Over the past two years, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery has made his presence felt on the scene as a member of Eric Reed’s band. With the release of his solo debut, Times Change (Nagel-Heyer), the tenorman distinguishes himself as an exciting new talent to watch.
A powerful, passionate player, the London native grew up in New Haven, Conn., where he first became attracted to jazz through the Educational Center for the Arts. Encouraged by fellow tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene to check out the thriving Hartford scene, Escoffery began hanging out at Jackie McLean’s Artists Collective. He later got a full scholarship to the Hartt School, where he studied with McLean for four years. “Studying with him was a blessing,” Escoffery says. “He came from a traditional school; he stood next to Bud Powell on the bandstand, he was on that scene. Basically he got a real solid education and went on to really open it up and create something else. All my favorite players did that—John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter. And that’s the path I’m trying to follow.”
It was while attending classes at the Thelonious Monk Institute in Boston that Escoffery met pianist Reed. “Eric was one of the visiting artists who came to work with the student ensemble,” he recalls. “We ended up doing something with him out of town and afterward he told me to give him a call when I get to New York.” That call led to an invitation to play with Reed at the Village Vanguard and to record last year on the pianist’s Happiness (Nagel-Heyer).
Aside from his ongoing gig with Reed, Escoffery also plays with the Mingus Big Band and drummer Carl Allen, who appears on Times Change along with pianist Aaron Goldberg and bassist Joel Forbes. Escoffery blows with fierce authority on originals like “Come Back Lucky,” dedicated to Lucky Thompson, and breaks free on the harmonically winding title track. He also acquits himself nicely on some well-chosen covers: Sam Rivers’ gorgeous ballad “Beatrice,” Jobim’s “Triste” and Yusef Lateef’s free-blowing “Water Pistol.”
“This first record was basically, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne Escoffery.’ The next one is going to be, ‘You know who I am so now I’m really gonna lay something on ya.’”