Michael Eaton (b. 1981) is a Brooklyn, NY based saxophonist, composer, and educator active in contemporary jazz and free improvisation. He embraces a progressive and holistic vision of jazz, cognizant of the music's rich history, while he reaches for a personal outlook with an eye towards future possibilities.
Michael leads Individuation, a contemporary jazz ensemble that combines modern jazz with postminimalism, world rhythms, and open improvisation. Their latest album is Dialogical on Destiny Records. JazzTimes writes "'Serious play' may be a cliché by now, but it exemplifies the spirit that dances through this set," and AllAboutJazz says "There is more than enough promising music on Dialogical to justify Eaton's status as a force to be reckoned with in today's jazz world." The recording is made up of all original compositions and improvisations with a stellar cast of musicians, plus master guitarist Lionel Loueke on guitar and voice.
Michael's 2014 debut album on Destiny, Individuation, combines angular themes and propulsive modern jazz with intricate minimalistic vamps, freebop, prepared piano, and multi-layered structures. The band is joined on several cuts by a very special guest, NEA Jazz Master and saxophonist David Liebman. Scott Yanow (All Music Guide, Downbeat) calls Individuation a "rather impressive debut, the start of what will surely be a very significant solo career", and Vitto Lo Conte writes in Music Zoom that it signifies "a great debut album of a saxophonist and a quartet who seem to have all it takes to get noticed in the world of contemporary jazz".
Individuation III: The Phenomenal, is the group's next recording, and it is in development for a release on Dialogical Records, date TBD. The music pairs the quartet with three guests: Tim Hagans, Dave Scott, and Judi Silvano. Historically, this recording is the first studio encounter of Scott and Hagans. In part The Phenomenal was financed by a New York Foundation of the Arts grant through the City Artist Corp.
Starting in 2020, in the midst of the Covid pandemic lockdown, pianist Nicki Adams and Eaton embarked on a piano/saxophone duo, recording videos of jazz tunes which Adams produced for YouTube. After documenting their rapport in the studio in April 2021, the resulting duo recording was picked up by long-running international jazz label, Steeplechase Records. Titled Paraphrase, the album was released on March 15, 2022.
Michael has enjoyed a long association in NYC with flutist/composer/lyricist Cheryl Pyle in Beyond Group, a free improvised chamber group with rotating personnel and orchestrations. Musicians who have played with Beyond include guitarist Bern Nix, percussionist Newman Taylor Baker, pianist Roberta Piket, bassoonist Claire de Brunner, bassist Hilliard Greene, bass flutist Gene Coleman, baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, alto saxophonist Daniel Carter, soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, flutist Jamie Baum, vocalist Judi Silvano, and drummer Reggie Sylvester, and composer/conductor Carman Moore.
Eaton also heads Tenor Triage, an outward bound, free jazz-oriented take on the classic format of three tenors. With fellow saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Sean Sonderegger, the band’s chemistry melds harmolodics and hymnic free jazz with groove and caterwauling polyphony. The band's debut on Ropeadope Records, Tenor Triage, enlists bassist Brad Jones and drummer Calvin Weston, both alumni of Ornette Coleman. The album is dedicated to the late harmolodic guitar master Bern Nix.
As a native of the Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan area, Eaton co-founded Second Nature Ensemble in Kansas City with guitarist/composer Seth Andrew Davis. Second Nature interweaves free jazz, contemporary classical, and noise improv with postminimalism, math rock, and electronic beats. Their first studio album was released on Mother Brain Records on August 12, 2022. Kansas City improvised music critic Plastic Sax called their June 27, 2021 performance "revelatory" and wrote that it "provided a glimpse into a possible future of a viable form of jazz in Kansas City...no locally based ensemble executes the [electroacoustic] concept with more cultivated acumen." Eaton and Davis also play as the duo Symbiotique, with saxophone, guitar, and/or laptop electronics. They released Symbiotique in 2020 for their newly founded Mother Brain Records label and then The Maximal Effect in 2021.
Michael collaborates with trumpeter/composer/conceptualist Kyle Quass in Beneath the Paving Stones, a free improvised group with trumpet, saxophone, bass, and drums, based in Bloomington, Indiana. Quass and Eaton have recorded two independent albums in a post bop vein, Darkness Made Light and Rise Against, and both are available directly through Quass's Bandcamp page.
For over 10 years, Michael has collaborated in a variety of musical settings with New York bassist/multi instrumentalist Adam Minkoff (Dweezil Zappa, Doyle Bramhall II). One ensemble is Vaalbara, a post-70s Miles/New York downtown band that blends rock, jazz, funk, groove-based open free improvisation, and spoken word. Another is their free improvised trio, Anderson/Eaton/Minkoff, with drummer Nick Anderson, which released Hit Record in 2013. Minkoff and Eaton also revive 1960s/70s soul jazz and acid jazz in Rockwood Organ Lounge, which usually includes guitarist Al Street, organist Todd Caldwell, and drummers Sean Dixon, Tony Mason, Bill Campbell, or Eric Kalb.
Minkoff celebrated the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's seminal Rite of Spring in May 2013 by transcribing, arranging, and performing a rock octet edition of the piece, replete with Zappa-esque overtones. Following an electrifying, standing room only Rockwood Music Hall performance, the ensemble recorded the Rite in November 2014 as well as a vocal suite by Stravinsky, where Michael played alto saxophone and flute. The album, "Til the End My Dear: Arrangements of Stravinsky", came out in April 2018 with an August 2018 release party at Nublu Classic.
