Jazz Thereminist - Eric Ross

Eric Ross is an accomplished composer and performer from Binghamton, New York. A multi-talented musician, he plays piano, guitar, synthesizers, and theremin. He has performed at such venues as the Lincoln Center, Newport Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland, and Berlin Jazz Festivals, Brussels Palais des Beaux Arts, Copenhagen New Music Festival, and Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. Ross' message is clear. He is paving the way to a new frontier by producing new, interesting, captivating sounds via his compositions. This May he will be performing live in Europe again.

JULIE PINSONNEAULT: How did you begin playing music both initially and professionally?

ERIC ROSS: "I started playing piano at seven years old. When I got to college, I started playing in a lot of kinds of music jazz, rock, blues, folk, classical and avant-garde. I started playing guitar when I was around nineteen. When I got out of college I still wanted to continue playing music, seriously and concentrate on finding my own voice and identity. So, I went into a number of studios and studied electronic music. In about 1977 I felt confidant enough to come out and start playing my own music exclusively. I’ve been doing that for the last 25 years or so. I look back on it as a wide and varied type of experience that enabled me to eventually focus in on exactly what I wanted to do.

J.P.: You have been performing for about thirty years now. When did you begin composing your own tunes?

ERIC: "Probably when I was about 18/19 years old. But I really didn’t begin to hit my style until about ten years later."

J.P.: What is your attraction to music?

ERIC: "Everybody has a certain aptitude, a certain affinity. I felt that music allowed me to do something that would be creative, expressive, and reach other people."

J.P.: How do you describe your compositions and performance style? What is the atmosphere you are looking to create?

ERIC: "In each of my compositions I’m trying to write something and play something new, something that’s never been heard before. The pieces that I’ve been performing in the last few years are a combination of both written and improvised music. Around fixed ideas, I like to leave enough space so that the players, or myself, can improvise and add our own feelings, emotions, colors, and ideas to the moment. I like to create an atmosphere that’s almost magical or mystical. There is an element of risk involved in it because I don’t always know what’s going to happen next, so I must be creative and adaptable.

J.P.: What lead you to compose this type of music?

ERIC: "With all the various types of music that I have been playing what interested me the most was when the music was able to express something very new and unexpected. I think this is part of the reason I got into electronic music. Electronics, when I first started getting involved with it, was a totally new palate. There were sounds there that nobody ever heard before."

J.P.: Tell us about your work with the Theremin.

ERIC: " I first started playing the Theremin around 1976. I realized it was a serious and difficult instrument to play well. With a lot of work, by 1982, I was able to use it on my first solo album, "Songs for Synthesized Soprano". This album was my first breakthrough and I think the Theremin, which was quite rare at that time, helped to get it out. It was definitely something different. Around this time I met jazz trumpeter and thereminist, Youseff Yancy, he’d worked with Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, James Brown, among others. We began a long collaboration including performances at Lincoln Center and the Berlin Jazz Festival. Also in 1982, I met and became personal friends with the great virtuoso of the Therein, Clara Rock more. She felt the Therein was a serious instrument, not just a fad or a gimmick , and deserved a spot in the orchestra as a serious instrument. I try to maintain that respect and attitude myself. In 1991, I met and played for Professor Lev Therein himself, during the making of the award-winning movie of his life, "The Electronic Odyssey of Leon Therein". These artists inspired me to continue using the Theremin as a voice in my own compositions.

J.P.: Whom were you most influenced by?

ERIC: "I’ve always tried to listen to everything, but I like the music of the early 20th century and a lot of non-traditional music. I’ve been influence by visual artists, impressionism, expressionism, and Abstraction as well , Of course, I like all the modern jazz guys, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman. But I knew early on I wanted to find my own identity in music and not be unduly influenced by anyone.

J.P.: "Do you see your music as an extension or continuation of the music that emerged in the 20the century?

ERIC: "Both. I’ve drawn upon many sources, classical, jazz, blues, rock, non-Western, avant, electronic, and other various other kinds of music, so there is continuity. But, at the same time, I’ve been interested in moving on and creating something new and different. That’s where my heart is and where I’ve found my niche in music."

J.P.: I know that you project the video art of your wife, Mary, during your concerts. How would you describe the multi-media role in your performance? How does it associated with your music?

ERIC: "I started working with multi-media early on. I was always interested in it. I thought of the video as another line in the score. It is like a visualization of what I’m doing musically. Mary’s work seems to fit very well with what I’m doing because it’s non-literal, non-narrative video.

J.P.: What kinds of venues have you been featured in? Would you say that your familiarity with the business affected the types of places you play?

ERIC: "Music and business are two different words. You can play really well but if your don’t take care of the business aspect, you’ll be playing in your room. I think I’ve been successful in a non-traditional approach because I have had a different style to offer. Early on I played a lot of places and realized that some of them weren’t really ideal situations because people are not there to listen to the music. That’s part of the reason I went into studios. When I came out, (of the studios), I looked at colleges, museums and art centers. Almost immediately after coming out and playing in the States a little bit I got some offers to play in Europe. When I got over there it was a whole different atmosphere because there were centers that were interested in presenting new art. Then in the late 80s/early 90s I began to play some of the bigger jazz festivals in Europe. And found that people were really receptive to what I was doing. In June I’m playing a big solo concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. I’m really looking forward to that.

J.P.: You are about to embark on yet another European tour in May. What kinds of shows are you scheduled for overseas?

ERIC: "6 concerts in 13 days in 4 countries. It’s a mix of concerts, but most of them will include Mary’s videos."

Eric Ross will be performing:

May 15th in Rotterdam, NL at the New Music Festival
May 16th in Brussels, BE at the Musee d’Instruments
May 20th Amsterdam, NL at the CEM studio
May 23 in Heidelberg, GE at the DAI Jazz Fest
May 25th in Amsterdam, NL at the Stedelijk Museum, VPRO Dutch Radio station- concert and recording
May 26th in Bergen NO at the Nattjazz Festival
June 8th in Washington, DC. Millenium Stage. Kennedy Center for the Arts.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Eric Ross
  • Event Date: 5/1/2002
  • Subtitle: Live in Europe, May 2002
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