I first became aware of Elliott Sharp‘s music about five years ago. My friend Jason Price recommended his stuff to me. (And definitely click on that link to Jason’s site. He’s one of the most interesting and creative musicians on the scene right now. More on that in a later post.)
I found youtube clips of Elliott playing guitar with blues bands, improvising freely on both guitar and saxophone, leading his own ensembles, then reports about his amazing string quartets and orchestra music, his involvement with the punk scene, his approach to jazz standards, film scores, commercials, and on and on. It seemed there was nothing he wasn’t involved with. He also has an interest in just intonation and has written many pieces with alternate tunings. Further, he’s a bit of science geek and that interest often guides his music.
But beyond the phenomenal breadth of his creative output what really blew me away was how listenable his music is. Ranging from sweet and melodious to some of the harshest and noisiest stuff I’ve ever heard, the common thread running through his work is that it is music meant to be listened to. That may seem like a redundant thing to say, but it’s hard to write or improvise music that really works on an aural level. It’s much easier to create music that lends itself to philosophical discussion or analysis, whether theoretically or culturally. Elliott is one of the few modern composers/improvisers that I actually LISTEN to on a regular basis, whether in the car or with headphones. I like that about his music and I also like the freedom with which he moves between different settings and genres. As I’ve struggled over the years to figure out how to fit my own eclectic output into the marketplace Elliott has given me the courage to just pursue my own work in any way possible, without wasting energy worrying about how to categorize it.
After a few years of following his work I contacted Elliott to see if he’d be interested in writing me a solo marimba piece. I’ve commissioned a nice series of pieces from Charles Wuorinen, Bob Morris, Caleb Burhans, Stuart Smith, and David Saperstein, but none of them allow for improvisation and I really wanted a piece that might include some improvisation or at least some flexibility for the performer. Elliott was game and we met a few times to discuss the project.
We really hit it off. Not only do we share similar musical interests, but we’re both in the middle of balancing a life as creative musicians while raising two young kids. Elliott adores his children and is clearly as able a father as he is a musician. We’ve shared many thoughts about the complexity of our lives now that the children are present.
At some point I mustered up the courage to ask him if he’d be interested in playing a show with me. I was prepared for him to say no because of his busy schedule but to my pleasant surprise and honor he said yes. I contacted the folks at The Tank and they agreed to an evening. To say I’m deeply honored would be an understatement. I regard Elliott as unquestionably one of the most fluid and modern musicians in the world right now and a tremendous inspiration. Playing with him is literally a dream come true. I know I have much to learn so I’m going into the concert with my ears and mind open and my concentration high. So long as I’m focusing on the music rather than the situation something magical should happen.