Eaton and Minkoff have jointly curated jazz concerts under the name "Michael Eaton and Adam Minkoff Present". First, on June 8, 2015, they commemorated John Coltrane's iconic 1965 free jazz album, Ascension, at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn. The concert received coverage by the New York TImes's Nate Chinen, as well as the Village Voice's Jim Macnie, with the Voice citing it as one of the top nine concerts to see that week in New York City. The ensemble's personnel brought together saxophonists Michael Attias, Daniel Carter, Sean Sondergger, James Brandon Lewis, and Briggan Krauss; trumpeters Dan Brantigan, Jonathan Finlayson, and Graham Haynes; guitarist Ava Mendoza; pianist Anthony Coleman; and drummers Nick Anderson and Calvin Weston. Eaton subsequently plans to perform Ascension once every 10 years.
Then on December 1, 2017, Eaton and Minkoff returned to late Coltrane again, focusing on the 50th anniversary of two undersung classics from 1967: Interstellar Space and Stellar Regions. Over the course of two sold out sets at Williamsburg's National Sawdust, they essayed seldom performed late Coltrane with a super powered band of David Liebman, Marc Ribot, Jamie Saft, Nick Anderson, and Anthony Cole.
Michael participated in a number of projects by NYC composer and keyboardist Dorian Wallace. He played saxophone on the first ever complete production of the Cageian and postminimalist composer Robert Ashley's improvised opera, Perfect Lives. Wallace's group played all seven acts over the span of five hours at the Firehouse Space in 2015, then in 2016 played a compressed version of all seven acts in two hours at Spectrum NYC . Eaton can be heard on tenor saxophone for Wallace's studio recording of We Are Legion, a multi-part suite dedicated to the hacktivist collective, Anonymous. He played soprano saxophone and flute on "A Bottle in the Cosmic Ocean", performed for NPR's Science Friday, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Golden Record (the LP included aboard Voyager 1 and 2). Wallace wrote for Jennifer Lott's LottDance, creating new works for dancers and chamber ensemble, including Pale Blue Dot at Gibney Dance Center. Michael also played tenor saxophone for a "The Rest is Sh*t: Stories fropm the Microchasm", a video opera production, with music and concept by David Kulma and Dorian Wallace and videography by John Sanborn. The NY Times remarked of the production that "[the music] blurs distinctions between jazz and contemporary classical styles".
Michael has appeared with the Laura Andrea Leguía Jazz Orchestra, an Afro-Peruvian big band, as part of a series of gigs at Zinc Bar. The band played at Symphony Center for Peruvian Independence Day in July 2015. Michael has played Afro-Colombian folk music and arrangements with Grupo Rebolú (who appeared at the 2016 Montreaux Jazz Festival), and he appears on videos with the group on congahead.com, with guests Edmar Castaneda (harp) and Jimmy Bosch (trombone). In April 2016, Michael recorded with vocalist/pianist Lorens Chuno on his West African/Jazz Fusion album, "Naija Rhythm Affair, NYC", and he appears on Chuno's 2018 release, Rhythm Sustained.
In the soul, rock, and R&B idioms, Michael contributed tenor saxophone to Doyle Bramhall's 2016 album Rich Man on Concord Records. In 2016, Michael played with guitarist Scott Sharrard (Greg Allman Band) and his Brickyard Band at Rockwood Music Hall, Bar Chord, and The Falcon (Marlboro, NY). He recorded tenor and alto saxophone plus flute recordings on Five & Dime Records for soul crooner Paul Loren: 2014's Leisurely and 2016's Paul Loren...Is Available!. In 2014 and 2015, he appeared as a saxophone soloist with the The Machine, a nationally touring Pink Floyd cover band, playing iconic music from "Dark Side of the Moon" with the Alabama Symphony in February 2015.
Michael earned a degree in Jazz Studies from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University-Bloomington in 2004. After moving to Brooklyn in 2008, he became involved in an array of creative music. He has performed at venues such as: Le Poisson Rouge, National Sawdust, Cornelia Street Cafe, 55 Bar, The Blue Note, Birdland Theater, Zinc Bar, The Kitano, ShapeShifter Lab, Drom, Small's Jazz Club, Rockwood Music Hall, Downtown Music Gallery, Spectrum NYC, iBeam, Symphony Center, Nublu, Bowery Ballroom, Why Not Jazz, ABC No Rio, Somethin' Jazz, The Tea Lounge, Sycamore Hall, Club Groove, Bowery Poetry Club, Bar Chord, Spike Hill, The Fifth Estate, and The Underground Lounge.
Michael's teachers include Eugene Rousseau, Tom Walsh, David Baker, David Liebman, Tony Malaby, Steve Coleman, James Moody, Ned Goold, Ellery Eskelin, Ralph Alessi, Randy Peterson, Doug Webb, Gary Foster, and Dwight Frizzell. He was a 2018 attendee of the SIM (School for Improvised Music) seminars in Brooklyn.
He has appeared on gigs or as a side artist with David Baker, David Liebman, Tim Hagans, Ingrid Jensen, Fred Hersch's Leaves of Grass, Jim Snidero, Eugene Chadbourne, Jimmy Carl Black, Kevin Shea, Ned Rothenberg, Jamie Saft, Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, G Calvin Weston (Prime Time, the Lounge Lizards), Cheryl Pyle, Bern Nix, Damon Smith, Newman Taylor Baker, Daniel Carter, Michael Attias, Jonathan Finlayson, Claire Daly, Jamie Baum, Anthony Cole, Doyle Bramhall II, Jon Cowherd, Frank LoCrasto, Kyle Quass, Cory Smythe, Stephan Crump, Judi Silvano, Phil Markowitz, Roberta Piket, Tony Marino, Matt Darriau, Tyler Damon, Jessica Lurie, Akie Bermiss, Sylvia McNair, and The Temptations.
(Header photo by Luis Ruiz: Larufoto)