With his first nationally distributed CD, Night On The Town (Higher Octave), 21-year-old alto and tenor saxophonist Eric Darius will show listeners worldwide what those around the Tampa Bay area already know: The University of South Florida student has the fluidity and polish of a musician 10 years his senior.
"What I get a lot is, 'Your style and your playing is so mature, it's far beyond your years,'" says the easygoing Darius without ego. "It's really neat for me."
A jazz musician who uses the word "neat"? That pretty much sums up the disarming candor and modest demeanor of Darius, whose devotion to his craft impressed guitarist Ken Navarro, who produced and brought along his touring band to record Night on the Town.
Darius' bass-playing dad and church-singing mom loved to spin classic soul and jazz on the family stereo, so their kids were all drawn to music. His skills advanced enough to be chosen for America's Youngest Jazz Band, led by trumpeter Sonny LaRosa, for kids aged 5 through 12. Performing with the Blake Jazz Ensemble put Darius on stage at the Essentially Ellington Festival.
Inspired by John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, David Sanborn, Kenny Garrett and Michael Brecker, Darius began recording his compositions and sold early demos at ages 13 and 15. He soon hooked up with members of saxophonist Richard Elliot's band, Dave and Ron Reinhardt, who produced his first full-length CD, Cruisin'. "I wrote most of the music from that CD when I was 14," Darius says, "and we released it in 2000 when I was 17."
One local event found Darius opening for David Benoit and Navarro. Blown away by what he had seen, Navarro agreed to produce his next album even before a record deal was signed. A demo of finished songs, as well as live performance footage, clinched his deal with Higher Octave.
Night on the Town includes two rerecorded tunes from his earlier effort: the original composition "Cruisin'" as well as "Love TKO." He also includes a swinging cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." But where Darius truly shines is on his catchy originals, such as the happy "Joy Ride," "Night on the Town," and the R&B-ish "So Fine," which he includes in both an instrumental and a vocal version featuring himself on the mike.
Darius thinks he'll probably have to take a hiatus from pursuing his degree in business and jazz performance to promote his new CD. "I love to perform and bring joy to people's lives," Darius says with youthful enthusiasm.