Saxophonist and composer Eric Darius is on a mission. “I want my music to be a vehicle for change and to transcend boundaries from age to race. I believe my music can make a difference in the world,” states the commanding and strikingly handsome 20-something musician, composer, and performer, known for his dynamic and exhilarating live shows. Darius’ explosive arrival on the contemporary jazz scene at age 17 caused a frenzy.
This was not a surprise as the ambitious saxophonist, who has shared the stage with everyone from Prince and Wynton Marsalis, to George Benson and Brian McKnight, had just released an auspicious recording debut and several years prior had already made an appearance at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Garnering accolades from critics, musicians and fans alike, there seemed to be a consensus that this young man was bringing a sense of history but yet a youthful and forward-thinking approach to the genre.
Eric Darius, who has scored a #1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Charts and several top ten hits, has steadily proven to be anything but your typical ‘smooth jazz guy.’ The savvy business school grad, whose ipod features a mix of everyone from John Coltrane and Bob Marley to Jay-Z, The Rolling Stones and Alicia Keys, confesses, “Contemporary jazz is the genre that has embraced my music, but I see myself as a musician first. I play every style of music from Jazz, R&B, Pop and Reggae to Hip-hop, Rock and Gospel. As I continue to evolve and grow musically, it’s the journey to explore new things that keeps me excited and hungry to do what I do.”
On June 29, 2010, Eric Darius will release his Shanachie Entertainment debut, On A Mission. Danny Weiss, VP of Jazz A&R for Shanachie states, “If you think of jazz as a wonderful tree whose trunk is its great tradition and whose branches are the never ending innovations of its young disciples, then Eric Darius is the newest branch of that tree. He can swing like the masters and funk like a hip-hopper; truly the blossoming of tomorrow’s jazz.” The seeds have been sown and Eric Darius unearths his talents not only as a saxophonist, but equally important, as a composer and co-producer on On A Mission. His fifth album as a leader features all originals with the exception of Herbie Hancock’s classic Headhunters tune “Butterfly” and a new original from Pieces of a Dream’s James Lloyd.
The saxman, who first started experimenting with writing at age thirteen, cites Herbie Hanock and Stevie Wonder among his biggest compositional influences. Darius acknowledges that music has always been an outlet for him to express his emotions and experiences. The Tampa-based musician says, “Stevie Wonder is incredible and I love the way his music can’t be categorized. The same is true for Herbie Hancock. With Herbie, his whole music catalog varies from album to album and even to this day, he continues to evolve as an artist and is not afraid to take chances artistically.”
On A Mission unites Eric Darius with a list of heavyweight contenders from across the music industry. Darius’ most ambitious and stellar recording yet joins him with veteran chart-topping instrumentalist Rick Braun, as well as five distinctive producers; Rex Rideout (Ledisi, Angie Stone, Jill Scott and Luther Vandross), R&B and hip hop producer Micah Otano (American Idols’ Fantasia Barino, Twista, Shanice), Chris Andrew (Sillan & Young), James Lloyd (Najee, Pieces of a Dream) and Rohan Reid (Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley’s Wailers). “Each producer brings a different sound to the mix and each one has the ability to bring out my different musical sides. Together they all help to complete who I am,” says Eric.
A special honor for Eric Darius was the request by Grammy-winning producer and engineer Peter Mokran to mix On A Mission. Mokran has collaborated with everyone from Michael Jackson, Prince, R Kelly, Christina Aguilera and the Pussy Cat Dolls to Quincy Jones, Toni Braxton and Snoop Dogg. Darius comments, “It was a joy to have the chance to work with him. Peter brings a whole new sound and dynamic to the music he mixes. Having his legendary touch on this album was truly an honor for me.”
The highest praise maestro Duke Ellington bestowed on people or music he loved was the phrase ‘beyond category.’ Expanding on this concept, Eric Darius sets out to make an album of purely good music fusing all of the music that has inspired him along the way. A particular mission of Eric’s was to capture the same energy and vibe of his live shows in this studio recording.
“In the past I have tried to tailor my recordings to fit a certain sound or style that fits within the boundaries of what contemporary jazz is ‘supposed to be,’” explains Darius. “This time around, I scrapped all the rules and said ‘I want to make music my way that best defines me as an artist!’” Highlights on On A Mission include the deeply personal “My Prayer for Haiti,” steeped in pain, joy, and the hope of tomorrow. The melancholy and spine-tingling ballad takes listeners on an emotional journey. Darius’ honest and raw emotion transcend every note, illustrating his depth as both a player and composer. The saxophonist (whose father hails from Haiti) has plans to travel to the beautiful and devastated Caribbean country this Summer. “The earthquake was a major tragedy for my family,” shares the eloquent and soft-spoken musician. “There was a lot of panic and worry for a while, but fortunately all of my family members in Haiti are alive. Some of them do not have jobs or homes right now, and it has been a very tough time, so I wanted to write a tribute not just for my family, but for all Haitian people.
On A Mission also features a memorable version of Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” which Herbie recorded with The Headhunters in the 70s. Darius does a very hypnotic and rhythmically free-flowing version of the tune featuring his pal and trumpeter, Rick Braun. Herbie would be proud. Darius and Braun’s kinship can be heard in their magnetic and joyous interplay throughout. “I chose to record ‘Butterfly’ on this album because not only is it one of my favorite Herbie compositions, but also because I like what a butterfly symbolizes. Butterflies start off as larvae and then evolve into cocoons and once they are free, they spread their wings and take flight. At this point in my career, I feel like that butterfly symbolizes myself, and I am now ready to spread my wings and to go somewhere new musically.”
Eric Darius’ approach to playing is muscular, visceral, imaginative, technically proficient and soulfully free-spirited. It is evident that he is in his element when his reed presses his lips. The joy he derives from playing is evidenced on such songs as his original dance-inducing multi-layered reggae number “Back to My Roots” co-written with Rohan Reid and “Uptown Swagger,” written by James Lloyd of Pieces of a Dream. Bridging the gap between, jazz, funk and R&B, Darius and Lloyd create a serious groove that is sure to skyrocket up the charts. “I think one of the staples of what I do is my live show; it is young and energetic! I wanted to bring this element to this project. There is often a big disconnect from people’s live shows and studio albums. I want people to be able to close their eyes and feel like we are playing right in front of them,” exclaims Darius. His unbridled passion can be heard on the song “Let’s Go,” which he co-wrote with producer and keyboardist Micah Otano and Mike Barkulis (in fact four of the ten songs on the CD were co-written with Otano and Barkulis). With amplified rock guitars and thumping bass lines, R&B vocals and a hip hip hook, the groove-happy “Let’s Go” sounds like a ready-made top 40 R&B hit. Darius and Otano collaborated with one another on Eric’s last recording and first met while on tour with Brian Culbertson. “I think that Micah and I are a perfect match, because we both come from the same place musically. We both have an understanding and appreciation for all genres of music and like to push musical boundaries.”
Hailing from a musical family in New Jersey and raised in Tampa where he still lives, Eric Darius realized his calling for music at an early age. “ I remember being nine and hearing a saxophonist play at my church. I instantly loved the sound…I remember being blown away by the soul and emotion of the instrument. It was as if I could almost hear the words and lyrics with each note being played…it was at that point that I fell in love with the instrument. The saxophone has a way of reaching people in a way that no other instrument does. It is the closest to the human voice.” Darius is one of those musicians who was fortunate to benefit from music programs in the school system. He shares, “It is important to me that these types of music programs remain available for children. One of my goals is to expose young kids to music with substance and to help make them aware that music can be an outlet for their emotions…that it can be a positive influence in their lives. By age eleven—after only playing for one year—Eric was chosen to be in Sonny LaRosa and America’s Youngest Jazz Band, which consisted of young musicians, ages five to twelve. The group toured the country and even played at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Throughout Eric’s young but already dynamic career, he’s had the tremendous opportunity to travel and perform worldwide with numerous groups. Even as a college student he had the fortune to travel internationally with the South Florida Jazztet (The University of South Florida is where he earned a degree in Business). The much in demand saxmans’ worldwide gigs include Japan, Indonesia, London, France and Italy, among numerous other countries. He was also just recently tapped by Jason Miles and the Grover Washington, Jr. estate to play Grover’s music for a series of sold out shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo.
Darius concludes, “As a young person into jazz, it is important for me that the music stays alive and remains relevant in today’s music scene. I am trying to bridge the gap and create music that appeals to all age demographics, especially the high school and college kids. I am bringing them music that they can relate to. I strive to make music that is always true to myself, and hopefully that will reach people.” His friend and mentor, Dave Koz, may have summed it up best…“Eric’s energy and musicality are undeniable. He’s fusing Jazz with Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul, and Rock for a new sound that’s exciting and truly innovative!”
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