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Interview with Vocalist Peter Eldridge - Part Four

Transcribed from a Skype Conversation with Charlie Christenson on June 7th, 2011


  • CC: You're teaching jazz singers at the Manhattan School of Music and have been for many years. Jazz started out as popular music embraced by the general public, now it's more art music appreciated by the educated and interested. Do you see it in those terms, and what do you say to students who want to be jazz musicians in the current scene?

    PE: The business end of things can be a downer, and it can be strange, but I think it's a particularly interesting and satisfying time to be a musician. With the internet, specifically YouTube, you can see anything. You're exposed to so many kinds of music and you have the opportunity to see old, new, esoteric, straight ahead, accessible, and in-accessible music. I think it's building a fairly sophisticated listener.

    So, jazz being a more sophisticated art form, people are going to get burned out on "stupid pop music." And that's coming from a lover of pop music. The ear candy pop music you hear in the car is easy to get over pretty quickly. And younger people want something original and new and a little more passionate, and I think that's where jazz comes in.

    And with the "Jazz Police" not having the impact they had regarding what's jazz –"that's not jazz because that's not swinging" – jazz is a continuously evolving art form. So that whole side of things is going away too, which I think is great, because that was getting old fast. People were deciding what's jazz and what isn't. Even those people right now are going, "this is original and fresh, and this could very well be jazz. Even though it doesn't sound anything like Miles Davis or Ornette Coleman.”

    Although it's crazy right now, I think it's a pretty exciting time to be a musician.

    There's a lot of other people trying to be jazz musicians too, because there's a lot of people. At the same time, if you're really passionate about what you do, even if it's not something that Bob and Ronda who live on Long Island are going to like, passion resonates with people whether they get it or not. If you need to say it, it gets to people. They may not understand it, but they respect it.

  • CC: So, what's next for Peter Eldridge? I know you're writing a musical, but what else?

    PE: After doing this for the last 20 years, and also with my parents leaving the earth, I see my own mortality like I’ve never seen it before. And I’m like "okay, what am I going to do with the time that I have now?" And I get the New York Voices, and I know what that is and now it's time to shake things up and try new things that I haven't done before to see what feels really good.

    I respect and admire everyone in the Voices, but being in a group, we've all had our good days and bad days. Being part of a cooperative, making group decisions, and trying to keep everyone happy, I think we've done a really respectable job of it, and everyone in the group wants to nurture and protect each other. But a group is a group, and it's great to do things outside of a situation like that for your own creative process. And to bring things back into the group that you might not have thought of otherwise.

    On a personal basis it's important for me to try other things. I jumped into the land of scoring film, a documentary called No Job for a Woman, about the first generation to be in the thick of it, during WWII. I knew that it would be biting off more than I could chew since I was so green to the whole soundtrack world. So I started collaborating and came to terms with the idea that less is more. When we started, I brought in all these pieces that I thought might be appropriate for something like this, and basically I got done playing all of this stuff, and it was just like, "okay, this piece right here has enough cues in it for about ten parts of the movie." I just learned so much in terms of how little you need to carry a scene. And what works dramatically and what doesn't. That was a real eye-opener.

    I'm writing this musical with my friend Cheri Coons, who's a playwright, lyricist, and composer living in the Chicago area. It's a musical about the life and times of Gustav Klimt, and his relationship with a married woman who became the subject of a painting entitled “Adele Bloch-Bauer 1” which is considered the "Mona Lisa of Austria."It's about how art was changing and becoming more provocative during Klimt’s lifetime.

    I'm learning a lot about the mechanics of writing a musical through Cheri, like why a certain song has to end a certain way because of the scene we’re going into. As the composer, I think I have the easier job of the two of us, because what makes or breaks a musical, from what I understand, is the book and the lyrics. I think if a musical falls short, nine times out of ten, it's going to be the book that takes the blame. I'm just having a ball, and Cheri is having a bit more of a roller coaster of a time.

    I'm doing a duo with bassist Matt Aronoff. We started recording a project a few months ago, and we're doing a tour of the East Coast. We did a week in Latvia, where we were the special guest of a concert there. I thought at first that we would be doing stripped down versions of my tunes, but it has evolved into a collaboration. It's not just tunes from my other albums. What we do stands alone as a band.

    I’m going to devote the Summer to writing. I did a couple of solo concerts on the West Coast and I was scared to death to do them. I wondered how it could ever be enough to carry a whole evening. And thankfully, it worked, and it’s obviously cheaper to put on the road. Would I love to go out with a quartet all the time? Absolutely. But I like these other ways too.

  • CC: Like Theo Bleckmann going out with looper and a box of toys?

    PE: Oh, that'd be great.

    That's kind of the extent of it now. The New York Voices continue to be busy during certain times of the year. It gives us an opportunity to be together but have time for our own projects.

    We're doing concerts with the Manhattan Transfer, and I would be lying if I said that wasn't a dream come true. I've loved them since I was very young. If you ever told me in college that I'd be singing "Birdland" with the Manhattan Transfer, I would have been like "yeah, sure." But here we are. And it's really fun.
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