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Jacob Szekely Bio

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Born in Brooklyn New York in 1979, Jacob Szekely grew up in a musical family where his talent was recognized early on. By the age of 13, Mr Szekely had written, arranged and improvised on his first commercial album and was sharing the stage with such musical luminaries as Mark Oconnor, Richie Havens, Joan Baez and Don McClean. He was accepted to study classical cello performance at Interlochen Arts Academy before attending The Cleveland Institute of Music for his Bachelor’s Degree with Richard Aaron and The University of Southern California for graduate studies.

Strings Magazine has hailed Jacob 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 a convincing case as a leader in modern jazz!” In 2015 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 (featured artist and twice “Pick Of The Week”) and artists from Chick Corea, to Rush Bassist Geddy Lee as a “Quantum Leap Forward” in pushing the boundaries of the instrument. Jacob’s music has had airplay on KCRW (Los Angeles), PRI, and New Sounds on WNYC and made several year end top ten lists for JazzEd, International Review of Music and several others. The same year, The Trio also completed a successful national tour whose highlights included headlining the New Directions In Cello Festival and sold out performances at Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan, the Soundroom in Oakland CA, and Los Angeles’s legendary Blue Whale where they filmed their first live DVD. Subsequent performances

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 Marry J Blidge, Jay Z, Ellie Goulding, Brett Young, Avril Lavigne and Rush (ClockWork Angels Tour), Bono, Chris Martin, and in 2016 as the soloist on The “Belong” Arena Tour peroforming with Artist Nichole Nordeman. Jacob has been a featured soloist on such Television shows as Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Electric Cello) and Marvel’s Agents Of Shield 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, children’s choir, to modern dance companies. In late 2016 Mr. Szekely completed a series of etudes focused on exploring popular styles and improvisation including “The Rake,” a funk pizzicato etude that was published as part of a compendium of progressive cello etudes by YoYo Ma, Mike Block, Mark Summer, and Rushaad Eggleston for Berklee Press in (Spring 2018) and “5 Rosetta Etudes: Progressive Cello Studies,” a series of pieces designed to introduce Jacob’s revolutionary fingerboard concepts in etude form. His website includes numerous self published works including his Rosetta Etudes, Bowing Rudiments, The Cellists Groove Cookbook and more.

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.” SPLA was the first school in America Soley dedicated to creative string playing whose award winning 5 plank curriculum included Singer Songwriter Skills, Rhythm and Groove, Fingerboard Harmony, String Yoga, and focused on Improvisation skills and language development in Jazz, Blues, Rock and Fiddle Styles. In addition to String Project Los Angeles, Jacob has also conducted over a hundred 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, Cal Arts, Ithaca College and lectured at The American String Teachers Association’s (ASTA) national conference, The Jazz Educators Network (JEN) and The California Music Educators Association (CMEA) to name a few and is founder and Artistic Director of the Annual Los Angeles Creative String Festival (now in it’s 7th year). Jacob has also served on the summer faculty of numerous festivals including Eugene Friesen’s Vermont Cello Festival, The New Directions In Cello Festival and Christian Howes’ Creative Strings Workshop with whom he co- authored an article in the July 2012 issue of The Strad advising string teachers on how to approach improvisation for classical instructors.

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 interactive online community for creative cellists which now boasts over 300 active members.

In his capacity as one of the world’s leading authorities on amplified string playing, Mr. Szekely has served as a consultant for The Strad Magazine and for many of the biggest names in amplified string playing including Kevin Olusola and Lindsey Sterling. Jacob expanded his commitment to pushing creative string playing forward again in 2015 with the release of the The Pickup Test, a global resource for amplified string players which features tutorials, tabletop reviews and the first ever comprehensive sound library of every pickup and mini mic on the market for Violin, Viola, and Cello where musicians can compare pickups, microphones, and preamps in real time on a custom made media player invented and designed by Mr. Szekely. The Pickup Test and Electric string Player (It’s sister page on Youtube) is widely regarded continues to evolve as a the most comprehensive resource for serious amplified string players.

Jacob is sponsored by Grace Design, Danish Professional Audio and is a Yamaha Artist and Clinician. He performs on several 4 and 5 string acoustic cellos including a cello made by Eric Benning and a bow by John Dodd.

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

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“An exciting new voice!”
– Chick Corea, Grammy Award-winning artist

“Is there anyone in the world who can play the cello like this?”
– Brian Arsenault, The International Review Of Music

“A uniquely gifted artist.”

