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Jim Erickson - Solo Jazz Pianist: Bio

Jim Erickson is a Madison,WI based composer/pianist. He holds a master’s degree in classical piano performance and bachelors in jazz piano performance, both from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Private teachers include Willie Pickens in Chicago and Kenny Barron in New York City. Jim’s compositions and recordings for advertising have won seven local Addys and two national awards, including a Telly.

He is also the leader of the popular local, “Jim Erickson Trio,” featured by: Overture After Work, Overture Gala, Isthmus Jazz Festivals and other local venues. As a sideman, Jim has been featured with Jimmy Owens and Kenny Davis in New York City and Roscoe Mitchell in Madison and Chicago.

Jim’s solo jazz piano release, “Crossroads,” is a compilation of standard material spanning several jazz generations, and original compositions by the artist.

In July, 2011, Jim participated in the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition held at Ragusa-Ibla, Italy. As a result of this competition, Jim was selected as a winner and toured the USA with the winner's group in April-May, 2012.
Performances included New York University and Carnegie Hall, May 1, 2012.

Ibla Foundation invited Jim back to NYU and Carnegie Hall, May 1 and 2, 2013 to perform his own music, and to receive a Composer's Award.


The release of Crossroads, pianist Jim Erickson’s recording debut as a leader, fully displays the musical talents of the Madison, WI native. The set of unaccompanied piano solos features him reinventing standards and introducing four originals, all in colorful fashion. As in his live performances, the music on Crossroads is both creative and accessible, catchy yet unpredictable. It shows that there is plenty of musical talent to be found in Wisconsin.
Jim Erickson was the fifth of six children in a musical household. His sister played piano, an older brother played guitar, his grandmother was also a pianist, and his aunt was a music teacher at school. It was not too surprising that Jim also took naturally and enthusiastically to music. He began piano lessons when he was eight, started playing guitar the following year, at ten added the string bass and, by the time he was eleven, he was thinking of himself as a possible trumpeter. “A friend’s father was a trumpet player,” Jim remembers. “At his house I would hear Dizzy Gillespie and Bird and that lit a fire in me. Bill Chase had the hit ‘Get It On’ and I loved the trumpet sound on that. I went from hearing Chase with the Woody Herman band to Maynard Ferguson and eventually Miles Davis, Red Garland and Bill Evans. It all connected together and I wanted to be Maynard.”
Jim went to North Texas State as a trumpeter, but was not excited about the thought of playing the classical music trumpet repertoire. After returning home, he reached a turning point. “I swear that I had a vision one day shortly after Bill Evans had died. It was a dream in which he told me that I should be a pianist, strange as that seems.” Jim arranged for an audition as a classical pianist at the University of Minnesota, was accepted into the program, and from then on focused on piano. He earned a Masters degree in classical music and jazz performance from the University of Wisconsin. Jim was inspired by his mentor bassist Richard Davis, who he had known from high school and studied with in college. For a year, Jim traveled to the American Conservatory on a weekly basis to study with Willie Pickens, and he also had lessons from Kenny Barron in New York.
Very important for Jim was getting the chance to play regularly with the innovative multireedist Roscoe Mitchell, best known for his association with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. “I learned a great deal from Roscoe Mitchell, both musically and in his approach to life. I gigged with him in Chicago and in Madison for a 15 year period off and on until he moved to the Bay area three years ago, and I premiered his solo piano piece ‘8-8-88’ in Chicago at the Hot House in 2000.” The pianist also had opportunities to play with trumpeter Jimmy Owens in New York.
As a leader, Jim Erickson has led his own trios in the Midwest for 30 years. In the 1990s he started becoming involved in recording commercials and he has since won 7 local Addys and 2 national awards including a Telly for his compositions for radio and television.
In recent times, in addition to his teaching and raising his two sons, Jim Erickson has been concentrating on his own piano playing. He has had opportunities to play in Sweden and Italy, appearing on television in Sicily.
Considering his extensive work with his trio, his decision to record a set of solos for Crossroads is a little bit of a surprise but, as Jim explains, “I love to hear a complete orchestra out of the piano. My writing has asymmetrical devices that keep repeating until they become something to hang on to. Bill Evans often talked about playing rhythms against each other, so this is an extension of that idea. The best pianists, like Earl Hines whose records I have been enjoying lately, were complete by themselves.”
Crossroads begins with Jim’s adaptation of “Poinciana,” Ahmad Jamal’s biggest hit. While Jim’s interpretation hints at Jamal’s, it is also full of fresh ideas and his own musical personality. Wayne Shorter’s “Ava Maria” and the veteran standard “Body And Soul” (which is darker than usual) are transformed into contemporary music without losing the essence of earlier versions. His rendition of “Effendi,” a piece associated with McCoy Tyner and Ahmad Jamal, is quite exciting and explorative while “My Favorite Things” begins with John Coltrane’s famous recording as an inspiration before evolving into new areas. Richie Beirach’s “Natural Selection” is given a lyrical yet probing treatment before Jim modernizes Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave,” transforming it into a highly rhythmic modal piece.
The first of Jim’s four originals, “Don’t Look Back,” which was written for his youngest son Anton, has dense and original chord voicings that are both complex and catchy. The wistful and Asian-flavored “Twilight In Moscow” was written for his other son Eli. “He was just an infant at the time. The tune came to me in one piece while sitting at the Hotel Ukraine in Moscow, holding Eli and looking out the window at the Moscow River when the lights were starting to come on. It really wrote itself.”
“Twist Of Fate” is about the good and bad surprises that come with life. Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace” is given a rare and thoughtful revival. This version of Miles Davis’ “U’N’I” is described by Jim as “hip hop solo piano.” The highly enjoyable program concludes with the brief “Crossroads,” a quiet piece that looks ahead to better times. 
Looking towards the future, Jim Erickson says, “I want my music to be accessible to the average listener while also containing plenty of creative jazz for the hard core people. I plan to record more originals soon and hope to have more opportunities to play in New York and Europe. Basically I want to play wherever there is a grand piano in a club and where there are people sitting and listening.”
The release of Crossroads is an important step forward in the career of Jim Erickson.