New York’s Eileen Ivers is an award-winning champion of Irish fiddle playing. Adept in every aspect of the form, she can perform a stirring set of reels or a plaintive ballad with the best of traditional players, evidenced by her prominent role in the popular Irish song and dance show Riverdance. However, when Ivers takes the stage to play her own set with her eye-catching, indigo instrument known as “Wild Blue,” the slim, dark-haired musician could just as easily pass for a rock star. Decidedly not a purist, Ivers dives and weaves during solos, knocking out rapid lines like a blazing guitarist, her own personal style owing a bit to blues and rock in addition to Irish jigs. “I had a great teacher, Martin Mulvihill, and I was strongly grounded in the tradition,” she told Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times. “But I also spent a lot of time playing with rock bands and doing jazzy type things, too. And for me, Irish music lends itself very well to the use of a few blue notes here and there.”
Such technical versatility enabled Ivers to perform with a wide range of artists throughout her career. Playing rock, jazz, blues, classical, bluegrass, and traditional Irish folk, Ivers was a prominent member of two all-female groups, Cherish the Ladies and Chanting House, and performed live and recorded sessions with Luka Bloom, Sharon Shannon, the Hothouse Flowers, Patti Smith, Paula Cole, the Boston Pops, Paddy Maloney, Hall & Oates, and others. In total, Ivers’ recording credits include guest appearances on more than 60 contemporary and traditional albums. Earlier in her career, the fiddler of seemingly limitless talent played Monday night sessions at Paddy Reilly’s bar in New York, mixing Irish music with jazz, bluegrass, African rhythms, and other styles, and though now juggling a busy schedule, she performs during her off-time with a Celtic/hip-hop/rap group called Paddy A Go Go. For her own solo records and live appearances, Ivers regularly played with African drummer Kimati Dinizulu and guitarist John Doyle, always introducing new sounds to those of the past.
But while Ivers is one of the foremost figures in a new approach to Irish music, an outlook receptive to forms beyond the traditional, she also stresses the importance of remaining within an appropriate creative context. “It has to come naturally,” she explained, as quoted by Heckman. “Then it’s OK. But you can’t do contrived things with traditional music, because if you do, people will see right through them. Interestingly, I’ve found that Irish music and African music seem to work very well when you place them together.” However, not all Irish music fans initially supported Ivers’ new direction, regardless of her music’s merits. “I got a lot of flak when I started experimenting,” she added, “and sometimes even I questioned what I was doing. But finally I just said, ‘Look Eileen, it’s as simple as this. You gotta play what’s in your heart.’ The tradition has to move on.”
The daughter of John and Annie Ivers, who both immigrated to the Woodlawn Heights section of the
Born in 1965 in the Bronx, New York City, NY; daughter of John and Annie Ivers, who both immigrated to the U.S. from County Mayo, Ireland. Education: Studied music with Martin Mulvihill; graduated with a degree in mathematics from lona College.
Began playing fiddle at age eight; signed with Green Linnet, released self-titled debut, 1994; performed with Riverdance, 1995; released Wild Blue, 1996; signed with Sony Classical, 1998; released Crossing the Bridge, 1999. Performed live and recorded sessions with Luka Bloom, Sharon Shannon, the Hothouse Rowers, Patti Smith, Paula Cole, the Boston Pops, Paddy Maloney, Hall & Oates, and others.
Awards: 35 All-Ireland championship titles, including eight for playing solo on her fiddle, six for slow-air playing, and the remaining for duets, trios, and banjo playing.
Addresses: Record company —Sony Classical, c/o Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., 31stFL, New York City, NY 10022, website: http//www.sonyclassical.com. Website —Eileen Ivers: http://www.eileenivers.com.
Bronx, New York, from Ireland’s County Mayo, Eileen Ivers was born in 1965. Growing up in the Bronx in a family steeped in the culture of Ireland, Ivers and her sister Maureen were both originally targeted by their parents to study Irish dancing. However, Ivers, realizing that she was more inclined to excel in another art form, quit after just six lessons and within one year picked up the fiddle. Interestingly, Ivers’ first inspiration to play the instrument came from watching the American country and western music/comedy television show Hee Haw. Nonetheless, it was during a family vacation to Ireland that the youngster asked her mother if she could take violin lessons. At first, Ivers’ mother tried to convince her to learn the piano, but the future virtuoso insisted upon mastering the fiddle.
Thus, at the age of eight, Ivers rented a fiddle and started taking lessons. Showing a greater commitment and determination than most children of that age, Ivers practiced one hour each day before school. And soon, Ivers was waking up in the middle of the night every time a new idea popped up in her mind. Afraid of forgetting the thought by the next morning, she would get up and play in order to remember the new sound. Even the neighbors commented about how attached she was to her violin.
Throughout her childhood, Ivers and her family visited Ireland often. In Buncrana, Donegal, at the age of nine, Ivers won her first All-Ireland medal for playing banjo. Over the years that followed, Ivers would go on to earn an astonishing total of 35 All-Ireland championship titles, including eight for playing solo on her fiddle, six for slow-air playing, and the remaining for duets, trios, and banjo playing. These accomplishments made Ivers the most successful American-born competitor in the history of the All-Ireland championships.
