create more creative and touring possibilities for you?
While the internet is an incredible communication tool, it really hasn't substantially expanded the audience for the kind of music I play.
For several years now you have been playing an electric cello--why?
I purchased my electric cello in 1987, primarily because the electric was much easier to maintain and travel with. The electric can also better match the volume of a powerful drummer. The instrument I have, designed by Tucker Barrett, is also striking visually.
Do you listen to your contemporaries on the cello?
I have listened to my contemporaries on the cello and there are certainly some fine cellists playing today. The cellists that come to mind are the Dutch cellists Ernst Reijseger and Tristan Honsinger.
It's only been a short span of time during which we have seen major innovation in the playing of the cello. Yet with all that accelerated growth, have the innovations peaked?
For me, the foundation of jazz cello has been made in the last 30 years, which is a relatively short span of time. When I started playing jazz on the cello in the early 70s, there were three jazz cellists that I knew of. Now I believe there are a couple hundred jazz cellists throughout the world.