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Jacob Szekely Bio

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Born in Brooklyn New York in 1979, Jacob grew up in a musical family where his talent was recognized early on. He was accepted to study classical cello performance at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy for high school before attending The Cleveland Institute of Music for his Bachelor’s Degree and The University of Southern California for graduate studies.

Strings Magazine has hailed Szekely as “One of the leaders in the Creative String Community.” And Berklee cello professor and multiple Grammy winner Eugene Friesen has declared Jacob’s playing to be to be “The first time a cellist has made the case as a leader in modern jazz!” In 2013 Jacob founded the Jacob Szekely Trio and released their debut EP which was hailed by critics from the Strad, Strings Magazine, International musician, The LA Weekly and artists from Yo-Yo Ma, to Rush Bassist Geddy Lee as a “quantum leap forward” in pushing the boundaries of the instrument.  In 2015 Jacob’s trio released their debut album which made several year end top ten lists for JazzEd, International Review of Music and several others.

Mr. Szekely is also in great demand as a sideman and session player in Los Angeles having appeared in hundreds of commercials, television shows and movie scores. Jacob has been a featured performer or solo cellist with such popular artists as Mary J Blige, Jay Z, Ellie Goulding, Avril Lavigne and Rush and on such Television shows as Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles to name a few.

In addition to his busy schedule as a performer, Mr. Szekely is also active as a composer and arranger and has collaborated with a wide range of artists and ensembles from string quartets and world music groups to commissions for chamber orchestra and children’s choir.

In 2007, Jacob expanded his role as musical ambassador through the co founding and artistic directorship of String Project Los Angeles, a music school and resource for the alternative string playing community throughout the world located in Venice California named by Strings Magazine as “One of the top 10 reasons to study music in Los Angeles” and by Jazz violinist and Downbeat poll winner Christian Howes as “A model for all string teachers in America.” In addition to String Project Los Angeles, Jacob has also conducted residencies and master classes across the united states at UCLA, Cal Arts, The Berklee School of Music, Oklahoma State University, Georgia State University, The University of Southern California, Ithaca College and The American String Teachers Association’s national conference to name a few and is founder and Artistic Director of the Annual Los Angeles Creative String Festival (now in it’s fourth year). Jacob has also served on the summer faculty of numerous festivals including The New Directions In Cello Festival and Christian Howes’ Creative Strings Workshop with whom he coauthored an article in the July 2012 issue of The Strad advising string teachers on how to approach improvisation.

In 2013, Jacob launched The Improvisor’s Guide to the cello… The first ever comprehensive video learning series designed to address the unique challenges classically trained cellists face when approaching creative string playing. In August 2015, Jacob introduced The Improvisor’s Guide To The Cello Academy: the first ever online interactive online community for creative cellists.

Jacob is a Steinberger and Danish Professional Audio artist, a Yamaha Clinician, and performs on his five string Steinberger Electric Cello as well as several 4 and 5 string acoustic cellos.   In August 2015 Szekely released the ThePickupTest.com which represents a new online global resource for amplified string players featuring tutorials, tabletop reviews and the first ever comprehensive sound library of every pickup on the market for Violin, Viola, and Cello.

Jacob Szekely Trio (JS3)

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“This is the first time that I have heard a cellist make a convincing case as a soloist in a modern jazz context,” says Eugene Friesen, Grammy Award winning cellist and Berklee professor. In his first outing as a leader, Jacob Szekely has created an album that is truly revolutionary, definitively expanding the sonic culture of the cello into the world of Contemporary Jazz.

With influences that range from classical/jazz/funk/rock and even Indian, the music is highly complex, rhythmically and harmonically, while always grooving and with an unfailing sense of melody.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Szekely began his studies at age 3; he grew up in a musical family where his talent was recognized early on. The family moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where fiddling and bluegrass music were in the air, and by the age of 13 Szekely expanded his listening to rock and Jazz. “It took me a while to realize that I could improvise and play in different styles on the cello,” says Szekely, “I always knew that the sound of the cello was my voice, but there just wasn’t a template for that.” The results of this search have led to his unique approach. Noted Jazz Critic Brian Arsenault in the International review of Music:

“The cello in Szekely’s special hands is transformative, literally. At times a guitar, a bass guitar, a violin, a harp. But always, always a cello. Is there anyone else in the world who plays the instrument like this?”

Jacob explains the genesis of the trio: “As a studio musician and sideman here in Los Angeles, I’ve spent so much of my professional life trying to sound like other musicians, and in a way trying to prove what my instrument was capable of… I finally decided the time had come to ask myself who I am and what I really sound like, and then spent a year digging really deep, trying to figure that out.

This year long path of discovery led to a complete reimagining of the possibilities of the instrument for Szekely, from the compositions, to the development of a real improvisational language on the cello, to the unique sound of trio itself.

