Eric Verlinde - Honoring Music’s Core Values
By Steve Griggs

At 10pm, the Tuesday jam session at the Owl and Thistle launches into “Solar.” Eric Verlinde sits Buddha-like on stage behind a battered electric piano tagged with the letters “des,” all that remains of the Fender Rhodes logo. His mouth hangs open, and he nods along with the brisk tempo. Under the dim stained glass ceiling lights, a small audience listens intently. Several have instrument cases next to their chairs, awaiting an invitation. Across the room at the bar, conversations are buried by the saxophone solo bouncing off the brick walls.

Earshot JazzVerlinde’s piano solos explore melodic and rhythmic motives through repetition and variation. His playing doesn’t dazzle with technical fireworks, instead it smolders with joyful energy and balanced clarity. “I don’t always have preconceptions when sitting down to play,” Verlinde says. “But something always happens.”

The tables and chairs in front of the band have filled up by the break. While the band rests, musicians catch up with each other face-to-face. If jam sessions are musical networking events, Verlinde is very connected. In addition to the Owl and Thistle on Tuesdays, he performs at the Scarlet Tree “EntreMundos” session on Monday nights and at Tula’s for the Reggie Goings “Jazz Offering” on the first Sunday afternoon of each month. For several years, he performed with saxophonist Ronnie Pierce at the Whisky Bar. He used to host the Sunday evening jazz sessions at Tula’s and accompany DJ Kat on the Monday vocal showcases.

Verlinde is comfortable in a supporting role. “I like working with vocalists,” he says. “They are the picture. I am the frame.” He played in choirs growing up. “A lyric reaches people, instrumentals don’t.” That doesn’t deter Verlinde from trying to connect through wordless music. He has written over 150 original songs, published 5 of his own recordings (Peace, What Child Is This?, I Remember You, Daily Grind and Firewalker) and performed on more than 20 other recordings.

One of Verlinde’s appreciative band mates is bassist Chuck Kistler. “He draws authentically from many bags – blues, gospel, funk, salsa, swing and bebop,” Kistler says. “He’s got big ears and knows tons of tunes. He listens to and connects with his band mates, which is why he’s so in demand and a joy to play with. I would also add that he has great time and swings like mad.”

Verlinde was born in Everett, Washington, on May 24, 1976, and grew up in Snohomish. As a 6-year-old, he began a decade of piano instruction with Pat Reeves. When he turned 12, he studied percussion. He joined the Valley View Junior High School Jazz Band led by Mike Mines and enjoyed the freedom to improvise. His first real gig came when he was 14, playing music for a wedding. The next year, he produced a concert to raise tuition money needed to attend Frank DeMiero’s Jazz Camp in Edmonds. Piano teacher Kirk Marcey helped expand Verlinde’s skills during high school. A scholarship to the Berklee College of Music took him to Boston for a year.

Verlinde realized that music mastery required hours of practice that need not take place in Boston. Verlinde returned to the Northwest to study at Mt. Hood Community College and work with Chris Bruya and Dave Barduhn, the director of Genesis Vocal Jazz Ensemble. At Bellevue Community College, he toured and won awards for performances with the school’s jazz ensembles and worked with Hal Sherman.

Verlinde appreciates the piano mastery of Oscar Peterson, especially the mid 1960’s recordings titled Exclusively for My Friends with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. “Oscar is at the top of his form – energetic, fun. Oscar is a beast. I love [Art] Tatum sometimes, too, but he’s like a dessert that’s too rich.”

Classical pianist Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg variations carved a deep impression. For five years, Verlinde played the recording on a loop while sleeping to instill the virtuous polyphony into his sub- conscious. In a small band, “bass and horn are jazz versions of Bach two-part inventions.”

“Two parts can create a lot of music.” Verlinde respects the “core values of music – melodic invention, symmetry and aesthetically pleasing devices.” In improvisation, Verlinde “takes material from a composer and plays a game of reinvention. Everything I do relates to that song.”

To maintain technique, Verlinde practices finger calisthenics with two-handed scales and arpeggios from the 1873 book The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises by Charles-Louis Hanon. The book’s prefaces states: “This entire volume can be played through in an hour; and if, after it has been thoroughly mastered, it be repeated daily for a time, difficulties will disappear as if by enchantment, and that beautiful, clear, clean, pearling execution will have been acquired which is the secret of distinguished artists.”

One secret that Verlinde shares freely: “Find a good private teacher and put in the hours.” He tells his students that it takes a long time to hear the music. “The road to mastery is doing something every day and it will add up. It’s like climbing a mountain. If you try to get to the summit in one day, you will quickly encounter obstacles. If you carve a stone block every day to extend steps up the mountain, after a lifetime you will have a path to the top.” For Verlinde, like so many other jazz musicians, the daily stone blocks are basics – listening, transcribing, sight reading, time and learning musical vocabulary.

