With a longstanding reputation as one of jazz’s keenest talent scouts, alto saxophonist Greg Osby is often approached by aspiring musicians seeking his stamp of approval. Far too often these eager young players have yet to find a voice of their own, but when Osby first listened to a recording by Framingham-raised pianist Jason Yeager’s trio, he recognized an artist with a singular, passionately thoughtful vision, inflected by a fascination with Argentine culture.
“Jason’s project had all of the elements that I was looking for,’’ Osby says. “He’s an individualist with a high concept, and his music contains grace and color and a great deal of depth. It was clearly the result of a great deal of nurturing.’’
Yeager’s recording “Ruminations’’ ended up on Osby’s Inner Circle Music label and ranks as one of 2011’s most impressive debuts. Now living in Brooklyn, the pianist returns to Boston for a performance Wednesday night at Regattabar with his trio featuring Boston drummer Michael Gleichman and Brooklyn bassist Danny Weller. They’ll be joined by the startlingly original vocalist Aubrey Johnson, an Inner Circle artist who connected Yeager with Osby (and contributed to one track on “Ruminations’’).
JASON YEAGER TRIO
The group is still musing over the material on the album, but Yeager has found no shortage of inspiration writing new tunes since moving to New York City in late 2010.
“I’m not sure the new music has taken a decidedly different direction, but it encompasses the experience of living in such a stimulating environment,’’ says Yeager, 24. “My music has definitely gotten grittier, more adventurous.’’
Osby’s observation that Yeager benefited from generous encouragement and savvy guidance along the way is a testament to the resources available to young improvisers in the Boston area.
After starting piano lessons as a tot, Yeager discovered that he got real pleasure out of writing his own tunes. By middle school he was studying classical music at the Rivers School Conservatory with Dan Loschen, who also turned him on to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans. “From there I was off and running,’’ Yeager says.
Eager to get deeper into the music, he chose to attend Milton Academy because of the strong reputation of the school’s jazz performance program. Yeager decided to combine his love of music with his curiosity about the wider world after two Bob Sinicrope-led tours of South Africa with a Milton jazz band that involved concerts and educational outreach.
Enrolling in a five-year double degree program at New England Conservatory and Tufts, Yeager earned a BA in music at the former and a BA in international relations from the latter. At NEC he connected with a series of invaluable mentors while working closely with Fred Hersch, Ran Blake, Frank Carlberg, John McNeil and Jerry Bergonzi. But like many of his illustrious peers, he cites Danilo Pérez as offering particularly profound creative supervision.
“I think there are stylistic things that rub off, but that’s not the dominant thing,’’ Yeager says. “Danilo is there to guide you to find your own way, and to make sure you’ve dealt with the fundamental skills. Ultimately, his influence may come through most with his philosophy about what music means.’’
Pérez has long emphasized that making music is ideally a collective endeavor, a shared creation with the power to galvanize a community in a common cause. Yeager saw the philosophy in action when he volunteered in his professor’s Panama-based Funcadión Danilo Pérez, where he taught children from impoverished communities.
In studying with Pérez, Yeager found that the ultimate objective was always the search for one’s own particular sound. In the beginning, he had plenty of work to do on his touch, time, and chord voicings, but rather than start by deconstructing his limitations, Pérez focused on Yeager’s emerging sensibility.
“At the end of the first lessons he said, ‘I’m just thinking about how to approach this because you have a lot of creativity and I don’t want to step on that. I don’t want to push aside your natural inclinations,’ ’’ Yeager recalls. “He wanted to guide me without imposing some kind of aesthetic.’’
When Yeager did start developing a pan-American approach of his own inspired by several months in Buenos Aires, Pérez was there to help him refine the concept. Several tracks on “Ruminations’’ are based on the elegant Argentine chacarera rhythm, a folkloric style associated with the early Spanish settlement in the northern city of Santiago del Estero.
“When I got back Danilo immediately started working with me on some of the rhythms,’’ Yeager says, “figuring out how these worlds could be interwoven.’’
Yeager undoubtedly has many more worlds to explore. In the company he keeps and the tools he’s acquired he seems well prepared to keep extending the musical vision that’s brought him this far.