Alumni Spotlight: Eric Alexander Set to Release Latest Album in May

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Alex Evans, Managing Editor

For Eric Alexander, the decision to pursue a career as a jazz musician was an obvious one.

His father, who helped found Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in 1967, collected classical and jazz records, while his mother especially pushed for him to study piano by the time he was six years old. Both were musically inclined and came from families with notable musicians.

By his teenage years, Alexander began to fail at his recitals. He would lose his place in a piece of music, unable to pick up where he left off. With jazz music, that didn’t seem to matter.

“It became obvious to me that I liked the idea that I could make mistakes in jazz and have them be part of the performance rather than a disqualifying moment,” he said.

His career has been almost mistake-free since then.

After completing his freshman year of college at Indiana University, Alexander made a last-minute decision to look for a school closer to New York City and its thriving music scene. That school ended up being William Paterson, and his transfer was virtually pure luck.

“WPU was one of the last (if not the last) places that would consider a transfer so late in the spring semester,” the 1990 graduate said.

Alexander lived in on-campus dorms for his first two years before moving off-campus for his final two, with little time for anything besides practicing and studying for his classes.

Many professors helped him in shaping his growth as an artist. Department head Rufus Reid played a key role in orchestrating Alexander’s transfer. Other influences included Joe Lovano—his primary saxophone instructor who always gave sound advice—Ralph LaLama, Norman Simmons, Steve Turre and Gary Smulyan. Professor Jim McNeely gave him countless helpful insights into playing jazz piano.

“[Former professor] Harold Mabern has played an immense role in my development and has been a bandstand cohort for 25 years now,” he said.

Alexander’s career quickly took off following his graduation. After placing second in the 1991 Theolonious Monk International Saxophone Competition and playing for trios in the South Side of Chicago, he made his recording debut. In 1992, he recorded his first as a leader, titled “Straight Up for Delmark.”

In 1998, Alexander recorded the first of many albums with “One For All,” his ongoing group with members Jim Rotondi, Steve Davis, Joe Farnsworth, Peter Washington and Dave Hazeltine.

“I like to refer to what we play as straight-ahead, acoustic, modern jazz,” he said.

Alexander, 50, has also gotten to play with musical influences such as Charles Earland, who Alexander made his recording debut with in 1991, along with Pat Martino, McCoy Tyner and Cedar Walton, among others.

Using New York City as his home base, he tours globally and will release his latest album, “Leap of Faith,” in May.

Much like his album’s namesake, Alexander wants current WPU jazz students to have the courage to follow their hearts when it comes to what music to listen to or emulate, as well as “not to be led by the whims of the crowd.”

According to him, making the most out of their time at William Paterson in terms of practicing and jamming is crucial for students, and can be the difference between a post-graduate career in music or one that forces them to do other things to make ends meet.

“They need to know that the real world is coming right around the corner,” he said. “Take advantage of NOW.”