Violinist Scott Tixier Mixes Fiery Technique With Lyrical Warmth in Stamford
by Owen McNally, WNPR
Although he’s now hailed as a rising young star and has just released his second, red-hot album, the brilliant French virtuoso violinist, Scott Tixier, seemed like a nobody from nowhere nearly a decade ago when he first arrived from Paris to New York City.
Fueled by his local success on the Paris scene, the one-time child prodigy had a head full of dreams about making a name for himself when he arrived back then in the Big Apple, the jazz capital of the world and epicenter of fierce competition that voraciously devours big dreams and even oversized talents.
Now in 2016 at age 30, Tixier has fulfilled some of those early dreams as he soars high on his promotional tour for his splendid, vibrant, new release, Cosmic Adventure (Sunnyside Records), which he’ll preview with his bright, hard-swinging quintet on Saturday, September 24, at 8:00 pm at the 9th Note at 15 Bank Street in Stamford.
His delight with his second release as a leader reflects the sense of euphoria that energizes the new CD. Its ebullient, expansive, expressive range is drenched in the sheer beauty of Tixier’s rich tone, flawless, tensile strength intonation, fluent improvisations and flair for composing, showcased here by his six original compositions among the CD’s nine selections.
But back then on that exasperating day that he first set foot in the States, events didn’t seem to bode well for any future cosmic adventure. Right from the time he stepped off his transatlantic flight, facts on-the-ground seemed more like harbingers of comic misadventures.
Unfortunately, the conservatory-trained protégé of the world-renowned French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty was broke, unable to speak English and had no gigs. Plus, there was the stress of being all alone in the confounding, yet breathtaking brave new world of the Big Apple, a terrifying terra incognita he’d eventually conquer.
Coming to America was a giant career step that Ponty had urged his protégé to make. New York had come to look even more seductive as opportunities for work in the City of Light were dimming, even for this young string wizard with ecumenical taste that embraced everything from Bach and Bartok to John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.
“All I could say in English when I arrived at the airport was ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’,” Tixier recalled of that challenging day, speaking by phone from his Brooklyn apartment.
“I was in my early 20s, had no money, no gigs lined up, and right away an airport worker was yelling at me because I couldn’t understand even a word of his directions. And, to top it off, my luggage got lost. I was stressed, frustrated and scared,” he said of his first taste of what he hoped would be the Promised Land for expressing his own original artistry.
While the Americanized Tixier now has a long, dizzyingly diverse resume — having played as the violinist of choice for everybody from Stevie Wonder, on a wondrous two-year tour, and Anthony Braxton to Dave Douglas and Christina Aguilera — his first year in New York was the Valley Forge of his epic struggle towards issuing his own artistic declaration of independence.
“I got a few gigs in cafes and bars,” he said of his early woes, “sometimes getting no pay, but getting free meals instead. I tried to give private lessons, but my students quit because they couldn’t understand my English.”
That hard-scuffling prelude led eventually to his musical triumphs and escalating acclaim in recent years, culminating dramatically now in Cosmic Adventure.
What first set Tixier, a classical violin prodigy, down the jazz path was the ear-opening epiphany he experienced at age 14 upon hearing a recording by the legendary French violinist, Stephane Grappelli.
Along with his musical gifts, determination is evidently also part of Tixier’s DNA. In that first year of his Stateside tribulations, for example, he hung in there until, finally, a welcome break occurred when he was invited to play on a gig with the celebrated bassist Lonnie Plaxico.
Entrée into Plaxico’s circle literally opened the door for the chameleon-like violinist, who seems to be able to play and love all genres. His all-inclusive embrace includes not just classical and jazz in its multiple permutations, but everything else, whether it’s folk, blue grass, Celtic, Baroque, bop, pop or hip-hop. His encyclopedic yet never pedantic skills have been his passport to diverse gigs playing other people’s music in countless premier venues ranging from the Blue Note to Carnegie Hall.
Being at home with anything from string quartets to commercial jingles established Tixier as a consummate sideman, an elegant, golden-toned soloist and quick study in any situation, virtually always playing someone else’s music.
With his new, breakthrough release, the sublime sideman puts the spotlight on his own music by leading his very own simpatico combo, which, among other highlights, features a consistently powerful performance by Hartford’s redoubtable double bassist, Luques Curtis.
A key force among the CD’s extraordinary elements is the empathetic, eloquent frontline collaboration between Tixier and his harmonica player, pal and fellow countryman Yvonnick Prene.
What accounts for the telepathic lyrical link between the pair is that they were childhood friends in France, discovering and learning about jazz together through recordings, absorbing everything from Lester Young and Dexter Gordon to Coltrane and the Strickland brothers, Marcus and E.J.
Listening, transcribing solos and jamming together for endless hours, young Tixier and Prene were, unknowingly, developing what would eventually become their mesmerizing mix of harmonica and violin, a musical cocktail as satisfying and intoxicating as the blend of cognac and Amaretto.
Produced by the noted pianist Donald Brown, Cosmic Adventure also features outstanding work by pianist Glenn Zaleski, drummer Justin Brown, with a house-rocking cameo appearance by saxophonist Chris Potter on the flag-waving grand finale called “Beam Me to Mars.” Another guest, conga player Pedrito Martinez adds rhythmic spice on two tracks.
All the core quintet players on the recording, with the exception of drummer Justin Brown who’s replaced by Allan Mednard, will be beaming up to Mars and beyond with Tixier at the 9th Note, making more cosmic, adventurous and, best of all, beautiful music.