Michael Eaton (b. 1981) is a Brooklyn, NY based saxophonist, composer, and educator. As a saxophonist and improvising artist, his professional career to date has spanned a variety of idioms, encompassing jazz, free improvised music, soul, rock, western classical, funk, reggae, brass bands, and beyond. He embraces a progressive and holistic vision of jazz, cognizant of its rich history and development, but reaches for a personal outlook with an eye towards future possibilities.
Michael's latest album with the Individuation Quartet is Dialogical, released May 3, 2019 on Destiny Records. It centers around the themes of dialogical thinking and connections between a multiplicity of styles. 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: Jon Crowley (trumpet), Brittany Anjou (vibraphone), Cheryl Pyle (flute), Sean Sonderegger (tenor sax), James Brandon Lewis (tenor sax), Enrique Haneine (udu), Sarah Mullins (marimba, triangles), and Dorian Wallace (piano), plus a very special guest artist, Lionel Loueke (guitar and vocals).
Michael's 2014 debut album on Destiny Records, Individuation, highlights original music performed by his New York quartet along with trumpeter Jon Crowley. Individuation integrates angular themes and propulsive modern jazz with intricate minimalistic vamps, freebop, Cageian prepared piano, and multi-layered open platforms. 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".
Eaton has also spearheaded Tenor Triage, a three tenor cooperative band that unites the camaraderie of Michael Eaton, James Brandon Lewis, and Sean Sonderegger into a freewheeling and outward bound spin on a classic matchup. The band’s chemistry melds harmolodics and firey, hymnic free jazz with heavy hitting groove and gritty polyphony. The band's September 13 debut on Ropeadope Records, Tenor Triage, outlines their vision through original music plus a deep cut composition by Dewey Redman. The tenors are joined by bassist Brad Jones and drummer Calvin Weston (both alumni of Ornette Coleman’s ensembles). The band dedicates “Tenor Triage” to their late bandmate, harmolodic guitar master Bern Nix.
Michael performs frequently in NYC with flutist/composer/lyricist Cheryl Pyle's Beyond Group, a free improvised chamber group with rotating actively rotating personnel configurations, including: the late guitarist Bern Nix, percussionist Newman Taylor Baker, pianist Roberta Piket, bassoonist Claire de Brunner, bassist Hilliard Greene, flutist Gene Coleman, baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, alto saxophonist Daniel Carter, flutist Jamie Baum, and drummer Reggie Sylvester. Composer/conductor Carman Moore occasionally augments the group to conduct their improvisations, and occasionally the group is augmented with various members:
Eaton co-leads Second Nature Ensemble with guitarist/composer Seth Davis in Kansas City, Missouri. Second Nature is a new music collective that fuses free jazz, contemporary classical, and noise improv with post minimalism, math rock, and electronic beats.
Michael also performs with trumpeter/composer/conceptualist Kyle Quass in Beneath the Paving Stones, a free improvised ensemble based in Bloomington, Indiana with trumpet + electronics, tenor and soprano sax, bass, and drums.
Michael frequently collaborates in New York with bassist/multi-instrumentalist Adam Minkoff (Doyle Bramhall II, Dweezil Zappa) in a plethora of idioms. One ensemble is Vaalbara, a post-70s Miles/New York downtown band that fuses 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, acid jazz, and obscure deep cuts with Rockwood Organ Lounge, featuring guitarist Al Street, organist Todd Caldwell, and drummers Sean Dixon, Tony Mason, Bill Campbell, or Eric Kalb.
In May 2013, Minkoff celebrated the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's seminal Rite of Spring by transcribing, arranging, and performing a rock octet edition of the piece (complete with Zappa-esque overtones). Following an electrifying, standing room only Rockwood Music Hall show, the ensemble went into Bunker Studio in November 2014 to record the Rite and a vocal suite by Stravinsky, for which Michael played alto saxophone and flute. The album, "Til the End My Dear: Arrangements of Stravinsky" was released in April 2018, with an official release party at Nublu Classic in August 2018.
Eaton and Minkoff also jointly curate and present jazz concerts as "Michael Eaton and Adam Minkoff Present". On June 8, 2015, they commemorated the recording of 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, who cited it as one of the top nine concerts to see that week in New York City. The ensemble's personnel included 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.
On December 1, 2017, Eaton and Minkoff celebrated 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 enjoys an abundance of collaboration with New York based composer and keyboardist Dorian Wallace. Eaton is a charter member of Wallace's Free Sound Ahn-Somble, a progressive, avant-leaning big band, part of Wallace's and violinist Hajnal Pivnick's music consortium Tenth Intervention.
Some of their concerts include the first ever complete production of Robert Ashley's postmodern/post Cageian improvised opera, Perfect Lives, performing all seven acts in five hours at the Firehouse Space in 2015 and all seven acts in two hours at Spectrum NYC in 2016. Eaton is featured on tenor saxophone for the studio recording of Wallace's We Are Legion, a multi-part suite dedicated to the hacktivist collective, Anonymous; and he played soprano saxophone and flute for "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).
Tenth Intervention twice collaborated with Jennifer Lott's LottDance to create new works for dancers and chamber ensemble, including Pale Blue Dot at Gibney Dance Center. Michael also played tenor saxophone for a new video opera production, with music and concept by David Kulma and Dorian Wallace and videography by John Sanborn, "The Rest is Sh*t: Stories from the Microchasm". The NY Times remarked the production is "music that blurs distinctions between jazz and contemporary classical styles".
Michael has appeared with the Laura Andrea Leguía Jazz Orchestra, an Afro-Peruvian big band. Standout performances include gigs at Zinc Bar, as well as a Symphony Center concert 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 band from 2015 and 2016 on www.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.
Besides the jazz and improv idioms, Michael performs in soul, rock, and R&B idioms. Michael contributed tenor saxophone to Doyle Bramhall's 2016 album Rich Man, released on Concord Records. In 2016, Michael played with guitarist Scott Sharrad (Greg Allman Band) and his Brickyard Band at Rockwood Music Hall, Bar Chord, and The Falcon (Marlboro, NY). He recorded tenor and alto saxophone and flute tracks for soul crooner Paul Loren, including for recordings on Five & Dime Records: 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, including playing "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, and David Liebman, with additional private studies with James Moody, Ned Goold, Ellery Eskelin, Ralph Alessi, Tim Berne, Tony Malaby, Andy Milne, Randy Peterson, Doug Webb, and Gary Foster. He was a 2018 attendee of the SIM (School for Improvised Music) seminars in Brooklyn.
He has appeared in concert or as a side artist with David Baker, David Liebman, Ingrid Jensen, Fred Hersch's Leaves of Grass, Jim Snidero, Eugene Chadbourne, Jimmy Carl Black, Ned Rothenberg, Jamie Saft, Marc Ribot, Anthony Coleman, G Calvin Weston (Prime Time, the Lounge Lizards), Cheryl Pyle, Bern Nix, Newman Taylor Baker, Daniel Carter, Michael Attias, Jonathan Finlayson, Claire Daly, Jamie Baum, Anthony Cole, Doyle Bramhall II, Tim Hagans, Jon Cowherd, Frank LoCrasto, Cory Smythe, Stephan Crump, Judi Silvano, Phil Markowitz, Roberta Piket, Tony Marino, Matt Darriau, Jessica Lurie, Frank London, Akie Bermiss, The Temptations, and Sylvia McNair.
(Header photo by Luis Ruiz: Larufoto)