The story of Entourage, its formation as a healing influence, movement toward musical success—and ultimately the band’s future as the voice of jazz in the Duke City—are part of the musical mythos of Burque. Weekly Alibi discussed that with the super sophisticated bandleader as Emerson and company made preparations for a sold-out anniversary gig this Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE). In an exclusive interview, Corley reflected on the past while celebrating the now and looking forward to a musically notable future.
Weekly Alibi: Tell our readers about the history of Entourage.
Emerson Corley: It started out as a Carpenters tribute ensemble. In 2007, I came home to cook and went outside, where two thugs were waiting to rob me at knifepoint. I got away from them, but was very traumatized. As I was recovering, I was like, “Life’s not a dress rehearsal.” I decided to do the things I really, really wanted to do. Up until then, I just wanted to make classical music for the rest of my life, but afterwards, I thought, “I’ve got to do something else.” I had always loved the music of the Carpenters. I wanted to put together one concert that used the original instrumentation, arrangements, backup singers, all that stuff. In November of 2007, we did just that. I got together a group of classically trained local musicians, and for three months we did the Carpenters. One of the band members asked if we could only do music by the Carpenters. I said no, and we started rehearsing pieces by Chuck Berry, The Beatles ... at first we did a bunch of rock stuff. Finally one of my cohorts challenged me to do a jazz tune. Peg Royson challenged me to do “Fly Me to the Moon.” I found an arrangement I liked, and that was it. I was hooked.
So, the band has evolved from a large ensemble to a quintet and even a trio over the years. How and why?
It evolved when [local composer and pianist] Arnold Bodmer came to play with the band in 2009. He changed it all. He helped me change everything, he really, really challenged me to be the player that I am today. The group had to expand and contract to accommodate different audiences. So right now it’s a trio, but is capable of expanding to a quintet or a big band!
So, let me get this straight; you match the ensemble size and repertoire to the audience you’re playing for, right?
Exactly. The audience is important. What they want to hear is what we are going to do.
How would you describe Entourage, in its various forms, to folks who haven’t heard you perform before?
Entourage Jazz, as opposed to Entourage Eclectic Ensemble, is about jazz standards, vocals and instrumentals from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. So, you’re talking The Great American Songbook ... Also instrumentals by folks like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, the bop era.
Do audiences dig this brand of music?
They’re really awesome. Our audience is a cross-section of ages, kids, teenagers, people in their 90s! People in their 20s have told me, “Man, I don’t know your music, and I want to know it.” “Go check it out,” I tell them, “It’s wonderful, wonderful jazz, and it’s totally happening now.”