- 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.
Verlinde’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:
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,”
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
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.
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