Pianist Eddie Gripper is an exciting young talent, and one to watch wherever he may decide to call home.
Pianist Eddie Gripper is an exciting young talent, and one to watch wherever he may decide to call home. With his debut album ‘Home’ recently released on Ubuntu Music and causing quite a stir with a superb piano trio that has already called time on their activities, Eddie Gripper is already forging ahead with new musical associations and projects for the future.
With a busy schedule promoting the album as well as working on new music, it was great to take the opportunity to catch up with the pianist and talk about his music, and the path that this taking him on
Your debut album ‘Home’ has been gaining some very favourable reviews, and quite rightly too. Can you tell us a bit about the album and the compositions you wrote for the recording?
Firstly, thanks for your kind words, I’m glad to finally be sharing this project with the world and very happy with the reception that it’s received! The compositions I wrote featured on this record were written between April of 2021 and 2022 and weren’t originally conceived as one conventional album.
These tunes were my first serious dive in composition, and I was writing them mainly as a reaction to personal circumstances at the time. Coming to terms with my recent departure from the student life and trying to make it as a musician all whilst building a new life for myself away from my family home were a real challenge for me.
This along with an unfortunate string of family bereavements led to an intense period of personal growth, forcing me to challenge the very nature of my own material life. ‘Home’ is a reflection of this and embodies the fact of that no matter how dear you may hold something; our human experience is finite, and nothing will ever last for ever.
In hindsight, and almost a year on from the initial date of recording, this album holds happy memories for me. I’d be lying if I said that this music didn’t come from a very disturbed and turbulent place, but I think it’s really beautiful that I can now look back on it and appreciate all the good times and fond memories I’ve made.
The trio play together with a real affinity and well defined group sound. How long had the trio been together prior to the recording?
As a trio, we had been playing for just under a year at the time of recording – It’s safe to say we really hit it off! I had known Ursula for a little longer as we had been studying music at the University together, she joined just as I was preparing to leave, and we have continued playing ever since.
Isaac moved to Cardiff from Portland, Oregon, to do a masters at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in September of 2021 and the three of us first met at a jam session shortly after. We had spent a lot of time playing and experimenting with our own original music, including that of Ursula’s too, forming a band with Daniel Newberry on Tenor Sax called ‘Hiraeth’.
We ended up making it to the semi-finals of the Bucharest International Jazz Competition in the summer of 2022 but due to various complications we never ended up taking part. For this record, Isaac and Ursula were the natural fit. They knew my music well and we were all very comfortable playing with one another; taking risks, reacting in the moment and working towards creating a homogeneous sound for the trio.
Sadly, the album as well as being the trio’s debut is also a farewell as Ursula and Isaac leave the UK to continue their musical journey. This must have made the album a bittersweet experience having built up such an amazing rapport together?
Indeed. We had all grown very close by the end of our tenure together. We all knew deep down that the day of departure was looming and that what we had would soon draw to a close.
That’s partly the reason why I chose to record with this band when we did, to capture that special synergy we had at the time. I’m sure when we all meet again (which we will!) that everything will fall back into place, and it would just be like old times. Fortunately, Ursula is now back in the UK, and she will be touring with me in 2024.
Perhaps you can tell us how you became interested in playing the piano, and jazz in particular?
I first started learning the piano as my second instrument about 10 or so years back (with trumpet being my first study). The piano intrigued me mainly because you have everything laid out, at your disposal all within a hand’s reach – the same can’t be said for the trumpet in which a significant degree of dexterity is required at a far more basic level of playing.
I was also fascinated by harmony and chords, the ability to accompany yourself and, crucially, the capacity to improvise which came more naturally to me on the piano. I trained classically but got the jazz bug when I first moved to Cardiff in 2018. Jazz was the next logical step for me.
In terms of what my interests were on the instrument – I loved creating my own music, inspired by my own experience, rather than playing other people’s music on a note-by-note basis. I started lessons with Huw Warren halfway through my undergrad and since then he has been a core influence over my approach to composition and improvisation.
