Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 18 September 1964, Phoenix AZ) Trombonist, singer, songwriter, journalist and authority on cocktails. His father, Lester D. Felten Jr., was a professional lead trumpeter and taught band in the public schools. His grandfather, Lester Sr., played trombone and owned a music store in Phoenix; the grandfather's brother played trombone with Fred Waring and sister played trombone with Ina Rae Hutton. Eric began studying with his grandfather at age 9, and at age 24 was named Best New Jazz Trombonist by the International Trombone Association.
      His first CD, released in 1994, was T-Bop, on Soul Note, featuring the legendary Charles Mingus trombonist Jummy Knepper and a young Joshua Redman; it was highly praised by Down Beat and the Penguin Guide to Jazz. The next CD, Gratitude in 1995, also on Soul Note, celebrated the style of the classic Duke Ellington small groups, with a lineup of stellar guests that included Randy Brecker and Joe Lovano. Then Felten did a PBS Special called The Big Band Sounds of WWII in 2001, available on DVD, by the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra, with girl singer Mary Cleere Haran. A CD-R of the audio was available on demand from Amazon.
      The next album was called Nowhere Without You (2003); then Eric Felten Meets the Dek-tette (2005, on V.S.O.P.) celebrated the legendary albums made in the late 1950s by Mel Tormé with arranger Marty Paich, using some of the original musicians, including trumpeter Jack Sheldon, Med Flory on piano, and reedman Herb Geller. Seize the Night on Melotone was recorded in 2007 and released in 2010.
      Seize The Night reflects an understanding of the whole history of our modern culture, beginning with the title. "Seize the day!" was the ancient injunction, but we are blasé; we've been there, done that, let's wait till after dark and go somewhere and have a couple of cocktails. "If I Had You" makes an superb opener. There are eleven tracks, and six of the songs are Felton's. One of the highlights of the album revives "Tulip or Turnip", a wonderful piece of 1940s jive by Duke Ellington and Don George: 

Diamond or doorknob,
Sapphire or sawdust,
Champagne, or just home brew?
Tell me, tell me, dreamface,
What am I to you?
     Do I get the booby prize,
     Or will I be a hero?
     Am I heading for blue skies,
     Or is my ceiling zero?
Tulip or turnip,
Moonbeam or mudpie,
Bankroll or I.O.U.?
Tell me, tell me, dreamface,
What am I to you?

The singer hopes to love, and to be loved; there might even be a happily-ever-after. In Felton's "Too Smart To Fall", however, we have entered the postmodern world, in which we are afraid to fall. The music is just as hip, but the words tell a different story:

And from dusk until dawn
We told our lies,
They were pretty it seems,
Walter Mitty-like dreams,
And though we knew they were phony,
What else could we do?
Who ever said love was true?

One critic compared Felten's singing to that of Michael Bublé or Harry Connick, but some would say Felten's singing is more personal, more intimate, as though one of your best buddies could sing: he was also compared to Fred Astaire, who was always underrated as a singer. Felton is a crooner with style, and in his singing he is just one of the boys, taking his vocal solos along with his excellent bebop-derived trombone, and (on Seize the Night) the tenor sax of Don Braden. The rhythm section of Kenny Barron, Jimmy Cobb, and the late, great Dennis Irwin on bass could hardly be beat. This is good jazz, and intelligent, thoughtful music.
      His column is called "How's Your Drink?" in the Wall Street Journal; when he writes about other things, his column becomes "Postmodern Times". His books include How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well (2007) and Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue (2011)