BY Susan Welsh for MkHammerstein.com
Full-Circle & Unplugged
A Jazz Man is Born
Photos by MkHammerstein (MKH)
Eric Mintel is a born musician. “By the age 3, my parents would always find me at the piano. I had a fascination with the sounds coming from the keys,” he says. By the age of 10 he was playing tv cartoon songs by ear, and at 14 he discovered the record that awoke the jazz man within him. “I was going through my parents' record collection and listening to Elvis and Ray Charles and I found a 45-record with this guy on the front cover with horn-rimmed glasses, hair slicked back, brown suit on, and it was the Dave Brubeck Quartet". Mintel put the record on and had his jazz epiphany—“It was like wow, that’s what I want to play— even though at the time I didn’t know it was jazz,” he explains. From that point on Mintel began collecting all the Brubeck records he could find, eventually making a cassette of “Blue Rondo” which he played while figuring out the notes on the piano.
Season-Finale Performer Gets Personal About His Path
With Writer Susan Welsh
The music of Mintel is rooted in multiple genres. “I grew up in Upper Black Eddy. In the summer, I remember all these great classic rock tunes blasting out of the living room windows. I’d be walking up to the house with friends and I’d hear “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” coming out of the house” - Mintel remembers. His parents also played a lot of classical music— Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, and Mozart, but it was jazz that spoke to him. Mintel says, “I had my rock influences, David Bowie, Billy Idol, Men at Work but jazz was always there, Dave Brubeck always drew me back. His sound spoke to me. It was melodic, it was lyrical, there was a lot of energy,” he explains.
Mintel’s first quartet was formed in 1993 after attending an open jam session in Doylestown where he met a bunch of musicians and they clicked. “Our very first concert was in Delaware Valley College and we did a tribute to Dave Brubeck. It was so much fun, it was a packed house, and there was a standing ovation at the end of the night. I said from this point on this is all I want to do. Twenty-five years later and here we are.” Though there have been some band member changes along the way, his current bandmates have been with him for over a decade: Nelson Hill on sax and flute, Jack Hegyi on bass, and Dave Mohn on drums.
Mintel describes the art of creating jazz music as conversation. “I’ll bring what we call a chart to the bandstand which will consist of either notes with the melody or just chords and that’s it. Then we go ahead and play it down. We’ve been playing together for so long that the band instinctively knows what to do. It becomes an organic process, it’s a whole communication for everybody. It really is like a conversation. We don’t know where we’re going sometimes, but each person is telling their own story.”
Beyond story, there’s also the physical power of jazz. “It’s like the heartbeat. It’s what ties everyone together because everyone has a heartbeat. It’s all about the pulse,” Mintel says. He also believes in audience-driven energy. “When we’re playing a tune each night we try to try to make it different. The melody is the same, but when you improvise you try to go for something you’ve never done before. Because the audience is different. Each audience is going to be different to the energy level of each performance". This is one of the reasons Mintel enjoys playing in unique venues like The Art of Sound, where you get an enthusiastically engaged audience that appreciates the genre and where the acoustics showcase the nuances of the music.
For Mintel, playing the music is the icing on the cake. When he’s not performing, he’s teaching workshops at colleges and universities on the art, appreciation, and business of jazz or hosting his own TV show called Talking Jazz with Eric Mintel on TV30, Princeton. Mintel believes it’s about more than the music. “I’d like to add to the world a bit,” he says. “Life is about helping people achieve what they want to achieve,” he says. It’s that belief and Mintel’s dedication to the art of jazz that brings a deeper eloquence to his craft. He is not just a musician, he is also an ambassador for the power of jazz to heal, soothe, and unite. One beat at a time.
As Always, #LoveToLaunchMKH