Why did you choose Cardiff to study, and how do you think that the music education system equips young musicians for a career as creative artists when the course ends?
I feel that the music education system could do with a general overhaul. I got what I needed from Cardiff, and I attribute most, if not all, of what I learned to Dr Charles Wilson, Huw Warren and myself.
Due to the nature of music, you very much get out of what you put in and there has to be somewhat of a hands-off approach to allow for musicians to apply themselves and organically develop individuality within their craft but I do feel the music education system should play more of an active role in teaching the practicalities of running your own business and how to operate as a freelance sole-trader.
As a general observation, I know that a number of my peers and I have felt that institutions could do a lot more to show an interest in their students after they finish their studies, that is in terms of schemes and support for them to build their own careers that doesn’t involve continued higher education (i.e. a masters degree)
Education is an important part of what you do, and having left Cardiff University you too are now involved in teaching. Is teaching and passing your knowledge on to others something that you feel is an important part of being a musician and encouraging the next generation?
A: I feel very strongly about teaching and education within music. The importance of continuing the lineage and actively encouraging the next generation of musicians is not to be understated – whether that’s being active within the scene and supporting your fellow musicians, nourishing pupils from a beginner level upwards or helping mature students to reconnect with music once again.
For me, it’s important to quantify and evaluate my own perception of music. To put into words even the simplest of things can be incredibly useful for my pupils (for example how I go about sight-reading) and even more useful for me to gather my own understanding about how I appreciate music in both an abstract and practical sense.
You have now chosen to base yourself in the city permanently. How do you find the Welsh jazz scene, and the opportunities to perform and present you music?
In and around Cardiff there are some fantastic clubs, societies and bars that host a plethora of local and national artists. The Flute and Tankard, Yardbird, Black Mountain Jazz and Swansea Jazzland are all wonderful venues run by enthusiastic and supportive promoters. I was fortunate enough to host a sell-out launch party back in March and look forward to a number of future dates promoting the record at other venues too.
I’d be lying if I said that the scene hadn’t suffered in the current economic climate that we face. After COVID, just as I was coming up, there was an explosion of live music, and I became involved with a handful of venues across the city as both promoter and performer but sadly my work as a promoter has all but subsided at this current time.
Cardiff is a wonderful place to live and work but I can’t say for certain that I will settle here permanently. After we finish touring and I tie up a few projects I would like to re-assess and see where the wind may take me next!
We have talked about the trio and group sound that the three of you had forged together. As a pianist and composer, who would you say have been particular influences?
This is a tricky question and a question that I’ve been asked a lot as of lately! My influences are constantly changing but if I had to set it in stone, I’d have to say that Huw has been the single greatest influence in my work thus far.
If we consider Huw to be the epicentre, branching out from that would be the compositional/musical mastery of the great pianists Gwilym Simcock, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea – they’d all be up there for sure. Outside of jazz, Paul Simon has been one of the most influential songwriters in my life.
His approach to time and harmony is totally unmatched in the ‘pop-sphere’, in my humble opinion, but his lyrical genius, social commentary and ability to tell a story are something that I specifically try to emulate in my own work. Of more recent times, Chris Thile would be another influence in this regard.
And now the album is out there, what are the plans moving forward. Are you looking to perform the music live with a new trio, or do you have plans to write and perform with a larger ensemble?
I’m currently booking a UK-wide tour for January to March in 2024. I will be touring with Ursula on Bass and a long time friend and collaborator, Patrick Barrett-Donlon, on Kit.
We’ll be playing all the music from my record as well as music from the aforementioned influences with some added surprises along the way! More information to be published about this soon…
I’m currently making plans for my next project, I’m not really at liberty to say what that will be and in what form it may take (mainly due to the fact that I’m still finalising all the details) but I’d like to feature a new ensemble/line-up and perhaps take a new direction with my music.
I’m in the process of composing this music as we speak. I feel that it’s certainly a little more nuanced but develops on the precedent I’ve set with ‘Home’.
For more information visit Eddie Gripper’s website
Click here to read our review of ‘Home’ by Eddie Gripper