Musician - September 2008
: Eric Gruber
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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