October, 2019 — At age 3, after his mom taught piano lessons, Ernest Turner would crawl up on the bench and try to mimic them. By age 9, though, his piano teacher’s music didn’t quite fit with his interest in Michael Jackson and Boys to Men, and desire to play his own thing. “Ms. Cooke was a great piano teacher, but she got so angry at me when I tried to make stuff up.” He played some trumpet and tuba in band in middle school, but again the music wasn’t his style. “With tuba, I played 5 or 6 bass notes in a song. I was bored,” says Turner. It was his middle school jazz band director who took some personal interest, and gave him the tools to create his own music. That freedom and skill was the spark.
Ernest Turner’s recent album “My Americana” demonstrates his own path. The title is a play off the Great American Songbook. This jazz book is what every jazz student studies in order to understand the history and music of jazz: Cole porter, Gershwin, … wonderful songs. Turner wanted to think about the music he heard when he grew up, music that was impactful to him – his own personal great American songbook.
Of the jazz standard favorites and personal compositions, Turner’s bare bones rendition of Precious Lord is perhaps the most meaningful piece to him. “It was my late dad’s favorite song. Both my uncles passed a few years ago, and I played it at their funeral. There is an emotional connection I made with that. I remember while I was playing it, it was hard.” This album is one of his proudest accomplishments.
This commitment to taking your own path is why Ernest Turner is such a great representation of Thelonious Monk for this month’s JAZZ ROOM, and for our NC Legends series. Monk is almost the embodiment of the personalized nature of jazz. “The thing I appreciate is that Monk went his own path, all the time. His behavior, his dress, his style, and his playing. His statement was: this is who I am, how I’m gonna be, and how I’m gonna play. “
October is special: it’s Thelonious Monk’s 102 birthday. Ernest Turner played for his 100th birthday in Durham and is excited to continue to celebrate him. Ernest Turner is bringing his own quartet to THE JAZZ ROOM – this group formed in the past year, gelled quickly, and recently won the DC Jazz Festival. They include: Stephen Riley on tenor saxophone, Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums and Kevin Beardsley on bass.
As a part of the NC Year of Music, we will also get a chance to hear Ernest Turner talk about this local legend at a free lunch event, Friday October 18. See the events page for details.