Jeff Oster, who was born in 1957, in Danville, Illinois, began playing trumpet at the age of eight. He eventually graduated from Coral Gables High School Florida in 1975, where he played in “the best marching and concert band in all of Florida.,” as he puts it. “We marched 200, and our concert band had over 100—and we were good!….We went to Europe—all 200 of us, marched in the Orange Bowl half time shows, and in general, learned about deep friendships and excellence of working together in music. It inspired me and still does….” His first paying gig was playing “Taps” at a veteran’s funeral—for which he was paid $10.
He lists as his major musical influences artists such as Bill Chase, Herb Alpert, Miles Davis, Chris Botti, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Will Ackerman, Yes, U2, and more recently Kendrick Lamar.
In 1979, Jeff moved to L.A. to pursue a career full time in music. During the ensuing years, He honed his musical skills during live performances in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Atlantic City, and while working the LA club scene. Now, as one of the few trumpet/flugelhorn artists working in the contemporary instrumental music genre, he draws from a rich background of classically trained and jazz influenced musical study.
In 2004, Jeff began working with producer Will Ackerman, Grammy winning guitarist and founder of Windham Hill Records. Oster and Ackerman collaborated on, and Ackerman produced, Oster’s four-track EP, “At Last.” The title track from that album, performed by Oster, Ackerman, Philip Aaberg and Happy Rhodes, also won the Best New Age Song award at the 5th Independent Music Awards.
This was followed by the CD “Released” in 2005. “Released” won the 2005 Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album awards at the NAR Lifestyle Music Awards. Listeners of the national radio program “Echoes” also voted “Released” as its 6th-place winner for The 2005 Listeners Poll, and the “Echoes” staff chose it as one of the 25 Essential Echoes CDs for 2007, at #18.
In 2007, Will Ackerman produced “True,” which again features music composed by Oster and Ackerman, as well as by Ugandan vocalist Samite, Jan Pulsford and Patrick Gorman. In December 2007, one of the songs from “True,” the composition “Saturn Calling”, written and arranged by Oster, won the Best New Age Song award at the 2008 Independent Music Awards. Listeners of the national radio program “Echoes” voted “True” as its 10th-place winner for The 2007 Listeners Poll, and the “Echoes” staff chose it as one of the 25 Essential Echoes CDs for 2007. “True” also won the 2007 NAR Lifestyle Music Awards for Album Of The Year and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in March 2008. In 2009, “Echoes” listeners voted “True” No. 88 of the 200 CDs for 20 Years of “Echoes” poll.
On April 23, 2008, NASA and JPL added a profile of Jeff Oster and his song “Saturn Calling” to the NASA and Cassini-Huygens websites. “Saturn Calling” includes a sound excerpt from the Cassini spacecraft’s recording of the auroras of Saturn.
In 2011, Jeff Released “Surrender,” co-produced by Bryan Carrigan and Oster, and featuring a guest performance by vocalist Diane Arkenstone. Later that year, “Echoes” chose “Surrender” as its September CD of the Month. Around the same time, “Surrender” reached #1 on the Zone Music Reporter New Age/Ambient radio charts. Then, in December of 2011, “Surrender” was chosen by the staff at “Echoes” as one of the Top 25 Essential CDs of 2011, ranking it at #12. The listeners of “Echoes” also voted “Surrender” as its 7th most popular CD on the Best of Echoes 2011 Listeners Poll.
In February 2012, “Surrender” was nominated by broadcasters worldwide for Album of the Year and Best Chill/Groove Album for the 2011 ZMR Awards at ZoneMusicReporter.com. On March 8, 2012, “Surrender” was also nominated for Best New Age Album, and “Beautiful Silence,” a track from “Surrender” was nominated for Best New Age Song at the 11th Annual Independent Music Awards. And on March 11, 2012, Surrender won the ZMR Music Award for Album of the Year and Best Chill/Groove Album for the 2011 ZMR Awards,at ZoneMusicReporter.com.
In addition to recording his own very successful albums, Jeff has played flugelhorn or trumpet as a supporting musician on albums by Karen Marie Garrett, Rory Sullivan, Kathy Moxham, Matt Millecchia, Kori Linae Carothers, Lawrence Blatt, Will Ackerman, Fiona Joy, Rocky Fretz, Stanton Lanier, Frank Smith, Garneau, Ann Sweeten, Dana Cunningham, Tim Gaetano, Bob Belden, Shambhu Vineberg, Heidi Breyer, Ann Licater, River Donaghey, Jamie Bonk, Robert Linton, Ronnda Cadle, Laura Sullivan, Carl Weingarten, Jennifer DeFrayne, Louis Colaiannia and Masako. One of those albums — “Love’s River” by Laura Sullivan — won a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album of 2013.
Jeff’s most recent album, “Next,” is an exceptional, sophisticated, pleasant, and powerful collection of varied instrumental tapestries woven together with elements of jazz, funk, chill, and New Age – but with one common thread – Jeff’s exquisite horn (trumpet and/or flugelhorn) as the foremost voice. Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, the album was co-produced with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, and engineered and mixed by Eaton. For “Next,” Jeff also enlisted the services of the legendary duo of Chuck Rainey on bass and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums, who together had previously provided the groove inducing rhythm section on many of the recordings of Steely Dan.
