“Elias’s CD (Kicks) is very much in the Jazz group concept of today. It is obvious he has spent the time to reach a level of excellence that is commendable."
Over the span of his 25-year music career, native Texan and Austin resident Elias Haslanger has carved a unique and distinguished place in jazz history as a saxophonist, composer, and band leader, whose playing and writing has drawn comparisons to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, and Wayne Shorter. He has performed, recorded, and toured with many world-class artists including Ellis Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, Christopher Cross, Asleep at the Wheel, Alejandro Escovedo, Sheryl Crow, Doyle Bramhall II, Grupo Fantasma, The Four Tops, and The Temptations, among many others.
Elias has performed around the United States and Europe at clubs like Snug Harbor in New Orleans, Jazz Alley in Seattle, The Elephant in Austin, and The Blue Note in New York. He has also served as a guest artist/lecturer at universities around the nation. Mentored by the legendary saxophonists Harvey Pittel and Dick Oatts, Elias began to explore the instrument’s vast potential by studying saxophone at the University of Texas and then at the Manhattan School of Music. His interest in writing music culminated in a Master’s Degree in Composition at Texas State University (TSU) in San Marcos.
In 1996, Elias recorded his second CD as a leader entitled For the Moment, which received substantial national airplay, reaching #11 on the Gavin Jazz charts and #14 on the Jazziz Radioactive chart. Herb Wong from JazzTimes magazine wrote, “Haslanger is clearly in the forefront of the young, new, fresh players. He has respect for tradition as well as being himself. He is a merger of the past and the future.” Elias was awarded “Best Horn Player” by the Austin Chronicle in 1997, as well as the Jazz Instrumental Soloist College Outstanding Performance for the 20th Annual Downbeat Student Music Awards. In 1998 TSU awarded Elias the Mitte Scholarship for academic achievement, and Elias began to teach music theory and composition at the university.
That same year, Elias collaborated with the patriarch of the modern jazz scene, Ellis Marsalis, to release Kicks Are for Kids, of which DownBeat magazine writer Michael Point wrote, “Haslanger is now a full grown talent, both as a composer and instrumentalist whose future has almost unlimited potential and should be regarded in national terms.”
Kicks Are for Kids won praise from fans and critics around the world, and the recording was recognized as one of the top five jazz records of the year by Rick Mitchell of the Houston Chronicle, while the Austin Chronicle’s writers Jay Trachtenberg and Christopher Hess voted it the #1 and #3 best records of all Austin artists. DownBeat’s writer Michael Point voted Kicks Are for Kids as one of the top ten best CDs to come out of Austin in the 90′s, and it reached #4 on the Gavin Jazz charts with 180 radio stations around the country playing it. Elias was also awarded “Best Jazz Group” by the Austin Chronicle later that year. During this time, Elias continued to teach theory, saxophone, and composition at TSU before moving to Brooklyn, New York in 2000.
While living in Brooklyn, Elias was contacted by jazz trumpeter and musical icon Maynard Ferguson and invited to tour the United States as part of his Big Bop Nouveau band. As the featured tenor soloist in the band, Elias held the same chair Wayne Shorter had held many years earlier, and the experience touring with Maynard helped to shape Elias’s philosophy as a band leader and performer.
Since returning to his hometown of Austin in 2004, Elias has kept an active performing and recording schedule, including founding the label, Cherrywood Records, releasing the 2006 recording Dream Story and performing weekly engagements in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and New Orleans.
In September of 2012, Elias released his award-winning CD entitled Church on Monday which spent 11 weeks on the JazzWeek national radio charts and was distributed across Europe, Japan, the United States and Europe. As a result of the success of the CD, which features Texas music legend Dr. James Polk, Elias and his band, now called Church on Monday, established a weekly residency at Austin's famous Continental Club Gallery where they regularly play to standing room only audiences. The recording garnered many favorable reviews and helped the band win Best Jazz Band from the Austin Chronicle as part of the Austin Music Awards for 2012-2013. Downbeat magazine also has featured Elias and the band in its June 2013 issue.
