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Jim Erickson - Solo Jazz Pianist: Press

Jim Erickson may be the only musician to ever qualify to play at Carnegie Hall without realizing he was doing it.
It brings to mind the old joke about a couple of tourists who are looking for the famous music hall in New York City when they spot a man carrying a violin case.
One asks, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
"Practice," the musician said.
Erickson, 51, has been playing and practicing music since he was 8 years old, much of it around Madison. His reputation as a talented and versatile pianist is well known.
But the fact he has retained his Madison base - in part because he has a couple of sons here - means Erickson's profile outside the city is not what it could be.
And Carnegie Hall? Like most every musician, Erickson wondered what it might be like to play the fabled venue.
"I never imagined it would happen," Erickson said this week.
Last month, it did.
The story really starts a year ago this month when Erickson traveled to the southern-most tip of Sicily to participate in the 2011 Ibla Grand Prize World Music Competitions.
Madison native Margaret Kay, a family friend of Erickson's, and a soprano studying opera in Sweden, asked him to come to Italy - the Sicilian city of Ragusa -to accompany her in the competition, which is open to vocalists and pianists of all ages.
Erickson was not previously aware of the event, which was held July 1-10 last year in Ragusa-Ibla, an older section of the city of Ragusa and one famous for its Baroque architecture.
Despite Erickson's unfamiliarity with it, the competition is highly prestigious."People come from all over the world," he said.
That may be in part because the winners are invited on an Ibla Foundation tour that includes a performance at Carnegie Hall.
Erickson himself was not entered, but he accompanied Kay in numerous performances during their days in Ragusa Ibla. The city is filled with music during that time, and the musicians perform for general audiences as well as an international jury that picks the winners.
It was at the end of the competition, one night in Borsellino Hall, that Erickson found himself jamming on stage with another vocalist, Jonathan Story, whom he met and befriended that week.
Their performance generated a buzz that brought departing audience members back to their seats. At the conclusion, Salvatore Moltisanti, the artistic director of the competition, invited Erickson and Story to play again at a concert that closed the festivities and was broadcast on Italian television.
And that was that - or so Erickson thought. After all, he hadn't been officialy entered in the competition.
But in March, he heard from Story, who said the Ibla Foundation wanted them on the Ibla Grand Prize Winners Tour that would play Carnegie Hall in the spring.
Erickson sent Moltisanti a note in Ragusa. Was it true?
The director wrote back that indeed it was true and later provided a letter that read in part: "I noticed early on, along with my fellow jury members, that Mr. Erickson was among the most interesting contestants," adding that the decision was made to invite him on the tour as a "special mention recipient piano accompanist."
It was a stunning development for Erickson, who these days can be heard in the Madison area accompanying vocalist Jan Wheaton and as part of Mitch Henck's "Big Show" band. Thursday nights Erickson performs at Louisianne's in Middleton.
He's a Memorial High School and UW-Madison graduate who has managed to make music a career by being a consummate professional, whether he's playing gigs or on commercial advertisements, teaching or serving as music director at churches.
And now, Carnegie Hall. Erickson flew out to New York in late April, and performed along with his fellow Ibla winners - 11 in all - at New York University and then, the night of May 1, at Carnegie Hall.
He was on stage for eight minutes.
"The piano was amazing," Erickson said, a beautiful 9-foot Steinway with little divots in the keys that fit his hands perfectly.
His nerves were fine. Erickson just sat and played, drawing without thinking of it on all the hours of practice, over all the years, that had prepared him for the moment.
That's how you get to Carnegie Hall.
Doug Moe - Wisconsin State Journal (Jun 29, 2012)
The Winners of the Ibla Grand Prize International Music Competition

Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, May 2, 2013


"...following was the American pianist Jim Erickson, performing his own music - a cool, jazzy piece with echoes of McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and other jazz piano greats. The piece was well played, although probably a bit too episodic and fragmented*, and contained some fine ideas that make you want to hear more of his work."


*The reviewer is quite astute. Ibla Foundation offered me a Composer's Award for 2012 and offered a return trip to Carnegie Hall to perform solo piano. All performers are timed to the minute...which is easy with pre-ordained, written music.
Letting me improvise open-ended was an unorthodox presentation. I remember going on stage with Ibla Director, Salvatore Moltisanti and him barking/pleading over applause "Don't go too long!" In a nutshell, I crammed 8 minutes of music into
4 minutes.
I have long been a jazz fan and wanted to have some jazz piano for a celebration
party. I considered pianists I already knew of in town but none were quite the
right fit. I searched the web and found Jim Erickson. I was impressed with his
credentials and more impressed with the clips of his playing from his website. We
went to see him at one of his regular gigs and we asked if he could play our event.
Turned out he was available, his price was fair and we cut the deal. It was among
the best decisions we made for our party as Jim was perfect. He played several of
my favorite standards and kept the party alive for 2 hours. I love his
straight-ahead style. He is a true improvisational master and a great artisan of
jazz piano. Thank you Jim for an unforgettable evening. A&C, Madison, WI
Allen Dines/Celeste Smithers - Personal Testimonial (Oct 4, 2014)

Crossroads review

JIM ERICKSON -
Crossroads


Jim Erickson is proof, if any is needed, that there are major jazz talents performing in the United States outside of New York, Chicago, New Orleans and the West Coast. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the pianist has regularly led trios in the Midwest, but his first CD as a leader features him as an unaccompanied soloist where his versatile creativity shines through.


It is obvious, from the start of the opening “Poinciana,” that Erickson is a two-handed pianist who sounds just fine without bass and drums. His melodic and lush version of “Poinciana” naturally hints at Ahmad Jamal in spots since this song was Jamal’s biggest hit, but it is also given a fresh and lively treatment.
Wayne Shorter’s “Ana Maria” is taken as a moody and thought-provoking ballad while “Body And Soul” is given a slightly dark treatment.
 

The CD really becomes high energy during “Effendi,” a version that, even with touches of Ahmad Jamal, recalls McCoy Tyner in 1965 when he was really stretching himself. Erickson builds upon Tyner’s style, pushing it further during this concise rendition.
“My Favorite Things” was played nightly by Tyner while he was with the John Coltrane Quartet but Erickson’s interpretation is very much his own, with his right hand playing speedy lines over the powerful and rhythmic left hand’s chordings.

Richie Beirach’s “Natural Selection” is relatively obscure but, based on Erickson’s lyrical yet probing version, it deserves to become a post bop standard.
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave,” which is rarely performed by a solo pianist, is given one of its most exciting recordings. Erickson’s rhythmic patterns really add a strong momentum to the song.
 

The first of Jim Erickson’s four originals, “Don’t Look Back,” has a fresh melody along with dense and original chord voicings that move forward the modern mainstream of jazz. It manages to be both complex and catchy.
“Twilight In Moscow” is wistful, has a strong Asian flavor, and is quite haunting while “Twist Of Fate” has a feeling of both resignation and quiet hopefulness.
Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace” and Miles Davis’ playful “U’n’I” are not revived often but both benefit from Erickson’s interpretations.
Concluding this CD is the brief title cut, which serves as a perfect closing summation of the spirited music that the pianist has created.
 
The highly enjoyable Crossroads is an important step forward for Jim Erickson, a pianist who deserves to be much better known.
 

Scott Yanow, author of ten books including Bebop, Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76
Scott Yanow - Jazz Author/Reviewer (Feb 5, 2012)