“Outstanding artistry and attention to detail.”
– LA Weekly

“Virtuosic and passionate performance.”
– Lexington Herald Leader

Cool…Jacob’s jazz voice is very intelligent and mature.”
– Harry Scorzo, jazz violin virtuoso (Bongo Logic)

“Expansive harmonic language/incredible fluiduity.”
– Matt Turner, jazz cello virtouso

– Antonio Lysy, cello soloist and professor of music at UCLA

“Chops to burn, pyrotechnic vision, Szekely sets the cello on fire.”
– Michael Fitzpatrick, recipient of the Prince Charles Award

“A killer project! Spectacular phrasing and solos, and the compositions rock!”
-Charlie Bisharat, Grammy Award-winning violinist/studio legend

“Deeply Inspiring, Fearless, imaginative… and funky.”
-Peter Jacobson, Grammy Award-winning cellist (Quetzal)

“Superb writing and musicianship.”
-Paul Colleti, internationally renowned viola virtuoso

“Szekely’s jazz improvisations deftly soar above a tightly grooving matrix of keyboards and drums. An auspicious debut.”
– Mark Summer (TISQ)

“There is nothing else like it out there.”
– Bear McCreary, Emmy Award-winning composer & musician (Da Vinci’s Demons, The Walking Dead)

“A strikingly original virtuoso cello statement. Beautifully performed and uniquely arranged.”
– Geddy Lee (Rush)

“His mixture of rock and post-bop is striking… Resonates as it charms.”
– James Crel, The Strad

“A refreshing and unique approach to jazz on a bowed instrument. Jacob has honed his free-form technique to the point that it feels effortless and inspired. I also love how he varies the tone, vibrato and texture of the cello as the tunes progress – something that is typically missing in modern string playing.”
– David Campbell, violist/arranger (Muse, McCartney, U2, Beck)

“Total badass!!! This is the first recording I’ve heard that makes a convincing case for the cello as leader in a hard-hitting modern jazz setting.”
– Eugene Friesen, cello pioneer ad professor at the Berklee School of Music

“Cellist Jacob Szekely has built a career on defying expectations of what his chosen instrument is capable of. Cultivating a sound he calls ‘rock chamber jazz,’ the classically trained Brooklyn native and USC grad mixes all those styles and more into the self-titled debut album from his Jacob Szekely Trio. In Szekely’s dexterous hands, the cello acts as both lead and rhythm instrument, fluttering through Coltrane-like sheets of sound on jazzy tracks such as ‘Corner Song’ and mimicking an upright bass behind Josh Nelson’s gorgeous piano licks on ‘300 Years.’”
– Andy Hermann, LA Weekly

“What started with 1970s pioneers like Abdul Wadud, Hank Roberts, Diedre Murray, Akua Dixon, and later Turtle Island String Quartet’s Mark Summer has turned into a veritable movement, and no one is doing more to open up possibilities for cello players than Jacob Szekely.”
– Berkleyside

“In his first outing as a leader, Szekely has created a unique musical tapestry that incorporates the richness of jazz improvisation, the structure of classical music and the edginess of rock into its own alchemy which Szekely calls rock chamber jazz.”
– Do The Bay (San Francisco)

“A virtuoso who places as much emphasis on the forms he’s created, as his transformative cello solos. Szekely can soar lyrically on an arco passage that would make for a thrilling tenor saxophone cadenza, channel Indian sonorities or thread his way through a pointillist thicket of rhythmic subtleties. He can trade percussive volleys with [Christopher] Aliss (just watch how the pair transforms Soundgarden’s ‘Spoonman’) and dialogue with [Josh] Nelson in the intuitive way that pianist Bill Evans could with bassist Scott LaFaro.

While cellist Jacob Szekely embraces his instrument as the lead voice in non-traditional settings, he’s consciously avoided the gimmickry often associated with such efforts. He doesn’t do anything as predictable as spit out transcriptions of Hendrix and Coltrane solos. Instead, he’s internalized their improvisational strategies and flourishes, developing a vernacular unique to the cello. In doing so, he has added another dialect to the instrument’s accepted range of expression.”
– Kirk Silsbee, LA Weekly

“Fun and rocking. Nelson is his usual tasteful delight, doing keyboard work on the dreamy ‘Project 7’ and the chamber toned “Project 7.” Clever little bumps on ‘Corner Song’ and melodicisms on ‘300 Years’ make this an intimately swinging delight.
– George W. Harris, Jazz Weekly

“Cellists often get a bad rap, almost invisible in the shadows of so many violinists obnoxiously clamoring for attention… There are a unique few cellists whose voices demand a hearing, and Jacob Szekely is definitely one.”
– Christian Howes, internationally renowned jazz violinist

“Far from resorting to tricks, Jacob’s playing, teaching, composing, and creative enterprises of all sorts demonstrate a long and passionate search for the deepest expression of his unique sound, that of a true artist who happens to be a cellist. Check him out. You will be amazed.”
– Christian Howes, internationally renowned jazz violinist

“JACOB SZEKELY/JS 3: 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 far away 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.”
– Midwest Record Review

Educators' Quotes

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