“Drums and piano take up a lot of sonic space, which meant I needed to start with musicians who were sensitive, and dynamic,” Says Szekely. He enlisted two of Los Angeles’ top studio artists, pianist/keyboardist Josh Nelson and drummer Christopher Allis. “Playing with Josh and Christopher has been a dream come true for me,” Szekely says. The trio’s textured, often electric sound, recalls such contemporary groups as the Flexible Trio, or Chris Potter’s Underground. “To me, the Rhoads and Moog are great colors, and compliment the cello in ways the piano can’t,” Szekely explains. “The Rhoads is so expressive, and yet has a lightness that doesn’t compete with the cello.”

Most of the tracks on the album were recorded in a single day; Jacob was insistent, in the manner of his Jazz predecessors, that the first take was what was going to print. “The music that attracts me has a sense of risk-taking. I think the way we recorded this album helped us capture that. Even while I was growing up, the classical records I enjoyed, like the really old recordings of Pablo Cassals and Artur Schumsky, had a this incredible humanity and vulnerability, even in their imperfections. I’m a high-risk player, and to me that’s really necessary when you’re trying to do something new as an artist.”

The Album begins with 300 years, a soulful meditation on time and the infinite. The track is an excellent example of Szekely’s style, which tends to favor the through-composition and an over-arching narrative structure of classical music, combined with contemporary jazz harmony and syncopated grooves, often in mixed meters. In a similar fashion, the enigmatic Morning Rush touches on elements of jazz, metal, Indian, (listen to Jacob’s dramatic solo,) and culminates in a fugue contrapuntally blending all the previous themes of the piece.

“Along with some of my great mentors, my biggest inspiration as an artist is my wife,” says Szekely. “Diana and I met shortly before I lost a close friend to a drunk driving accident, a very dark time in my life, and it was around that time I heard the song Dig. More than the melody or harmony of the tune, it was the lyrical refrain that really stuck with me:

If I turn into another, dig me out from under what is covering the better part of me. Sing this song; remind me that we’ll always have each other, when everything else is gone.

“Those lyrics haunted me throughout the loss of my friend, and the gaining someone who would eventually become my wife.” In Szekely’s capable hands, Dig is completely transfigured into a music that is deeply complex and highly personal, yet emotionally authentic and accessible at its core. Beneath a soaring cello solo, the original harmony of the song returns only at the end of Szekely’s arrangement, bringing the listener to an triumphant climax.

Szekely’s wife also gets her name in the track listing. Diana’s Lullaby is the only solo piece on the record, and it features Jacob on a 5-string electric cello. “I usually write at the keyboard; this is the first composition that I’ve ever written on the cello itself.” Says Jacob: “I don’t know of any previous compositions for this instrument, and it was fun approaching the possibilities of such a blank canvas.” Living in a sound world all its own, Szekely utilizes finger-tapping and strumming, techniques borrowed from the electric bass lexicon, bringing them to new life on the cello.

The album comes to its conclusion with Postlude:Houston. “This past year I had the honor of touring with Rush in Europe and North America,” Szekely explains. “They taught me so much about what it means to be a professional, and to be dedicated to your craft. Being a musician can be so bitter-sweet: you meet all these amazing people and fall in love with them, knowing that it’s all so finite. Postlude was written in my hotel room in Houston, on the last day of the tour, and it’s meant to capture the melancholy and sadness of saying goodbye.”

“Jacob has produced an emotive, innovative and thoroughly modern fusion of musical styles … A strikingly original virtuoso cello statement…. Beautifully performed and uniquely arranged.” – Geddy Lee.


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Press Quotes

“A Uniquely gifted Artist”
~ KJAZZ Radio – Los Angeles CA

“This cellist is really unbelievable. All those classical chops plus he can improvise (stunning intro on your last piece).”
~ Larry Koonse – Grammy winning Jazz artist

“A strikingly original virtuoso cello statement!”
~ Geddy Lee – basist / vocalist (Rush)

“I think that the Jacob Szekely Trio, if based in Europe, would be recording for ECM. I say that as a giant compliment because of ECM’s attention to purity of sound. No where is that more evident than in the spaces between pianist Josh Nelson’s notes on the self titled album’s closing song, Postlude: Houston.”
~ Brian Arsenault – International Review of Music

“His Mixture of Rock and Post Bop is striking… Resonates as it charms”
~ James Crel – The Strad

“Ground Breaking!”
~ Eugene Friesen – Cello Pioneer, Multiple Grammy winner, Professor Berklee school of Music

“Szekely is emerging as a leader of the alternative- strings community”
~ Cornelius Dufallo – Strings Magazine

“Cellist Jacob Szekely has built a career on defying expectations of what his chosen instrument is capable of.”

~ Andy Herman– LA Weekly

“That cat that’s reinventing the language of cello has already played everything with everybody but now he’s charting his own course bringing his vision of rock chamber jazz to the fore. Certainly it’s sitting down music but it’s as faraway from arts council music as you can get. With chops that have touched upon all kinds of music being front and center, this restless creative type feeds it all back showing where he’s been, what he can do and how easy it is to wrap your ears around his little finger. Smoking stuff that starts out in jazz and winds up in the land of anybody’s guess. One seriously wild ride well worth taking.”

~ Chris Spector– Midwest Record Review