Catching up with Taylor Eigsti isn”t easy these days. The Menlo Park-raised pianist spends too much of his time on airplanes, jetting from one gig to another. On Saturday he might be accompanying trumpet star Chris Botti in one hemisphere, and on Sunday he might start a tour on the other side of the planet with drum master Eric Harland, who he was playing with when I tracked him down last week in Australia.
Eigsti lives in New York City now, though his bags are rarely unpacked, and he particularly treasures trips back to the Bay Area. On Sunday afternoon, he kicks off the 25th season of Jazz at Filoli, a series that helped launch his globe-trotting career.
He made his debut at the sumptuous Woodside mansion in 2000 on his 16th birthday, stepping in as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Marian McPartland. Eigsti had been turning heads with his prodigious talent for several years already, winning high-profile fans like David Benoit and Dave Brubeck. But it was still a dicey move for Bud Spangler, the late, beloved drummer, disc jockey and producer who booked Jazz at Filoli, to sub in the kid. Spangler was clearly pleased, producing Eigsti”s second album, “Live at Filoli,” with bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis.
“He took a risk, and that started my friendship with Bud and Merrilee Trost, who runs Jazz at Filoli now,” said Eigsti, 30. “If it weren”t for people like them giving me those early opportunities, I wouldn”t be in Australia right now.”
At the end of July, he returns to his other Bay Area home base at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, where he”ll teach and play a series of gigs at the Stanford Jazz Festival, starting July 28 at Campbell Recital Hall with a quintet led by Cuban alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry. He joins forces with his Northern California posse at Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford on Aug. 4, performing with guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier, saxophonist Dayna Stephens and Houston-raised drummer Eric Harland.
Sunday”s Filoli gig offers a now-rare opportunity to hear Eigsti in a trio setting with the tremendously accomplished drummer Kendrick Scott and rising bassist Zach Ostroff. And joining the threesome in her only Bay Area appearance of the year is vocalist Gretchen Parlato, one of the most influential singers of her generation.
“Over the last five years or so, I”ve probably traveled with Gretchen more than anyone,” he said. “There are two things she does better than anyone else I”ve seen. She”s an extraordinary bandleader, and she”s got the best sense of time and rhythm of anyone I”ve played with. She uses her instrument in a unique way, though now she”s heavily emulated.”
Parlato and Eigsti first worked together when he invited her to sing alongside Becca Stevens in his innovative band Free Agency, and she ended up hiring him whenever she could on her gigs. Eigsti and Kendrick Scott are both featured on her 2013 Grammy-nominated CD/DVD “Live in NYC” (ObliqSound). Like many of the musicians with whom Eigsti performs regularly, Parlato describes their playful, creative connection as part family and part musical conspiracy.
“I think of Taylor as my little brother,” says Parlato, 39, who has cut back on touring since giving birth to her son last year and joining the faculty at Manhattan School of Music. “He brings all of that joy and love into his music. I don”t have to say much. He knows exactly how to complement the music, how to support me but also challenge me. He”s a partner in crime.”
He”s spent so much time touring with Parlato, Harland”s Voyager, Scott”s Oracle and Botti”s band that he”s essentially put his own recording projects on the back burner. It”s been five years since Eigsti”s last album, 2010”s “Daylight at Midnight” (Concord Jazz), but with the sea change in the music business, he”s not convinced making CDs is the way to go these days.
In one format or another, he does hope to release his first solo piano projects with tracks culled from recordings he”s made at Oakland”s Piedmont Piano Co., both in concert and after-hours by himself.
“I”m trying to record 150 tunes and pick 10 of them,” he said. “Playing solo is so exposed and vulnerable, I want to pick things I really feel good about. I love recording, but I”ve been very happy not having to focus on my stuff. With everything else I”m doing, it”s not a priority for me.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor Eigsti Trio featuring Gretchen Parlato
Part of Jazz at Filoli concert series
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Filoli, 86 Caada Road, Woodside
Tickets: $70, 650-364-8300, ext. 508, www.filoli.org/jazz
Other shows: Larry Vuckovich with Jackie Ryan (July 12); Jeff Hamilton Trio (July 26); Arturo Sandoval (Aug. 9); Frank Bey and Anthony Paule Band (Aug. 23); Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi Double Trio (Sept. 13)