A solid, big-voiced jazz baritone (à la Johnny Hartman or Billy Eckstine) who has spent years in rock bands, in musical theater and on the folk circuit, 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 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. was profoundly influenced by the many live performances—by such jazz greats as the (original) Dave Brubeck Quartet, Thelonious Monk Quartet (w/ Charlie Rouse), Jimmy Smith Trio, 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'd frequent.
Today, 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, Café Noctambulo at Pangea, The Garage, 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 later became 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, James Weidman, Manny Duran, Dena DeRose, Bob Kindred, Eric McPherson, Claire Daly, Roni Ben-Hur, Gene Perla, Joe Vincent Tranchina, Ratzo B. Harris, Dave Hofstra, Chris Bergson, Isrea Butler, Christopher Dean Sullivan, Tom Melito, Hilliard Greene, Joe Strasser, Peggy Stern, Les Kurtz, Elizabeth Frascoia, Sean Smith, Jacob Melchior, Saadi Zain and the late 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, the annual free concert which honored those we lost on New York's most fateful day, created an ongoing prayer for peace and served as a gift of healing from New York's jazz community to our fellow New Yorkers.
September 2014 marked this event's milestone 10th year of providing 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 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 were scheduled and took turns offering a musical prayer for peace, playing a stunning SIX-HOUR free concert to a packed house. Beginning with the night's first note at 7pm, the emotional and musical bar was set to intensely high levels, which never wavered until the final fade at 1am. 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 the years—whether as musician, audience member or from the venue side. Hopefully, something someone played or sang at some juncture in 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 artists who stepped forward over the years to speak of that day through their music. It will remain, as both a tribute to our mission and as an ongoing locale to continue this important conversation.
As can be inferred from his most recent 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. Facing today's world, E. J. strongly supported the various Occupy movements around the country, dedicating his recent album's title track, Tom Paxton's "A Job Of Work," to "the 99%"—and to the millions of ongoing long-term unemployed, in particular.
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