Featured Musician
Jazz Calendar
CD Reviews
JSO Hall of Fame
About Us
Contact Us
Upcoming Events
Getting Involved
Jazz Links

Featured Musician - September 2008

Name : Eric Gruber

Eric Gruber

Instrument: Bass

Early Years/Education:  I've lived in Portland for six years but I’m from all over the Northwest. I've lived in southern Oregon and eastern Washington. Went to North Central High School in Spokane, Washington. Started piano at six and hated it. My mom said, you're going to regret (quiting) this someday. My mom plays a little piano and guitar. I started playing violin at seven or eight. I got pushed and the violin fell and broke. Then, I wanted to play cello, but the school didn't have a cello. They did have an old dusty bass in the corner. That's what I wound up playing. When I was ten my parents bought me a plywood bass, which was twice as big as I needed at the time. I basically grew into it. I play an old Bavarian bass now.

In high school I played for the vocal jazz group because they needed a bass player. My high school didn't have a jazz band, so they took kids from the orchestra. This was when I became formally introduced to jazz. A turning point for me was when I attended the “Frank De Miro Jazz Camp” in Eastern Washington. The camp was mostly geared to the vocal jazz students, but they taught instrumentalists, too. At camp I studied with Zak Mathews. By the end of high school I knew playing the bass was what I wanted to do with my life. My sister, Wendy Hunt, is a classical vocalist, an amazing soprano.

I decided to pursue jazz in college, attending the University of Northern Colorado and Whitworth College in Washington. In 2000, I won the solo bass competition at the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival. I eventually received my Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance at Portland State University. At PSU, I studied with Glen Moore; he was more of a mentor than a teacher.

I learned positioning from various teachers, but I really developed my style from listening and playing around Portland.

Bands: The bands I currently play with are: Devin Phillips and New Orleans Straight Ahead, the Oregon Jazz Orchestra, Darrell Grant's Truth and Reconciliation Quartet, Andrew Oliver Sextet, Ben Darwish Trio, and the Farnell Newton/Marcus Reynolds Quintet.

Musical Influences: First of all Ray Brown. I spent an entire summer with him in the form of a CD Walkman ... the best private lesson in my career as a musician. Brown's “New Two Bass Hits” really changed the sound of my playing. Even now, I try and play like Ray Brown. Christian McBride is another huge influence. Then there's John Coltrane, Scott La Faro, Bill Evans, the “Frank De Miro Jazz Camp”...three summers worth, Glen Moore, Darrell Grant, Alan Jones, Dave Holland and too many to list.

Most Satisfying Experience: As a member of Devin Phillip's band, I got to tour West Africa as a “World Ambassador of Music” through a State Department program called “Rhythm Road.” We were playing an event in Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The US Ambassador had taken a local school that had been shut down and got corporate sponsors and other funding to re-open it. The event was the re-opening ceremony. There must have been seven to eight hundred children there under the age of twelve, very high energy. We played and these kids surrounded the stage, a sea of smiling faces. At that moment while we were playing, we realized this is why we're here ... the exchange of cultures, the demonstration that we're here to be friends, that was a satisfying experience!

Favorite Recordings: The newer stuff I'm listening to now would include: The Bad Plus, “Suspicious Activity”; Branford Marsalis, “Braggtown” and “Footsteps of Our Fathers”; Chris Potter, “Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard”; Christian Mc Bride, “Live at Tonic” and “Parker's Mood”; Dave Holland, “Prime Directive”; Joshua Redman, “Back East” and “Momentum”; and Keith Jarrett, “Bye Bye Blackbird.” The recordings from my past are: Ray Brown's “Something for Lester,” ”New Two Bass Hits” (I learned every note on that recording), and “Super Bass” (with Christian Mc Bride and John Clayton; John Coltrane's “Blue Train” and ”Giant Steps”; and all the recordings that Bill Evans made with Scott La Faro. Some non-jazz listening includes music from Iron and Wine, Postal Service, Band of Horses, Decemberists, Ben Folds and Ben Harper.

Discography: Devin Phillip's “Wade in the Water”; the soon to be released “live” trio recording with Ben Darwish that we just did at Jimmy Mak's;  Andrew Oliver Sextet CD, “Otis Stomp”; the “Fiction Junkies” self-titled CD, 2005, and at Whitworth College I did several recordings. I'm not on a lot of recordings, I'm the guy that comes along after the recordings and becomes the bass player in the band and then is on the subsequent releases. 

Currrent Gigs: With Andrew Oliver Sextet at Imbibe in Portland, 9/4 at 6:30, and 9/13 at 5 pm;     With Andrew Oliver Sextet at Vinideus Wine Bar in Portland 9/12 at 8 pm;  w/Ben Darwish Trio at Slabtown Festival in Portland, 9/13 8 pm; with Shelly Rudolph at the Living Room Theater, 9/24, 3 pm; with Devin Phillips and New Orleans Straight Ahead, 9/5, Street of Dreams, 8 pm; and a Hawaiian tour of college campuses, 9/25-10/3.  

Future Gigs: With Andrew Oliver Sextet at Vinideus Wine Bar, 12/6 2 pm; with the Bridgetown Sextet on KMHD's Homegrown Live 12/9, 6:30 pm; with the Bridgetown Sextet at Jimmy Mak's, 12/9, 6:30 pm.

Future Plans: I've always thought of moving to New York. The first time I went there I liked the city but it's too busy for me. I'd like to make connections all over and be able to tour but still live here. I played a jam session in New York last Monday and played with Wynton Marsalis ... it could happen.

Other: I think drummer Alan Jones is the most influential guy in Portland. When I solo I try and sound more like a sax player, draw people in, with high energy ... I sweat a lot when I do it.

Bassist Dennis Caiazza: “Eric is a young player with a new bass sound.”

-- by Rita Rega


Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon