The new year is a time for reflecting back and looking forward, and both were a theme for Menlo Park-raised Taylor Eigsti as he returned to the Peninsula to finish moving things out of his childhood home. Meeting at the Philz Coffee in downtown Palo Alto on the first Thursday of 2019, the pianist/composer/child prodigy emeritus was back in town to help organize the possessions left behind by his mother, Nancy Eigsti, who relocated to North Carolina to live near her brother and on the same coast as her New York City-based son.
This month, Eigsti is back for a pair of concerts with the Peninsula Symphony in which he reunites with a trio of mentors: fellow pianist/composer David Benoit and brothers Chris (bass guitar, trombone) and Dan (drums) Brubeck. The multi-generational all-star concerts on Friday, Jan. 25, at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City and the following night at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, will feature works by Eigsti, Benoit, Bill Evans, Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Dave Brubeck, Dan and Chris' famed late father.
Though only 34, Eigsti has already enjoyed a two-decade musical career. These Peninsula Symphony "Reunion" concerts will be the first retrospective shows he's had, acknowledging and reconnecting with three elders.
"I've had gigs with guys I haven't played with in a long time, but it's never been anything official like this," Eigsti said, in between sips of his Philz Greater Alarm brew. "Mitch (Sardou Klein, Peninsula Symphony's music director) and I were brainstorming about what to do for this program and the number-one thing people here in the Bay Area come up and say to me after shows is that they were at one of the dates I did with Dave (Brubeck) and David (Benoit)," he continued.
Eigsti had also done gigs with the Brubeck Brothers as his rhythm section. So it was just as natural to include them.
"We wanted to celebrate the three families with these concerts," he said.
"Chris is the reason I got into composing," Eigsti went on to recall. "We were on the road, and I saw him writing music on his laptop and thought I wanted to do that myself. David is the reason I wanted to start playing with orchestras. I saw him with the San Francisco Symphony when I was a kid, and it really made big impression on me." (Benoit was such an early role model that Eigsti dressed as him for Halloween in second grade, much to the confusion of his classmates.)
"And Dave taught me early on that you could do this for your whole life and don't have to retire. You could also be well known and famous and have a legacy and still be nice to everyone.
"Chris, Dan and David are like three uncle characters," he added. "I consider them very much like family."
The symbolism of this coming back together just as he's helping his mother uproot from Menlo Park isn't lost on Eigsti.
"I never thought 18 years would go by before I played with Chris and Dan again," he said. "Since then, I've been divorced and had good and bad things happen in my life. It's been crazy, and we're all in different life situations now. There will be a great sense of positivity coming back and doing these. It feels like it will add to the positivity of the new year."
Looking ahead, Eigsti is excited to release his first album in eight years. "Tree Falls in a Forest" is just over half instrumental with vocalists Becca Stevens, Gretchen Parlato and Casey Abrams (Postmodern Jukebox) singing on the other tracks. It ranges from solo piano to quintet with a layered strings and woodwinds orchestra. The two non-originals are a brief duo version of "Nancy" with tenor saxophonist/multi-reed player Ben Wendel (dedicated to his mother, naturally) and a "funky, mysterious, playful" version of the standard "Skylark" that features Abrams.
After spending nearly five years in superstar trumpeter Chris Botti's band (which tours up to 260 days a year), Eigsti says he's looking forward to focusing on his own music and playing with other bandleaders in a more limited time scope. He still has friends and musical colleagues in Northern California and anticipates that he'll continue to return several times a year. The Woodside Priory alumnus also has his annual teaching job at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, where he started as a precocious camper.
"I've been lucky to be able to have a nice following which has given me the ability to perform pretty frequently in the Bay Area," he said. "So I think I'll still be coming out here for the rest of my life, even if my mom's not living out here."
What: "Reunion" (David Benoit, Taylor Eigsti, Chris and Dan Brubeck with the Peninsula Symphony.)
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.
When: Friday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m.
Info: Info: Go to peninsulasymphony.org or call 650-941-5291.
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