The album also includes guest performances by Tony Levin and Michael Manring on bass, Ricky Kej on bass, synthesizer, and keyboards, Tom Eaton on guitar, bass, Fender Rhodes, and other keyboards, Britt Thomas Brady on guitar, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers and keyboards, Catherine Marie Charlton and Philip Aaberg on piano, singers Melissa Kaplan and Noah Wilding, and Nile Rodgers, Shambhu Vineberg, Will Ackerman, Carl Weingarten, Scott Tarulli, Todd Boston and Taylor Barefoot on guitar, Vanil Veigas on sarangi, and Jeff Taboloff on saxophone.
For Jeff, this album is about rebirth and change, and tells the story of what’s next for him, both as a musician and in his life. As he states, “”Next” is about claiming who I am, and who I’ve always wanted to be. It’s why I live. It takes strength and power to step out into the unknown. Not everyone opens the door and takes the risk to try something new, something you’ve dreamed of for years. And with uncertainty comes the joy of freedom. This album represents my moment to truly make a statement…to claim my place as a musician with something important to share.”
The album begins with the title track, which artfully integrates contributions from various instrumental voices – horn, bass, percussion, synth, electric guitar, and even slide guitar – into an carefully crafted, airy, celestial, up-tempo, slinky, funky, rich, and occasionally bouncy trumpet driven groove, with obvious jazz influences. In fact, one of the standout qualities of this album in general is the masterful and ingenious ways in which a variety of musical elements are interwoven together seamlessly.
The second track, “Night Train To Sofia,” features Eastern-European styled ethereal and emotional vocals from Melissa Kaplan, and presents a slower, more steady rhythm, only subtly suggestive of a slow moving train, and with more mysterious, smoky, and decidedly sultry qualities.
Along similar lines, “Ibiza Sunrise” has slow, mystical, sultry, and seductive qualities, but with heavier percussion. And again, female “siren-like” voices provide a focal point, with a cleverly mixed backdrop of percussion, synthesizers, guitar, and Jeff’s flugelhorn.
“Gardens at Varanasi”, which features one of the most compelling lead melodies on the album, begins as a substantially downtempo, airy, celestial, and mysterious exploration, with Veigas’ sarangi playing adding distinctly Asian qualities. By the ending, however, the tempo builds a bit into a somewhat more jazzy, mellow beat.
“Half A Cookie,” which is probably the most ambient and chill style track on the album, also includes a notable ethnic music flavor — what is most certainly Native American inspired percussion — at its foundation. Otherwise, it it a slow, churning, study in acoustic minimalism.
“The Mystery of B” features a slightly up-tempo bass guitar and percussion driven rhythm, but with slow, sultry horn that plays off that rhythm like the proverbial tortoise chasing the hare. Periodically rising to a climax, this track, along with “Heroes,” provide a bit more drama than any of the other tracks.
Two other tracks, “On Mother’s Day,” and “And We Dance” feature Jeff’s horn, accompanied only by light and emotive acoustic guitar. In the former case, it is the masterful guitarist Shambhu, accompanying on a track which he co-wrote with Oster as an emotional tribute to mothers everywhere. In the latter case, the tender, gentle, and exquisite acoustic guitar stylings of Will Ackerman provide the warm, introspective counterpoint to Jeff’s blissful flugelhorn. This song, co-written by Jeff and Will, is one of the stronger tracks on the album and one of our personal favorites.
Jeff’s cover of the Bonnie Raitt song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” is a country slow dance inspired, sultry, soulful and piano enhanced lament. Philip Aeberg’s piano even occasionally adds a bit of country music inspired color around the edges.
In contrast, “Turn left at San Pancho” and “Avenue D” are more up-tempo, exquisitely layered, carefree, melodic, and unabashedly smooth jazz influenced tracks. The former features strong percussion, compelling bass, and light but sparkling electric piano as Jeff’s accompaniment, while the latter, probably the most up-tempo and joyful track on the album, sizzles with a percolating rhythm, weeping electric guitar, dazzling keyboard licks, and a superb trumpet and flugelhorn driven melody. Carefully placed environmental sound effects also enhance the playful nature of the song, making “Avenue D” our most favorite track on the album.
“Heroes,” with a major contribution from Jeff Taboloff’s soaring tenor saxophone, is probably the most complex, layered, and dynamic track on the album, and again one of our personal favorites. The opening, with an interweaving of Charlton’s piano and Tabaloff’s mellow saxaphone, provides one of the most interesting passages on the entire album. Eventually, though, it gives way to an up-tempo blending of piano, synthesizers, horns, guitar, and a more pronounced bass-heavy beat that really sizzles with more drama and a distinctly classic New Age jazz feel.
Overall, “Next” is a delightful album with outstanding musicianship and is certainly Jeff Oster’s best overall album thus far. Recently, Will Ackerman observed, “Jeff Oster has always amazed me. Anyone who sounds like no one else amazes me, but a guy who grows so stunningly as a composer and player in the space of a few years inspires nothing but awe. “Next” is a step in musical evolution from where we last heard from Jeff… rather like the apes harnessing fire and inventing French cuisine. It’s a joy as his friend and co-producer to watch someone you love and respect grow into an artist of true importance and significance in a world of background noise. Listen to this. It matters.”
We agree and so we very highly recommend this album.