Jason Yeager: Framingham’s young jazz man
By Chris Bergeron/METROWEST DAILY NEWS STAFF
Posted Mar 13, 2011 @ 02:00 PM Last update Mar 14, 2011 @ 01:52 PM
There is a moment during Jason Yeager’s solo piano rendition of “In Pursuit” when the music erupts in a burst of excitement that seems to encompass all the promise of his young life.
The 24-year-old Framingham musician will share that jubilant energy Tuesday, March 15, at the Regattabar in Cambridge at a release party for “Ruminations,” the debut CD by the Jason Yeager Trio and special guests.
For a kid who got his first toy keyboard at 4 years old, An Evening with the Jason Yeager Trio is another big step in a musical journey of endless possibilities.
Yeager, bassist Tal Gamlieli and drummer Michael Gleichman will be playing primarily from the eight tracks of “Ruminations,” which was released March 1 by Inner Circle Music. They’ll be joined by guests Aubry Johnson on vocals, Mike Tucker on tenor sax and Vivek Patel on flugelhorn.
Yeager began composing “Ruminations” in 2007, about the time he began playing with Gamlieli and Gleichman whom he credits with providing the “personal chemistry to help create music that flows as we express ourselves as a group.”
“There’s a lot of musical trust and friendship. I think we’re really good friends; like family who can finish each other’s sentences. In portions of our music, people will hear how we really complement each other,” he said.
He’s incorporated into his songs chacarera rhythms he absorbed studying in Argentina, a tribute to jazz giant George Gershwin, a musical meditation inspired by a Buddhist chant he heard during a retreat in Vermont and all the eclectic influences that come from studying music since he was 7.
“Hopefully our music will touch listeners. I try to make music that’s personal for me but moving and accessible,” said Yeager from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he’s establishing himself as a working musician.
After years of playing together, he said the trio has developed a shared intuition that’s let them imbue the CD’s eight songs with “melodies that are singable and interesting harmonies yet conveys a sense of mystery and darkness.”
“I think every listener will take something different from ‘Ruminations.’ We’re trying to contribute something new. I’m not out there to write pop music and sell a million records,” said Yeager.
Born and raised in Framingham, he remembered being drawn to music after his uncle Leonard Kram gave him the toy keyboard when he was 4. He started taking piano lessons at 7, and began writing his own music within a few years.
Shortly afterward, his parents, Peter Yeager and Kathy Kram, professors at Boston University and Boston University School of Management, respectively, bought him a used Baldwin upright piano and remember him sitting on a phone book, practicing chords. Peter Yeager said his son was an unusually imaginative child who used to script and perform fantasy plays with neighborhood pals. Yeager suspects something in his family’s background predisposed him to music. He said his grandmother Elly Kram had been an aspiring classical pianist and he recalled listening to “an oldies radio station listening to the Rolling Stones with my dad and marveling at how good the songs made me feel.” Growing up, he played second base and shortstop in the Framingham Baseball League and practiced kenpo karate.
While in junior high school, Yeager studied piano at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston with Dan Loschen whom he credited for “opening my world by showing me music was a valid way to express myself.”
Now assistant chairman of the Jazz Department, Loschen described Yeager as “a real joy to work with….Jason had perseverance to master the assigned pieces and a real passion for music. He might be the most outstanding student I’ve had in 13 years,” he said. “Being a jazz musician can be a tough road. But Jason has the ambition and drive to really do something special.”
For high school, Yeager attended Milton Academy. He graduated in 2010 from a prestigious five-year double degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from Tufts in international relations and from NEC with a bachelor’s degree with honors in music.
Over the years Yeager has been taught by several influential master pianists who’ve become mentors including Danilo Perez, Fred Hersch and Ran Blake. Since graduating from college, Yeager has lived in Brooklyn, cobbling together “a patchwork of activities” to sustain himself as he worked on “Ruminations.” In addition to performing in Big Apple jazz clubs, he’s provided musical accompaniment for an off-Broadway play, played in for a rock band and gives piano lessons.
Yeager shares the belief of his piano teacher and mentor Danilo Perez, a faculty member at Berklee College of Music, that music can promote positive change and social justice. He volunteered last year with a program Perez established in Panama, teaching music to children in impoverished communities. And his CD’s final song, “Lullaby for a Better World World,” is dedicated to his hope for a world “free from poverty, violence, injustice and hate.”
A legendary pianist, Blake described Yeager as “a special person and an incredible composer and musician.”
“I feel Jason is a very intuitive musician. He has a wonderful ear. He’s exciting technically but he doesn’t parade his technique. Then he surprises you like a thunderbolt and knocks you off your feet,” said Blake, a Newton resident who received a MacArthur “genius” grant.
After witnessing Yeager’s early success, Blake said it’s exciting to wonder what sort of musician he’ll mature into by the age of 30.
“Jason can be unpredictable. For 10 minutes he can be very competent and suddenly a thunderbolt comes and he’s extraordinary,” said Blake. “I think there’s a potential to be somebody very, very important. I think there’s a potential for genius.”
WHAT: An Evening With The Jason Yeager Trio, a CD release party for “Ruminations” WHEN: Tuesday, March 15, 7:30 p.m. WHERE: Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge COST: $16
INFO: 617-395-7757, www.regattabarjazz.com Copyright 2011 The MetroWest Daily News. Some rights reserved