ABOUT ETHAN FOOTE
Ethan Foote is a musician and composer seeking new meaning for music in the 21st century. Rooted in the traditions of jazz, Western classical, and folk, he finds that meaning in many places—including in encounters between music and other art forms. He is regularly hard at work performing, composing, and thinking, and he is proud to be a 2017 Strathmore Artist-in-Residence.
Ethan’s current focus is as a composer and performer of concert music, much of which may be described as falling somewhere on a spectrum between classical music and jazz—though often with a nod or two to folk music. There have been many interesting turns on the road to this point.
Ethan’s musical world starting taking shape when, as a child, he was introduced by his mother to the canonical composers of the Western classical tradition and by his father to American folk music. He received his first formal training at the age of nine at the Levine School of Music in Washington, where he studied cello under the exacting tutelage of John Gevorkian. It was also there that he met renowned bassist and music educator Pepe Gonzalez. After teaching himself the basics of bass guitar, Ethan eventually decided to study the instrument with Gonzalez, who would in turn expose him to jazz and teach him the double bass, music theory, and much of the rest of what he knows about music.
Ethan took after his supremely well-rounded teacher in exploring as much music as possible as a performer and a listener. While in his teens he played in rock bands, jazz groups, and chamber ensembles, and he gradually began to write music. As the horizon continued to expand, eclecticism would become a constant in Ethan’s work both creatively and professionally.
While at Oberlin College, Ethan pursued his academic interests in the humanities, studying primarily literature and philosophy and graduating with a B.A. in English in 2010. But he also absorbed the school’s pervasive music culture by playing in jazz ensembles, attending concerts of classical and contemporary music, and taking classes in music theory and music history. As a composer, he continued to focus during this period mainly on jazz, though elements of folk and Western classical music could be heard even in his jazz compositions.
Upon returning to D.C., Ethan resumed his career as a gigging musician and continued to perform regularly as a jazz bassist. Yet he would very quickly branch out in several new directions as well.
In conjunction with his interests in chamber music and songwriting, Ethan rediscovered the cello and taught himself guitar. He set to work on new material in a folk vein that, years later, in 2015, would become his solo debut album Fields Burning. Featuring vocalist Wanda Perkins and string quartet invoke (among others), the album is an ambitious and imaginative blend of folk-rock and classical inspiration, heavily influenced by British traditional styles and indebted to literary as much as to musical forebears. It was strongly favored in underground progressive rock circles as far flung as Dutch prog-rock site DPRP.net and Tokyo’s Garden Shed, a record shop specializing in progressive artists.
Around the same time, Ethan encountered the vibrant D.C. theatre scene and started partnering with actors, devisers, and visual artists. In such collaborative pieces as the 2013 Source Festival production Fox Cried (co-created with Jack Novak and Jane Claire Remick) and the one-woman show Tale of a Tiger (devised by Rachel Hynes), he would explore unconventional uses of music within the context of theater and visual media, breaking new aesthetic ground for performed music, interdisciplinary art, and the double bass as an instrument. Most recently, in 2017 Ethan served as the composer and sound designer for a production of Charles Mee’s Big Love at Amherst College in Amherst, MA.
Ethan has also worked alongside dancers and choreographers. In 2013, he helped lead the accompanying band for acclaimed dancer and choreographer David Dorfman’s Come, and Back Again at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. In 2014, he composed music for Erin White et al’s Summing Up, which was included in the Richmond Choreographers Showcase, and later that year he led an ensemble in accompanying the site-specific dance piece Here They Stood at the University of Maryland, created by poet, dancer, and playwright Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
Aside from Fields Burning, Ethan’s other major endeavor in the area of folk-rock has been his work with singer, songwriter, and guitarist Marian McLaughlin, with whom he has enjoyed an extensive musical partnership since appearing as a bassist on her 2013 album Dérive. As an arranger of McLaughlin’s highly original and unusual music, Ethan has written for an array of instrumental forces and performed his arrangements in several noteworthy contexts—such as in April of 2014 when he led a string trio in accompanying McLaughlin at one of NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts. Ethan also directed much larger ensembles in conjunction with McLaughlin’s 2015 second album, Spirit House, which Ethan co-produced with her and producer/engineer Mike Okusami. The album’s daring combination of McLaughlin’s idiosyncratic musical poetry and Ethan’s soaring arrangements has garnered it widespread respect and acclaim, attested to by coverage from NPR’s All Songs Considered, Folk Radio UK, and Vinyl District, among other sources. As the Marian McLaughlin Trio, Ethan, Marian, and cellist Katie Weismann have toured the U.S. and U.K. since 2015.
In the spring of 2016 Ethan was accepted to the 2016-2017 class of the Strathmore Artist-In-Residence program, a selective year-long residency for six young D.C.-area artists held at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda, MD. He used the residency as an opportunity to compose and premiere new concert works, including his String Quartet No. 1, the quintet for winds and strings Revanche Grotesque, the duet for flute and bass The Accusing Shadow, and the four-movement jazz suite Suite for Septet.
As a session musician, Ethan has recorded double bass, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, cello, and percussion in several studio sessions in recent years. In addition to his comprehensive work on Fields Burning (2015) and Spirit House (2015), he has contributed as an instrumentalist to Dérive (2014), Marian McLaughlin’s debut album; The Lark EP (2013) by New York-based electronic jazz pop artist Mary Alouette (aka Alarke) (for which he also served as an arranger); Exit 1 (2014) by Hindustani classical violinist and composer Nistha Raj; Beneath Potomac Skies (2014) by Americana artist Ken Wenzel; Dreams of Light (2015), the first album by Wind Divine, his trio with Wanda Perkins and invoke violinist Nick Montopoli; and Fireflies, Fairies & Squids, the upcoming album by electric cellist Wytold.
For all his work as a composer, arranger, and session musician, Ethan remains a performer and a gigging musician. The breadth of his abilities has afforded Ethan the opportunity to take the stage at such venues as the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre’s Sydney Harman Hall, the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Mansion at Strathmore, Blues Alley, and the Howard Theater, as well as a host of smaller performance spaces in D.C., New York, and elsewhere. He has toured in the United States, U.K., and France.