A solid, big-voiced jazz baritone (à la Johnny Hartman or Billy Eckstine) who spent many years in rock bands, musical theater and on the West Coast folk circuit during the early 1970s, E.J. Decker landed in NYC's jazz scene in the early '90s with a distinctive style once described as "biker Gershwin." Critic Scott Yanow notes Decker "has a strong voice touched by that of Billy Eckstine, although he has his own sound."
Raised in a musical household, E.J.'s mother was a pianist and his dad a Big Band-era baritone who worked with many N.Y.-area bands of the day, including a brief stint with Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra, and was E.J.'s first vocal coach. Drawn first to his dad's big band discs, as well as his older brothers' rock and R&B records and later their jazz albums, E.J. later was profoundly influenced by the many live performances by such greats as the Dave Brubeck Qrt, Thelonious Monk (w/ Charlie Rouse), Jimmy Smith, Oscar Brown, Jr., Alberta Hunter, Duke Ellington (w/ Johnny Hodges), Sammy Davis, Jr. and George Wein's Newport All Stars that he avidly sought out while still in his teens, along with the scores of rock and folk concerts he caught while frequenting the Fillmore & Anderson theaters on NYC’s Lower East Side.
Today, absorbing all he’s heard, E.J. glides easily from jazz through pop and standards, rock and folk to '50s R&B and blues, and stands among today's strongest male interpreters of ballads — all while still maintaining a consistency of sound and feel that marks it immediately as an E.J. Decker piece. As reviewers and fans alike have pointed out, he definitely has his own sound.
In performance, any given set may contain songs by writers as diverse as Irving Berlin, the Gershwins or Billy Strayhorn. Or just possibly, Tom Paxton, Ivory Joe Hunter, Bob Dylan, Bobby Timmons, Hank Williams, Oscar Brown, Jr. or the Beatles, or even one of his original compositions — each filtered through E.J.'s singular sensibility.
E.J. has sung in clubs, festivals and concerts across the United States, before royalty, and in most of the jazz venues of New York, including: Birdland, Js, Bar Next Door, Café Noctambulo at Pangea, The Garage, Bar Thalia @ Symphony Space, Enzo's Jazz, The Cornelia St. Cafe, Sweet Rhythm, Cleopatras Needle, The Squire, SOMETHIN' Jazz Club, The Bacchus Room, The Iguana, The Triad, The Savoy, Chez Suzette, The Redeye Grill, Zinnos and Ashford & Simpson's Sugar Bar, among others. He also stands as one of the very few vocalists ever formally booked into the legendarily singer-averse Columbia University-area jazz haunt, Augie's, which now lives on as the jazz club, SMOKE.
E.J. has recorded or appeared with a wide array of players, such as Randy Sandke, Eric Lewis (ELEW), David Lahm, Dick Griffin, Gene Perla, James Weidman, Freddie Bryant, Manny Duran, Dena DeRose, Bob Kindred, Eric McPherson, Claire Daly, Roni Ben-Hur, Joe Vincent Tranchina, Ratzo B. Harris, Dave Hofstra, Chris Bergson, Isrea Butler, Les Kurtz, Christopher Dean Sullivan, Tom Melito, Hilliard Greene, Joe Strasser, Peggy Stern, Elizabeth Frascoia, Sean Smith, Jimmy Madison, Joe Giglio, Jacob Melchior, Marshal Rosenberg, Saadi Zain, Dwayne “Cook” Broadnax, Josh Richmond and the great Benny Powell — as well as with his departed mentors, Terri Thornton, Laurel Watson and Johnny "Tasty" Parker — among others.
For ten years, from 2005 to 2014, E.J. produced & performed in The September Concert: The Heart of Jazz for 9/11, an annual free concert which honored those we lost on New York's most fateful day, created as an ongoing prayer for peace, which offered a gift of solace and healing through music from New York's jazz community to our fellow New Yorkers.
Its ten years sought to provide a proper venue for audience and artist alike to gather to remember. More than 160 of NYC's top jazz artists stepped forward at some point over the years — in programs of between 35 and 50 musicians each year — to play the emotions of that day "through their horn," determined to "fill the skies with music every Sept. 11." For that last year in 2014, 40 top artists appeared, taking turns offering a musical prayer for peace, playing a stunning SIX-HOUR free concert to a packed house. With each year's first note, the emotional and musical bar was set to intensely high levels, which never wavered until the late night’s final fade. Artistry filled the room with love and community, furthering the healing process for both musician and audience member. E.J. sends his most sincere thanks and deepest love to everyone who participated in this astonishing event over those years —whether as musician, audience member, the staffs of the various venues or the guest MCs who joined us from WBGO-Jazz88. Hopefully, something someone said, played or sang at some juncture over its 10 years moved or healed you in some way. Here is the event's Facebook page, with scores of photos of the many gifted New York-based artists who stepped forward over the years to express their feelings of that day through their music. That page will remain live in perpetuity, as both a tribute to our mission and as an ongoing locale to continue this important conversation. Feel free to stop by and leave a comment.
As can be inferred from his 2014 release, A Job of Work (Tales of the Great Recession), E.J. has been involved in various forms of activism and worldview throughout much of his life. While still in college, he was tapped to helm a 5,000-person anti-war demonstration across the city of Philadelphia. In 1983, he served on the event marshal staff for the Martin Luther King, Jr. March on Washington, 20th Anniversary re-staging in D.C., which again drew 300,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial, and where for the event he was assigned as one of the personal bodyguards to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, then still weighing and teasing out his historic 1984 presidential run so had no official security detail. Facing today's world, E.J. strongly supported the various Occupy movements around the country, dedicating his last album's title track, Tom Paxton's "A Job Of Work," to "the 99%" — and to the millions of ongoing long-term unemployed & underemployed, in particular, and to today’s “fully employed,” which only means they’re working 2 or 3 jobs to get by.
In 2018, E.J. released his third album, his tribute to a major influence on his work, the late, great baritone Arthur Prysock. Titled Bluer Than Velvet: The Prysock Project, it’s received glowing reviews from around the world, along with garnering a great deal of ongoing worldwide radio play.
All of E.J. Decker’s albums on Candela Records are available at CD Baby.
Memberships / Positions:
NARAS (Grammy voting member) / Jazz Journalists Assn. / Actors Equity Assn. / Jazz Vocal Coalition (former NY Chapter president) / Producer: The September Concert: The Heart of Jazz for 9/11.
Top photo/center photo: Janis Wilkins