Taylor Eigsti has come a long way since he first began playing the piano as a 4-year-old. Raised in Menlo Park and known by locals as a child prodigy who performed with pros such as Dave Brubeck from an early age, Mr. Eigsti is returning to the Peninsula this month for a performance.
The Almanac checked in recently with Mr. Eigsti, now 33 and a full-time jazz pianist living in New York City. He is scheduled to visit his alma mater, Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, to perform with his quartet at a concert on Thursday, March 22.
Mr. Eigsti has had a storied career that has been documented in the archives of this and neighboring papers over the years – as a kid who loved playing Pac Man and shooting hoops in addition to tickling the ivory, and more recently as an accomplished live performer, recording artist and composer.
He says he decided he wanted to be a professional musician as soon as he learned that such a thing was possible. He recalls learning from his dad around the time he was 8 that musicians don't have to pay to perform in front of people, as he'd originally believed; the lucky ones could actually make a living as performers.
He eventually achieved his dream, rising to stardom as a teen, and to date has released seven recordings as bandleader and more than 50 as sideman; he also has multiple Grammy nominations.
Life as a professional musician isn't all glamorous, he notes – he spends about 200 to 250 days a year traveling, and works consistently with 14 or 15 groups – but that's what makes performing special.
"When you have the experience of being on stage and playing – I treat that as a very sacred thing," he says.
He's made a rule for himself that he shares with young would-be musicians, he says. When accepting a gig, you need to get two of three things out of it, he says: good music, good people or good money. "If you follow that format, you end up having a good time no matter where you are, no matter the situation," he says.
Today, Mr. Eigsti divides his time working as a composer, heading a trio or quartet, and working as a sideman in different bands. Each comes with its own rewards and challenges, he says.
Jazz, at its core, is a "social art form," he says. His art takes the form of improvisation about 98 percent of the time. He has to compose on the spot, within a framework set by his other band members. His music serves as a complement to, and a conversation with, the sounds of his collaborators.
He likes leading his own band best, but as a sideman, he brings his own musical personality to the sound of whatever collaboration he's working on.
As a composer, he says, he likes to create music that is informed by the "present" – more broadly, demonstrating an awareness of contemporary music, and more specifically, building a cohesive sonic landscape with his collaborators in any given tune.
Having played music for most of his life, funneling complex emotions into his music can come easier than words, he says. In his musical expressions, he aims to strike a balance between the familiar and the exploratory, for the sake of his audience: "It's nice when you can explore musically, but bring people along with you."
Jazz and other genres of music sometimes cater to audiences who have more background knowledge of the form or know what to look for, and can ignore those listeners who may be less knowledgeable, he says. He uses his energy, dynamics, excitement and set list to create a rewarding performance for those who hear him, he adds.
"I think having a mindfulness of that creates a balance where you can let an audience know that they mean everything," he says.
Mr. Eigsti is scheduled to perform with his quartet on Thursday, March 22, at the Woodside Priory Performing Arts Center, held in honor of the school's 60th anniversary.
The other members of his quartet are Eric Harland, multi-Grammy nominated drummer; Harish Raghavan, bassist; and Julian Lage, guitarist.
The concert begins at 7 p.m. and is preceded by a 6 p.m. reception. It is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required, according to school spokeswoman Kelly Sargent. Occupancy is 425.