Smitty: Visiting JazzMonthly.com for the very first time an incredible pianist/keyboard player. He’s part of a great band. It’s called the Eric Mintel Quartet. You’ve got to hear their latest record. It’s called Times Change and it is a magnificent project. Here to talk about this great project and the band representing the Eric Mintel Quartet, please give a very warm welcome for Mr. Eric Mintel. Eric, how are you, my friend?
Eric Mintel (EM): I’m doing good, Smitty, my friend. How you doin’?
Smitty: I’m wonderful. Well, man, it’s certainly a pleasure to talk with you after listening to this great record.
EM: Well, I am so glad that we are connected here because I found you and I just really love what you’re doing with jazz and the way you’re presenting jazz musicians that I said I have got to call this guy. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: Well, thank you. I’m glad you did because, man, what a great project. I would not have heard this music possibly and I am totally diggin’ it because when I listened to the record, one of the things that I thought about was this is sort of a funked up swing band. I said, man, this has got some groove to it, you know? And you’ve got some great players, man. My hat’s off to your band.
EM: Well, thank you. The thing is we’ve been playing so long together and I think what you’re hearing is we’re just such a tight ensemble and a lot of the tunes on the album actually were really done in only one or two takes just because we captured a lot of that raw energy in the studio and that was really, really important and the fact that we’ve been playing together, it’s kind of like we’re on that telepathic level. (Laughs.)
Smitty: Isn’t that a beautiful thing, though?
EM: Oh, it’s great. Things will happen spontaneously and it’s like we all have to look at each other and like, wow, where did that come from?
Smitty: Yes, when we can amaze ourselves it’s a beautiful thing because there’s just not a feeling like that.
EM: Well, especially in jazz, in this music, just because of the improvisation. It’s just so personal in nature and you’re hearing that personal part of each performer and then when you’re in the quartet setting, it’s just inspiring.
Smitty: Yeah, well, you’ve been going at this for a little while.
Smitty: Because, man, your first band, you were what, 15?
EM: I think so, you know? Yeah, well, I started the group in 1993 and I’d been playing piano….my parents could always find me at the piano since three years old, but seriously I think my first job was when I was about 15 or 16. My very first job was I think I played solo piano in a lingerie shop.
EM: I was playing for these runway fashion shows. Actually, I didn’t mind that at all. (Both laugh.)
Smitty: I can imagine.
EM: So it was great.
Smitty: What a gig!
EM: Yeah, man, it was great. (Laughs.) So that was my first paid professional job. And then I remember a couple of years later, and I don’t wanna get too far ahead of myself here, but then I started my band a few years after that.
Smitty: Yeah. Man, you were kickin’ it with some pretty good music. I think when you around 15, 16, you were already playing tunes like “Take Five” and doing some orchestral stuff. Talk a little bit about how you got into that.
EM: Well, as I said, I was very fortunate that music was always part of the household and my parents would always play classical music. Mostly classical music was played—Chopin, Bach, Beethoven—and I think that was permeated throughout the house all the time in my childhood, and when I was about 14—and I’m an only child—so I found an old record collection of my mother and father’s, and I was going through it and listening to a lot of different music and I was listening to a lot of rhythm and blues, some Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, and then all of a sudden in the record collection I saw this one record and I put the record on and the guy on the cover of this 45—you know, when they had 45s, just all records—he had glasses, slicked back hair, brown suit, and so I put the record on and all of a sudden I just had an instant connection with the music that was being played and I said this is what I wanna play, this is what I wanna play the rest of my life, and I had that epiphany right then and there, and it turned out that it was Dave Brubeck and on one side of the record was “Take Five” and the other side of the record was “Blue Rondo A La Turk.”
And, I mean, I was into the music so much that I recorded the record on a tape and then sat like a little tape player down next to me on the piano to try to transcribe it from the tape to the piano. And I took piano lessons for about a year and I was coming to the piano lessons playing “Blue Rondo,” “Take Five,” all these obscure time signatures and my piano teacher was trying to teach me “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” you know? And it was just sort of like I was a product of reverse engineering, so he wound up saying “Look, I don’t think I could teach you any further. I think you’re gonna have to go your own way.” That’s pretty much what I’ve done ever since.
Smitty: Well, Dave Brubeck has had that influence on a lot of people.
Smitty: When I first heard “Take Five,” oh, what a tune. I mean, it still grabs you the same way even now.
EM: Well, yeah, and “Take Five,” that was written by Paul Desmond too and the main thing with Brubeck’s music has been, for me, that it’s been—and I think for a lot of other people—that it’s accessible.
EM: It was accessible music that you could identify with and you can follow. It wasn’t too out there, but yet it was out there intellectually with all the time signatures or rhythmic changes.
EM: But it was really accessible and it bordered on that classical European approach in jazz and then, of course, that’s what appealed to me as well, so that’s just great. And just now, all these years later, that Brubeck and I have formed a great friendship and I actually just talked to him a couple of weeks ago. So it’s just really great to have a guy like that that’s in your corner that really, really enjoys my quartet and sort of like sees that we’re going to the next level with this music, with jazz, and bringing it to more of a wider audience.
Smitty: Well, speaking of your friendship with Dave Brubeck, he had some pretty nice things to say about your latest record.
Smitty: He said “When I first listened to the CD, I was struck by how swinging they are.”
Smitty: So you guys are swingers, man. (Both laugh.)
EM: Well, again, it’s the way we’re presenting the music. We care about this music so much that it’s very important to me that my audience can identify with the music. And so we try to approach it in different ways and I always try to keep it fresh but at the same time, like I said, it’s just a real tight ensemble and just musically everybody has really big ears in this group and listens, it’s incredible.