Born: August 16, 1959 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Ellery Eskelin was born on August 16th, 1959 and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. At age ten he began playing the tenor saxophone inspired by his mother Bobbie Lee who played Hammond B3 organ professionally in Baltimore in the early sixties. Eskelin earned a bachelor's degree in music from Towson University in Baltimore after which he spent a year and a half on the road with swing era trombonist Buddy Morrow. In 1983 Eskelin moved to New York City and began studies with saxophonists George Coleman and David Liebman while performing with a wide variety of musicians from the jazz world.
Eskelin's recorded output begins in 1987 with the first of three recordings by the cooperative group Joint Venture for the German record label Enja which began his exposure on the European international touring circuit. Eskelin formed the first of many projects as a leader beginning with a trio comprised of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes, releasing Setting The Standard (Cadence Jazz) in 1988 and Forms (Open Minds) in 1990. This group endeavored to combine it's roots in the jazz tradition with various concepts of independence and role changing in an attempt to play freely but with strict attention to harmony, time and form. Further explorations of form and structure took place with a short lived group featuring Joe Daley on tuba and Arto Tuncboyaciyan on bakdav drums and percussion. This group recorded Figure of Speech for the Soul Note label in 1993. In 1992, an important and ongoing musical relationship with drummer Joey Baron began. The group Baron Down (instrumentation of drums, trombone and saxophone) was formed and opened Eskelin's ears to further possibilities concerning context, musical roles and independence. Joey Baron's Baron Down toured yearly in Europe and made three recordings between 1991 and 1995.
In 1992 Eskelin produced a solo saxophone recording titled Premonition (prime source) which opened up musical possibilities with regard to phrasing on the saxophone which he then applied on a larger scale to his compositions for groups resulting in music based largely on structural concerns. Also during this time Eskelin became increasingly interested in exploring new and unusual instrumentation in an attempt to place the saxophone in unique contexts for improvising. In 1994 he formed his current working band including accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black. Eskelin's compositions for this group introduce a fundamental shift in the relationship between written and improvised material ranging from seamless flow to high contrast and juxtaposition in an effort to give each piece a unique form. The fact that the group is not restricted to acting as a rhythm section with soloist also frees each musician to change roles with great agility. To date Eskelin has written over 50 compositions for this group, each of which has been documented on a series of releases on the Swiss hatHUT record label. The band tours regularly and has performed hundreds of concerts in the US, Canada and throughout Europe.
Other side projects include a group featuring guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Kenny Wollesen dedicated to the music of Gene Ammons which released The Sun Died (Soul Note) in 1996 and performed at major festivals in Europe. Eskelin also tours and has recorded with Dutch drummer Han Bennink having released Dissonant Characters (hatOLOGY). In 2000 Eskelin formed a special ensemble consisting of strings, vibraphone and saxophone performing completely improvised music documented on Vanishing Point (hatOLOGY). Over the years Eskelin has developed a number of important associations with musicians such as Joey Baron, Gerry Hemingway, Mark Helias and most recently Sylvie Courvoisier and Vincent Courtois. As a side-person Eskelin has worked with a broad cross section of jazz, avant-pop and new-music figures such as organist Brother Jack McDuff, composer Mikel Rouse, guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, oud player and composer Rabih Abou-Khalil, drummer Daniel Humair and the pseudo-group The Grassy Knoll among many others.
Eskelin's recordings as a leader and co-leader (there are currently twenty) have been named in Best of the Year critics' polls in the New York Times ,The Village Voice , and major jazz magazines in the US and abroad. He also appears on over forty recordings as a side person. DownBeat Magazine named Eskelin as one of the 25 Rising Stars for the Future in its January 2000 issue (...young players who not only insure the music's survival but promise to take it to the next level) as well as including him in the Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition category of their Annual Critics Poll in 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Eskelin was also a nominee for the prestigious Jazzpar award in 2003.