Eric Vaughn hits the right notes

David Briggs
Jazz pianist Eric Vaughn is raising funds through kickstarter.com to promote his latest album, Minor Relocation.
07/26/2012

By day Eric Vaughn provides in-home care through West Marin Senior Services, but by night he sheds his delicate touch for that of a hard bebop and swing-playing pianist, preparing for the debut of his new album, Minor Relocation.

The album, which hits shelves August 17, is the sum of all inspiring sounds Mr. Vaughn has absorbed in his five decades as a musician, drawing from John Coltrane, Art Tatum, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. “It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” he said of the album, which he named after his move from Seattle to Marin County.

“I’ve done live club recordings and I’ve done avant garde. This one is straight ahead. It’s not too crazy and it’s not too mellow. It’s just right, I think.”

As a child, Mr. Vaughn was no stranger to musical instruments. His step-father, who played the flute, saxophone and piano, introduced him to his first music lessons when he was nine. But his life as a jazz musician wouldn’t begin until a year later. “My father had a lot of albums, some were R&B, but a lot of it was jazz,” he said. One day while going through the collection, young Mr. Vaughn played a record by an early jazz band called the Three Sounds. These soul jazz and hard bop musicians would be his introduction to the world of jive—along with the piano lessons he received from prestigious American jazz pianist, Sal Mosca. “He taught me jazz without me really knowing it. He taught me melodies, chord changes, and form fairly early on.”

Mr. Vaughn made his first buck playing music at around age 19, playing in club bands in San Francisco. “It was more than a dollar, but it wasn’t much, I can remember that,” he recalled.

He made a living for himself through this and tutoring lessons, and in 1985, eight years after earning his Bachelor’s degree in music and then his Master’s degree in music performance from the University of San Francisco, he headed to Canada, where he lived and played in Vancouver. “I couldn’t work there, so I just played music for 12 years,” he said. After a two-year stint with a blues band, traveling through the rest of Canada from 1990 to 1992, he was ready to move back to the states.

Mr. Vaughn chose Seattle, a city he had never visited. “There wasn’t enough music there,” he said. “That’s when the work started.” From painting to landscaping, he worked where he could in order to make ends meet while continuing to play music. Eventually Mr. Vaughn would find himself working for the bass player of his band, the late Mark Bullis, who is featured on Mr. Vaughn’s new album.
When describing his own sound, Mr. Vaughn notes that he plays differently for different situations. “I’ll sit down to play ballads or [avant garde]. I don’t sit down and play the same thing over and over again,” he said.

This philosophy comes through in Minor Relocation, with each track distinguishable from the next. The title track, cleverly playing off of its name, is composed almost entirely in minor. “Eric’s Samba is a song that I had been thinking about for a while,” Mr. Vaughn said, describing the fifth track. For him, the upbeat, samba-style song is about easy living. Another track recalls a blues tune.

“I listen to everything. You have to. Just recently I had to play “Imagine” by the Beatles for a wedding,” Mr. Vaughn recalled. “I don’t play Beatles music. But it was a nice tune, and who knows? I might use it again.”

Mr. Vaughn believes his listening audience is more sophisticated in general than the average music crowd. “[They’re] not the type that requests punk rock,” he said. But he also sees the diversity of his audience. “Some of the people that listen to my music are those that were never before introduced to the style. They just found it.”

His album has already been produced, but in order to promote the international debut of his music, Mr. Vaughn will need a little help. To contribute or learn more about Mr. Vaughn’s kickstarter campaign, visit kickstarter.com and search for “Eric Vaughn.”