The Earl Gordon Quartet is a gift to Orange County Jazz lovers, and a representation of UC Irvine’s superlative music department.
Comprised of four undergraduate students in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, the group was formed by Earl Gordon, a drummer/percussionist, formerly from the Philippines. He is joined by bass player Tyler Dukes from Paso Robles, saxophonist Mathew Nelson from Hawthorne, California, and by keyboard player Hime Ikehara from Kobe, Japan. While all the musicians are in their 20s, their playing is so well executed and sophisticated, that they sound as though they have been together for decades.
Each player brings to the group her/his unique background in music and life, as well as a strong perspective on the jazz pieces they perform. Yet together, they play the renditions seamlessly, choosing selections from classical jazz of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, to recent pieces from the 1980s and 90s.
Drummer Earl Gordon, born and raised in the Philippines, grew up enjoying music, but as he explained, “recently got into jazz,” as he loves the artistic freedom and opportunities for improvisation that the genre affords. His creative aspects of playing were on display during the band’s recent performance of Paul Desmond’s Take Five (originally performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet), known in part for its extensive, toe-tapping drum solo. Earl practices the drums two hours every day.
Tyler Dukes began playing the bass at age 14, after being inspired by a Red Hot Chili Peppers piece, and has pursued the instrument ever since. As a bass player, he is trained to use his instrument to support the other quartet members, he explains, to help move the music forward. His musical heroes include Charlie Hayden, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, and especially UCI Music Department faculty member and veteran bass player Darek Oles.
Matthew Nelson grew up in the Hawthorne area of Los Angeles. His music-loving parents – his father is a gospel organ player – encouraged him to study the piano. Yet as a teenager, he became interested in the saxophone, and began practicing several hours a day. His heroes on the instrument include Dexter Gordon and Joshua Redmond.
Hime Ikehara began studying the piano at age six in Japan, concentrating on classical pieces with private teachers… until she moved to Southern California to attend college. Before UCI, she attended Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa where she auditioned for a big band. She enjoyed playing with the band so much, especially its sense of freedom, the interaction with the other musicians and the opportunities to improvise, that she began exploring the jazz musical genre.
The four Earl Gordon Quartet performers describe the exhilarating experience of playing and performing with each other. They talk about the importance of observing each other’s body language, of cuing eye movements, of having musical conversations, and of being in the zone while playing. The players add that they don’t enjoy playing with musicians who have big egos and try to dominate the group.
Along with several local concerts, the quartet recently played three gigs at the Great Park Gallery to complement the exhibition there, “52nd Street, Jazz and the Photography of William Gottlieb.” The concerts were so well attended that at one event, many audience members were sitting outside on the Palm Court Arts Complex grounds. For their first concert, they concentrated on the Swing Era, performing Take the A Train, made famous by Duke Ellington, recorded in 1941 (regarded as one of the most important American musical works of the 20th century), and April in Paris (1955) by Count Basie. Their second show featured bebop selections, honoring the music of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, including his legendary Round Midnight (1943), among other renowned performers of that period. For their final concert, they played Take Five (at the request of a little boy who attended their previous performances), and recent selections by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The quartet members agreed that the concerts were demanding, requiring a lot of practice, but were exhilarating and well worth the effort.
As the Earl Gordon Quarter members will soon graduate from UC Irvine, the group will break up. Gordon plans to return to the Philippines for a year where he will explore the music scenes. Nelson, who has been teaching music at a Santa Ana High School, will continue this endeavor, while working in a music library. Ikehara plans to obtain an international student internship and teach piano. And Dukes will move to the East Harlem area of New York City to live with friends. He plans to get a day job – perhaps working from home in the IT field – while immersing himself in the Big Apple music scene and hopefully picking up gigs.
While Irvine and the larger Orange County will miss the Earl Gordon Quartet, the members are planning to spread their good will and the expertise they have gleaned from their musical mentors to disparate places in this country and abroad.