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Jazz Trumpeter Eric Jacobson on the Language of Improvisation

Leiko Napoli
Trumpeter Eric Jacobson

For some people, jazz is life. Trumpeter Eric Jacobson is one of those people.

Locals may know him as part of the Wisconsin Conservatory’s jazz sextet We Six, and as a regular with Latin jazz band De La BuenaBut Jacobson has also performed nationally with the likes of Grammy winners Brian Lynch, Benny Golson and Tito Puente, Jr. He's produced two live albums and a studio album, with an additional studio album Discover coming out soon.

In addition to gigging, Jacobson is in charge of booking local and national acts for the newly renovated Jazz Estate on the east side, and he runs Conservatory jazz combos and teaches. He comes from a family of trumpeters and started playing when he was in third grade. But it was seeing live jazz that really impressed him.

"One of the main reasons why I'm playing music is actually going out and seeing a trumpet player by the name of Dizzy Gillespie. I got to see him when I was in sixth grade, and it changed my life. I can remember telling my parents, 'that's what I want to do!' watching him play," he recalls.

Over the years, Jacobson's dedication to practicing and undertaking tasks like transcribing and transposing the solos of artists like Gillespie and Charlie Parker, has helped him find his own voice.

"The ultimate goal is eventually being able to improvise and the sounds are you," he explains. "But, you have to start somewhere. You can't just pick up your horn and say 'I'm going to improvise!' and that's it. Just like when you were born, can you imagine saying 'No, I'm going to do my own language.' People help you learn the language that you're speaking."

He says practicing is essential to learn this language, and helps him balance two essential elements of improvisation: focusing and letting go. As he describes improvisation, "you're just going with the flow. [But also] your ears are listening to everything that's going on around you."

One caveat is avoiding over-thinking. "There are those moments when you're thinking too much, and that's usually when my story ends, right there," he notes. Ultimately, an improviser should have enough vocabulary and creative energy to keep that story going.

"[In jazz improvisation as in speaking] you could say the sentence so many times, and come across differently every time. Whether you're loud when you say it, or quiet, how you are articulate it. How slow you say it or how fast you say it. You can make it sound exciting. But it's the same sentence," he explains. "That's what I love about improvising because it seems to me that it's never ending, and that's a beautiful thing to me."

The Eric Jacobson Organ Quartet performs at the Jazz Estate, Friday May 12 from 8-11PM.

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.