In February of 2013, Elias was short-listed by the Texas Commission on the Arts for the role of State Musician of Texas. This prestigious position has previously been awarded to Lyle Lovett, Ray Benson and Willie Nelson and is a reflection of Elias’s hard work and dedication to advancing the arts in Texas.
At the beginning of 2014, Elias and Church on Monday were featured as part of Alejandro Escovedo's United Sounds of Austin. A sweeping show that celebrated the rich history of Austin music, Elias and the band received a standing ovation at Austin's Moody Theater and they were described as "bringing down the house" in the Rolling Stone article that reviewed the show. Elias continues to collaborate with the legendary singer/songwriter including shows at the Cactus Cafe and SXSW.
In April 2014, Black Fret, Austin's non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the arts, named Elias and Church on Monday as one of its inaugural nominees to be considered for a $10,000 grant. Black Fret's mission is to help Austin musicians achieve their goals by offering mentoring and a cash award that artists can apply to recording, promotion, or any activity the artist feels will best help the advance their career.
In May of 2014, Elias celebrated the release of his 6th CD as a leader, 2014's LIVE at the Gallery, which showcases Texas jazz icon Dr. James Polk, the former musical director for Ray Charles, and guitar virtuoso Jake Langley, former band member of Bobby Blue Bland and Joey DeFrancesco, among many others. Says Michael Jackson in the June 2014 issue of DownBeat magazine, "[LIVE] is one of the most enjoyable, raucously swinging, unpretentious yet adventurously soulful albums I've heard in a month of Sundays... Haslanger's freewheeling licks roar with virtuosity and infectious joie de vivre. 4 1/2 stars"
LIVE at the Gallery spent 12-weeks in rotation on radio stations around the United States and Canada, climbing as high as #14 during its run on the JazzWeek national radio charts and continues receive positive reviews from writers and fans across the globe. Just recently, the CD was accepted by NARAS to be considered for a GRAMMY nomination for 2015.
In summer of 2014, Elias was invited to perform with Sheryl Crow, Doyle Bramhall II and Grupo Fantasma for Austin City Limits 40th Anniversary Show. Taped in July, the show aired in October of 2014 and celebrates the history of the highly regarded, longest running music program on televsion.
Says Glenn Astarita of AllAboutJazz.com, “Simply put, Haslanger is a major talent who could find his way into the upper echelons of jazz with a judicious marketing push and smaller gaps between recordings.”
Elias embeds the best of classical influences–from Ricard Strauss to Sergei Rachmaninoff; of rock and pop legends–from Nat King Cole to the Beatles; of the profound and powerful heritages of jazz greats–Duke Ellington to John Coltrane.
Performance credits: Ellis Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, Harry Connick, Jr., Sheryl Crow, Grupo Fantasma, Martin Banks, Dr. James Polk, Christopher Cross, Alejandro Escovedo, Kat Edmonson, Bob Dorough, Jason Marsalis, Wes Anderson, Andre Hayward, Russell Gunn, Lew Soloff, Frank Foster, Clark Terry, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Jesse Davis, Steve Turre, Al Grey, Peter Martin, Donald Edwards, Bobby Shew, Bill Watrous, Allen Farnham, Roland Guerin, Fred Sanders, Edwin Livingston, JJ Johnson, Pete Rodriguez, Bruce Saunders, Ephraim Owens, Kirk Whalum, Peter Stoltzman, Thomas Heflin, Ron Westray, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Joe LoCasio, Tony Campise, Asleep at the Wheel, Mitch Watkins, Bob Meyer, Jae Sinnett, Marvin Stamm, and countless others. Elias has opened for the legendary McCoy Tyner and jazz greats Kenny Garrett and Terence Blanchard.
Read the recent feature article on Elias in the June 2013 issue of Downbeat
LIVE at the Gallery receives 4.5 stars in the July 2014 issue of Downbeat