Q&A with Ellen Pieroni on Music, Inspiration, and the Buffalo Sound

Dive deep into the musical journey of the talented Ellen Pieroni, a dedicated sax player, versatile multi-instrumentalist, beloved music educator, and promoter deeply ingrained in the regional music scene. With a rich history of performing and touring with notable projects like Folkfaces, Intrepid Travelers, and Buffalo Afrobeat Orchestra, Pieroni unveils her latest passion project, The Encyclopedia of Soul (EoS)

In this interview, Pieroni shares invaluable insights, cherished memories, and her undying love for music and the vibrant Buffalo music community. Follow her on Instagram for a closer look at her ongoing musical adventure.

Q. Who/What was your biggest influence to pursue music? 

I started playing saxophone when I was 8 years old. Before that, I played guitar with my dad in our basement. I’ve always loved music since I was a kid – listening to it, playing it. It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly “influenced” me to pursue it. It’s always been such a big part of my life; something that I can’t imagine not doing. Some folks who influenced and encouraged me on my journey however were my father and his love of music, my middle school band director Mr. White, and my private saxophone instructor Ed Yadzinski.

Q. How did you get involved in the music scene?

When I was a freshman in college, I started my first band: Ellen Pieroni Quartet. Well, I guess technically my first band was one that I played keyboard in in my high school friend’s basement (we had one demo on Myspace thank you very much). But I started playing some local venues with EPQ around 2012 – McGarrets, Milkie’s, Nietzsche’s, Alternative Brews, and The Tudor Lounge to name a few. Throughout the years I played in a lot of bands that connected me to other musicians and the scene in general, including Folkfaces, Blue Stone Groove, and Buffalo Afrobeat Orchestra (among others). However, I think what connected me to Buffalo’s music scene the most was when I got the Nietzsche’s booking job. I took over after Curt Rotterdam and ran the music there for about 5 years, and met a lot of great folks during that time.

Q. What do you love about Buffalo, especially in a music industry context?

I think what I feel most grateful for in Buffalo are the fantastic musicians I get to share stages and green rooms with. There are a lot of talented and creative folks here, and I’m so glad to know them and get to work with them. My EoS bandmates (James Benders, Adam Bronstein, Tyler James, Isaiah Gethers) are all world-class players, and incredible people too.

Q. What is your favorite venue to play? Where would you play if you had the chance?

I love Sportsmens Tavern. The sound is great, and the folks who run it are even better. They worked hard to keep things going during the pandemic, and I’ll never forget their valiant efforts during that awful time. They are really for the musicians over there. I’m also a huge fan of BLACK DOTS on Grant Street – again, just run by really great folks. Plus they sell cans of Dr. Pepper and vinyl records, so it’s kind of a magical place. I think my dream venue is Red Rocks in Colorado. But I’ve also never played on stage at the Town Ballroom. I’ve gone to so many concerts there. That would be pretty cool.

Q. Favorite song you’ve written? What was the inspiration behind it? (If possible I’d like to use that mp3 as the song for the video)

My favorite song that I’ve written is “Dream Rotation.” It was the second single off of The Encyclopedia of Soul, Vol. I. It was a vague idea I came up with in my classroom (I’m a high school band teacher) when a student no-showed for a lesson. The idea sat for a while, and eventually it returned and the song came together so easily. It was the last one that I wrote for the album, and it turned out to be my favorite one on the record.

We recorded the album literally the day after the horrible blizzard last Christmas. Like, the driving ban was lifted a few hours before our session was set to start. My beloved nextdoor neighbor died during the blizzard – she froze to death in her car. It was insanely tragic and she was heavy on my mind during the session. I like to think of “Dream Rotation” as a dedication to Stasia, and some of my other friends who have passed on over the years. It’s a song about wishing you could burn one with your dead friends.

Q. Best piece of advice given to you regarding your music? 

This guy I grew to hate once told me that he never gets out of bed for less than $100. I was pretty young and making less than that at the time playing music, so I didn’t really get it, and sort of thought it was pretentious. But I think eventually I came to take that as knowing your value and worth as an artist, and fighting to get what you deserve – not just financially speaking – which is something I’m a big advocate for these days.

When I was on tour with Folkfaces, we made up rules to get along with each other in close quarters for weeks on the road. Rule #4 was “Don’t Give Advice.” I don’t hear a lot of advice. Either that, or I don’t listen to it lol.

Q. What’s your definition of success?

This is a tough one. I really like to work. Not just in a 9-5 sense, but I like to feel busy. I like being on stage as often as I can. I think my version of success is making sure that EoS is playing consistently, so I can work, and my guys can too. I feel most successful when I’m busy. When I’m driving from gig to gig, driving up and down the 90 between festivals, sending booking emails, making flyers. Of course, I could feel *more* successful. It’d be nice to be playing some bigger stages. Touring more often. Releasing more music. But at the end of the day, I think when you really love what you’re doing, just doing the thing feels successful in itself. 

Q. What do you think people need to understand about the industry in Buffalo? 

I wish it was a little more commonplace to see people supporting local artists – especially folks playing original music. I really hate going to see a show with just absolutely killer musicians on stage, and an empty room. It happens to all of us from time to time. Every single venue I’ve booked at, you get people complaining about a cover charge. 5, 10 bucks that goes to the musicians. It can be really disheartening. But, I think it makes me a lot more appreciative of the support I receive, or see other musicians receive. The people in town who go see live music every night and pay the cover and buy their merch (I’m looking at you, Beth Alt). I love hearing about sold out crowds, and people selling their albums. It just means so much to us.

Q. What’s next for you?

I’d really like to release another album. Like, soon. My partner (Adam Bronstein) is a musician too, and we’re racing to release albums. He’s getting ready to release #2, and I’m like – damn. I gotta get writing! I have one finished song, and a few unfinished ideas. I’m hoping the quiet of winter gives me more space for creativity. It just makes me so impressed that Herbie Hancock released so many albums in the 70s. Sometimes 2 or 3 in a year. It’s so much work to release an album! And then you just turn around and do it again!

I’m also hoping to hit some bigger festival stages and another tour in 2024.

Q. Buffalo question! Blue cheese or ranch?

There’s a time and place for ranch, but Rootie’s bleu cheese is the move!

Follow Ellen at Website | Instagram

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