A paramount figure in Ivers’ development, mentor Martin Mulvihill was the driving force behind Ivers’ dedication to uncover her innate talent. Mulvihill, a native of Limerick, Ireland, never participated in music competitions or played before large crowds. Instead, his interests laid in educating others. Traveling between Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York, Mulvihill taught young children the gift of music by searching for and then bringing out and developing each of his students’ individual skills. With Mulvihill, Ivers made her first “recording” at the age of 12. One day, while she and other neighborhood children played outside the teacher’s home, Mulvihill called them into his basement, where they all recorded together. At the time, Ivers was also a member of her first performance group, a Ceilidh band called Erin Og. Sadly, having died in the late-1980s, Mulvihill was never able to witness Ivers at the height of her career. Still, to this day Ivers continues to credit the fiddler as her biggest influence.
After high school, Ivers’ parents encouraged her to attend college. Reluctantly agreeing, she enrolled at lona and graduated with a degree in mathematics; the specified patterns of the subject, Ivers said she discovered, were closely related to those of her music. After college in the mid-1980s, Ivers began playing in Irish pubs, then on the festival circuit, where she met and played with well-known musicians such as Seamus Egan and Mick Moloney, who eventually invited Ivers to play with his newly formed band called Green Fields of America. Amid gaining recognition for her side work as well as for her band Cherish the Ladies, Ivers she was soon collaborating with artists like John Whelan, Luka Bloom, and the pop duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates, guesting on the 1990 Hall & Oates album Change of Season. Three months after the album’s release, Ivers joined the Hall & Oates band for a year-long tour across Europe, Australia, and Japan, further widening her musical experience as well as her profile.
Back in New York, Ivers worked with other notables such as John Doyle and Kimati Dinizulu, whose background in the African-American tradition surprisingly blended well with Ivers’ Irish fiddling. Playing a mix of Irish/African music, the two became regulars at Paddy Reilly’s Manhattan bar on Monday nights. Ivers continued to experiment and broaden the definition of Irish music by playing with the band Paddy A Go Go, a Celtic/hip-hop/rap group formed by Black 47’s Chris Byrne.
Signing with the Green Linnet label, Ivers in 1994 arrived with her self-titled solo debut. In addition to Doyle and Dinizulu, Eileen Ivers featured, among others, Cape Breton musicians Dave Maclsaac on guitar and Natalie McMaster on fiddle, as well as New York flautist Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies. “Still, Ivers’ fiddling is the star attraction,” wrote Michael Tearson in a review for Audio. “With her superb improvisational skills, she often leads a tune into uncharted territory… Ivers is a talent to watch, one with the potential to transcend her genre.” Highlights from the album included the opening “Flowing Tide” medley and the Irish breakdown “Pachelbel’s Frolics.”
The following year, Ivers was chosen by Irish composer/producer Bill Whelan to join the music and dance show Riverdance. An international hit, the tour and best-selling album and video rendered Ivers further acclaim and popularity. In the wake of her success with Riverdance, Ivers released Wild Blue in 1996. Produced by Tom “T-Bone” Wolk and Ivers, the progressive Celtic set also won critical praise for its fresh take on jigs and reels, such as the track “On Horseback” propelled by conga drums. Jazz underpinnings surfaced as well on “The Rights of Man,” while Ivers crossed over with electric violin for the funk/rock track “Blue Groove.”
After the release of a compilation album entitled So Far: The Eileen Ivers Collection in 1997, Ivers in 1998 signed an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical, debuting on the label with the Back to Titanic album. She arrived with her first solo project for Sony, Crossing the Bridge, in 1999. The album featured Ivers’ signature Irish fusion, applied to both traditional and original songs. Here, she tackled flamenco in “Whiskey and Sangria,” and even techno hip-hop. Other noteworthy tracks included the horn-laced “Islanders,” the partially chanted “Jama,” the reverb-rich “Nearer My God to Thee,” and the orchestrated “Bygone Days.” Guests on Crossing the Bridge included Doyle, Egan, Bakithi Kumalo, Madden, and jazz artists Eddie Gomez and Randy Brecker.
In 2000, Ivers played on the soundtrack from the film Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her and began work on a new album. She continues to collaborate with other musicians and has toured extensively in Europe, the United States, Russia, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and made numerous television appearances in the United States and elsewhere.
Eileen Ivers, Green Linnet 1139, 1994.
Wild Blue, Green Linnet 1166, 1996.
So Far: The Eileen Ivers Collection, Green Linnet, 1997.
Crossing the Bridge, Sony Classical SK 60746, 1999.
(Cherish the Ladies) Irish Women Musicians in America, Shanachie, 1985.
(John Whelan) Fresh Takes, Green Linnet, 1987.
(Hall & Oates) Change of Season, Arista, 1990.
(Luka Bloom) Riverside, Reprise, 1990.
(Hothouse Flowers) Songs from the Rain, Polygram, 1993.
(Black 47) Home of the Brave, SBK, 1994.
(Joanie Madden) Whistle on the Wind, Green Linnet 1142, 1994.
(Bill Whelan) Riverdance, Celtic Heartbeat, 1995.
(Dar Williams) Mortal City, Razor & Tie, 1996.
(James Horner) Back to Titanic, Sony Classical SK 60691, 1998.
Audio, November 1994.
Billboard, March 9, 1996; November 1, 1997; July 25, 1998.
Boston Globe, January 14, 1997; March 11, 1999.
Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1997.
Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 1996.
Los Angeles Times, November 20, 1996; May 1, 1999.
Eileen Ivers Discography, http://www.clubi.ie/MBE/eiledisc.htm (August 5, 2000).
History of the World, http://www.historyoftheworld.com (August 5, 2000).
Sony Classical, http://www.sonyclassical.com (August 5, 2000).
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