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I first met saxophonist Eric Arellano when he came to Redding with beatbox vocalist Butterscotch, who performed at Old City Hall. Since then I have heard considerably more about the progress of his outstanding musical career. Last year I attended the Reno Jazz Festival, and listened to the top collegiate jazz groups from the West Coast. Eric’s band was one of the last that I heard, but I was not prepared for the virtuosity that he exhibited in his solo work. For this, he was presented with the “Top Soloist” award, a major feat considering the incredible competition for this honor. It was well deserved.
Since then Eric has continued to follow an academic path, and is completing graduate work at University of Gothenburg in Sweden. The master’s degree program stresses improvisation, interpretation, composition and theory. It is integrated with the Swedish National Orchestra Academy. The lines between jazz and classical music are clearly blurred in a very mind-expanding way. I caught up with Eric late in November.
Eric, how are things in Sweden?
It is cold and rainy, and the days are already very short. A big change from Northern California. One good thing about it is that I’m relatively free of distractions and free to focus on practicing and experimenting.
You are from the Sacramento area. Why Sweden, anyway?
Good question. When I started looking into a master’s degree, I decided to go either to New York or Europe. My girlfriend asked me about my philosophy and what I wanted to accomplish. After many discussions she told me that it sounded like I would be well suited for U. of Gothenburg. She knew a lot about this since she is from Sweden. I interviewed at several East Coast and European programs, but I was very impressed with the insight into my playing by the Gothenburg professor who listened to my audition, so I was sold on it.
Tell me about your master’s research.
I am focusing on the music of Wayne Shorter, and using it as an avenue for me to develop my own style, or my own palette musically. Shorter’s work spans many decades and has been fluid, moving from many different genres – be-bop, fusion, blues and others. I have looked at Wayne’s music and my own from new perspectives. For example, I have incorporated classical string instruments into some of my work, and have begun to ask myself the question, “Just exactly what is jazz anyway?”
You seem to know a lot about Wayne Shorter.
As part of my research, I followed his band as they toured in Europe and had the opportunity to interview him. Even though he is 76 years old he is not content to rest on his accomplishments but is still always trying to reach a new level. His philosophy is that none of us ever reach our full potential, and it is our moral responsibility to continue to grow. This extends beyond just music and is really his LIFE philosophy. He inspired me to believe that there is still a lot of ground to break in the jazz universe, and that I should keep my mind open for new ideas.
Will you be doing Wayne Shorter compositions at Old City Hall?
Yes, but we will also perform some of my own original music.
Who will be with you?
We will have Jay Cowell on piano and Jesus Vega on drums. My inspirational pal Joe Berry will be on sax too. I’m really looking forward to coming back to Redding.
It is a pleasure to have you here again!
See the Eric Arellano Quartet on Sunday, Jan. 3, 7 p.m., Shasta County Arts Council, Old City Hall, 1313 Market Street, Redding. Tickets are available at Bernie’s Guitar and The Shasta County Arts Council. Student admission is free.
Dave Short, M.D., is a Redding family physician. He has been active in the jazz scene since moving back home to Redding in 1980. He loves to play the tenor sax, and has recorded three albums with the band Sax Therapy. His favorite project is “Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall,” a monthly concert series that features the finest north state jazz musicians. to learn more about Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall, visit daveshortjazz.com