Erik Charlston - Jazz Vibraphonist

Location: New York, NY



Jazz vibraphonist Erik Charlston, a native of Chicago, has a diverse career centered in New York, where he currently leads his JazzBrasil sextet. Charlston has also performed and recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Fred Hersch, Steve Coleman, James Carter, Sam Rivers, Dave Brubeck, and Orlando Puntilla Rios, among others. He has performed with Sting, Billy Joel and Elton John at Carnegie Hall, and with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, he played with Metallica at Madison Square Garden. Alongside Bill Frisell, Gil Goldstein, Marty Ehrlich and Greg Cohen, he has interpreted the music of the classic film composer Bernard Herrmann in London with the BBC Symphony, in France with the Orchestre National de Lyon and most recently with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In New York, Erik performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, with Encores at City Center, and on film soundtracks from Disney’s “Aladdin” to the recent ”Julie and Julia” and Coen brothers’ “True Grit.” A frequent performer on Broadway in “Hair” and “The Lion King,” he has also played extensively with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, as well as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Moscow’s Moiseyev Dance Company, the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra and as soloist on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Recording credits include radio, television, films, and record labels such as Sony, Gramavision, Telarc, EMI, Newport Classics, Nonesuch, and French Antilles.

Outside New York, he has performed chamber music throughout Europe and Japan, and with the New York Philharmonic, has toured extensively throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. He is currently co-chair of the percussion department at the Manhattan School of Music.

Erik Charlston JazzBrasil
Releases Debut Album
on Sunnyside November 8, 2011

Erik Charlston, Ted Nash, Mark Soskin,
Jay Anderson, Rogério Boccato & Café


Listen In

Sampler 2 by erikcharlston

Cover artwork, “Blue Wall with Doves”, © 1959 Jay Maisel, all rights reserved

All other photographs by Richard Blinkoff

About Essentially Hermeto

Essentially Hermeto – a compelling celebration of the great Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal – is the debut valbum from Erik Charlston and JazzBrasil. It will be released on Sunnyside Records November 8th, 2011. To celebrate their new recording, the group will play two sets at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on November 7th. Joining them for this special evening will be percussionist Zé Maurício. Hermeto’s music combines powerfully earthy, traditional Brazilian rhythms with highly sophisticated jazz harmonies. Embodying this rich duality, JazzBrasil, led by Erik Charlston on vibraphone and marimba, combines the Brazilian percussion team of Rogério Boccato and the legendary Café with the elite of New York’s jazz scene: Ted Nash on sax, flute and clarinet, Mark Soskin on piano and Jay Anderson on bass. Hermeto’s music is passionate, humorous, grooving and demanding – yet can be achingly beautiful. This group lives to bring out all these characteristics, while creating its own sound world.

Erik on the Music

I’ve always loved Hermeto’s music: its energy, absolute originality, audacity and beauty. Oh yes, and it grooves like mad. Hermeto’s music, like that of other great composers, benefits from interpretation, and although it will sound different in new contexts, it will always be undeniably his music. The challenge of putting a group together to interpret it became irresistible.

Each composition on this cd has its own unique meaning for me. “Vale da Ribeira” was written by Hermeto literally deep in the rainforest where he and his group were recording music for a documentary. They were in the Ribeira Valley when he saw the sun rise and wrote this piece. With its bouncing melody and grooving “baion,” it serves as the group’s favorite concert opener.

“Rebuliço,” which means ‘Uproar,’ is a typical Hermeto treatment of a traditional Brazilian song form, the “choro.” It starts in one place and ends in a very different place. The blend of the earthy, wooden sounds of the clarinet and marimba with the rest of the band on this piece seems to work especially well.

Hermeto dedicated “Santo Antonio” to his parents. It reflects a festival in his hometown in honor of St. Anthony, the patron saint of weddings. Whereas Hermeto played this uptempo, we play it here as a ballad—a love song.

“Essa Foi Demais” is a “maracatu,” set up by Café’s solo on the berimbau. This rhythm, from the northeast of Brazil, is a nice contrast to everything else on the recording—and is fun to improvise over.

“Hermeto” is a beautiful bossa/samba. A big part of JazzBrasil’s identity is our instrumentation, and the flute/vibes combination was a natural for this lovely, flowing melody.

The song ”Paraíba,” describes the people from the northeast region of Brazil, specifically from Paraíba, having to leave their land and move to São Pauloand Rio because of a terrible drought. The singer is expressing their “Saudade” -- that feeling of missing one’s land -- and “sending an embrace” to his homeland, Paraíba, saying that although it is a small land, it's a very strong one. This piece was written by Humberto Teixeira and Luiz Gonzaga, King of the Baion.

“Frevo Rasgado” was written by the great Egberto Gismonti. It’s wonderfully rhythmic, has a long, soaring melody and has a kind of built in energy that makes it a real pleasure to play. I always like varying our instrumentation, so we decided to do this as a piano/vibes duo.

Finally, we always like to go out with a samba. Hermeto’s “Viva o Rio de Janeiro” is a great vehicle for everyone in the band, but especially for Rogério and Café, who appropriately take this one out. This piece reminds us what joy Hermeto brings to his and our lives.

What People Are Saying About Essentially Hermeto

“Erik Charlston and his band perform Hermeto’s music with all the excitement it deserves. The gorgeous Brazilian flavors come out in abundance colored by some great percussion playing. Even though Hermeto’s music can be complex and intricate at times, Erik and his band make it sound effortless and joyous. The orchestration is perfect and the musicians at hand understand that groove and feeling are crucial to Hermeto’s music.”

– Luciana Souza

"A virtually flawless release both in presentation and authenticity, Erik Charlston and JazzBrasil perfectly capture the feeling, spontaneity and soul stirring groove that makes Hermeto Pascoal's music timeless."

-Critical Jazz

"Charlston and his first call pals have stepped up to freshen and disseminate the works of Pascoal in a fresh, new high octane fashion. A smoking date that you should start playing at 5 pm everyday. Hot stuff."

-The Midwest Record

"Charlston’s vibes vary from eerily bell-like to super-sonically charged and his leadership and classical training is evident in the tight structures, harmonic interplay with Soskin and panoramic and cultural vistas portrayed by the music. Essentially Hermeto is a first-rate melding of jazz and mother earth - a late Friday night set at the Blue Note held in the Brazilian rain forest."

-The New York City Jazz Record

"Bright and carnavalesque but also hypnotic and constantly shapeshifting, vibraphonist Erik Charlston’s new album Essentially Hermeto more than does justice to legendary Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal… It’s more than just a tribute: this is a mostly brisk, fascinating ride through a whole bunch of diverse Brazilian styles… Count this among the best jazz albums to come over the transom here this year."

-Lucid Culture

The music Erik Charlston interprets on "Essentially Hermeto" is simultaneously among the most joyous and difficult I know. That he and his American and Brazilian colleagues meet the challenge so impressively, with deep understanding and unchecked personality, is a sign of the music?s universality and the Charlston sextet?s eloquent authority.

-Grammy Award Winning Journalist Bob Blumenthal

This album serves as a symbol of the collaborative spirit, wondrously illustrating the fireworks that can happen when a leader finds the right material and the right musicians to help execute his vision.