A brief biography:

At five-years-old, after attending a performance of the “Nutcracker” with its live orchestra and a cast of dancers in colorful costumes, pianist/composer Eric Verlinde begged his family to buy him an instrument. “Of course, I fell in love with it,” he said. “I thought it was one of the most powerful things you could experience, so I wanted to be a part of it.”

At intermission, he walked over to the orchestra pit and peered down at the musicians. “I just totally felt that was what I needed to do,” he said.

That Christmas, his family surprised him with a small electric piano that had a record player attached to it. His parents also saved up to eventually purchase him an upright piano from a local daycare facility. The family’s limited finances did not stop them from encouraging Eric to follow his dream.

Eric was born in Everett, Washington on May 24, 1976 with a bilateral cleft palate, a heart murmur, a broken shoulder and a doctor’s prognosis that he would only live for three days. “My parents didn’t know if I was going to live or if I was going to die right there,” says Verlinde. “I spent a lot of time in hospitals and doctors’ offices.”

Eric runs his own production company, Freedom Jazz Productions. He recently released his fifth CD, entitled “Firewalker,” out now. The album has some trio tunes with Chuck Kistler on bass and Andre Thomas on drums. They are joined by Tony Grasso on trumpet, Brian Kent on saxophone and percussionist Arturo Rodriguez. It is available on CD Baby and iTunes.

Eric has composed more than 150 pieces of music in many different genres, including jazz, gospel, funk, electronic, neoclassical, latin jazz, avant-garde, rock, R&B and rap. He has played all over the world, in such places as Paris, Berlin, London, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hawaii and Vancouver, B.C. Eric currently makes his home in Seattle with his wife Mitzi. He spends his time teaching by day and playing at night. For a list of his current gigs, click here.

Eric grew up in Snohomish with his parents and two younger sisters, Sarah and Jennifer. His mother, Blanca, an immigrant from Costa Rica, moved to the Northwest when she was 16 and went to nursing school in Everett. His father, Arthur, grew up in Seattle, and has been a landscaper for the Evergreen State Fairgrounds for almost 30 years. Although his mother is partial to classical music and Tijuana brass, his father craves classic rock and hard rock tunes. “My dad plays the meanest air guitar this side of the Mississippi,” says Eric.

As a child, Eric’s parents would often take him to shows and concerts, among other cultural events. “I was very much immersed in the arts growing up,” he said. Eric’s Aunt Maggie recognized her nephew’s musical aptitude and advised him to take classical lessons with local piano teacher Pat Reeves, which he did from ages 6-16. Eric and his family would perform odds and ends for Pat in exchange for lessons. Eric studied and grew in classical music, excelling in competitions every year. “Pat taught me a lot,” said Eric. “She taught me abo ut all of the good things that go to music, all of the things that make music special.” With Pat’s schooling, he learned about dynamics, phrasing and articulation, but mostly the feeling that goes behind the music. “That became a very personal quest for me to start playing using emotions—using music to express my emotions and using emotions to express music,” said Eric.

When he was 12-years-old, Eric wanted to play in his school’s band. Without a piano in the concert band, Eric chose to pick up the drums, playing timpani, bells, snare drums and percussion for four years. He joined Mike Mi ne’s Valley View Junior High School Jazz Band in Snohomish. “It was the first time I got to improvise. I got to make up my own things and it was cool. It was accepted,” said Eric. “It wasn’t as restrictive as classical.”

While Eric was in the band, Mines gave him tapes of Count Basie to listen to.
“That’s where I started to be really interested in Jazz,” said Eric. With his early interest in music, Eric became a member of the National Music Teacher’s Association at age 14. Two years later, after working long, hard hours for eight months on a Shostakovich piano concert for a competition and coming in second, Eric found that he favored the immediate gratification of Jazz over classical music.

V-ManTo raise enough money to attend Frank Dimerio’s Jazz Camp, Eric performed his own self-promoted concert, renting his high school’s performing arts center and hiring an opening act. At the camp, he met all sorts of musicians who would mentor him. One of his mentors was Kirk Marcey, Eric’s piano teacher in high school, who was influential along the path of Eric’s career, teaching him about voicings and how to improvise. Eric participated in jazz choir and jazz band in high school. After high school, he received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he attended for a year to further his studies in jazz.

Another of his mentors was Dave Barduhn, director of Genesis. Eric toured with him around the country, performing about 180 gigs every school year--some with Marc Murphy, Louise Rose and New York Voices, and recorded two CDs. When Eric was a student at Bellevue Community College, he won the award for best pianist in the college division at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. After moving back to Seattle, he performed with Jon Fedchock and Randy Brecker in the Bellevue Community College Big Band, making appearances in Paris and Berlin.

Eric continues to express himself through writing and recording music. He strives to say exactly what he wants in music, surpassing technique and physical and mental boundaries. Eric maintains no preconceived notions of what the music should be. He plays what’s happening in the moment.
“I let the music play me, rather than me playing the music,” said Eric.

-by Jessica Davis