Q&A with Ellen Pieroni about music, inspiration and the buffalo sound

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

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

Q: Who/what was your biggest influence to get into music?

  • I started playing the saxophone when I was 8 years old. I used to play guitar with my dad in our basement. I have always loved music since I was a child – listening to it, playing it. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what “influenced” me to pursue it. It has always been such a big part of my life; something I can’t imagine not doing. However, some people who influenced and encouraged me along my journey were my father and his love of music, my high school band director Mr. White, and my personal sax instructor Ed Jadzinski.

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

  • When I was a freshman in college, I formed my first band: the Ellen Pieroni Quartet. Well, I guess technically my first band was one where I played keyboards in my high school friend’s basement (we had a 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. Over the years I’ve played in many bands that have connected me to other musicians and the scene as a whole, including Folkfaces, Blue Stone Groove and the Buffalo Afrobeat Orchestra (among others). However, I think what connected me most to the Buffalo music scene was when I got a job booking the Nietzsche. I took over from Kurt Rotterdam and ran the music there for about 5 years and met a lot of great people during that time.

Q. What do you like about Buffalo, especially in the context of the music industry?

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

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

  • I love the Sportsmens Tavern. The sound is great, and the people running it are even better. They worked hard to keep things going during the pandemic, and I will never forget their valiant efforts during this terrible time. They are really for the musicians out there. I’m also a big fan of BLACK DOTS on Grant Street – again, run by really great people. Also, they sell boxes of Dr. Pepper and records, so it’s kind of a magical place. I think my dream place is Red Rocks in Colorado. But I’ve also never played on stage at the Town Ballroom. I’ve been to so many concerts there. That would be very cool.

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

  • My favorite song I’ve written is “Dream Rotation”. It was the second single from The Encyclopedia of Soul, Vol. I. It was a vague idea that came to me in the classroom (I’m a high school band teacher) when a student didn’t show up for class. The idea sat around for a while and finally came back and the song came together so easily. It was the last thing I wrote for the album, and it turned out to be my favorite on the record.

We recorded the album literally the day after the terrible blizzard last Christmas. For example, the driving ban was lifted a few hours before the start of our session. My beloved neighbor died in 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. What’s the best advice you’ve been given about your music?

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

When I was on tour with the Folkfaces, we made up rules to get along with each other nearby for weeks on the road. Rule #4 was “Don’t give advice.” I don’t hear much advice. Either that or I’m not listening lol.

Q. What is your definition of success?

  • This is difficult. I really like to work. Not just in the 9-5 sense, but I like to feel busy. I like to be on stage as often as I can. I think my version of success is making sure EoS is playing constantly so I can work and my boys can too. I feel most successful when I’m busy. When I’m driving from gig to gig, driving up and down the 90s between festivals, emailing bookings, making flyers. Of course, I could feel *more* successful. It would be nice to play some bigger stages. Tours more often. Play more music. But at the end of the day, I think when you really love what you do, just doing something feels successful in itself.

Q: What do you think people should know about the industry in Buffalo?

  • I wish it was a little more common to see people supporting local artists – especially people who play original music. I really hate watching 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 place I’ve booked people complain about the cover charge. $5.10 goes to the musicians. It can be really disheartening. But I think it makes me appreciate a lot more the support I get or seeing other musicians get. The people in town who go see live music every night and pay the cover and buy their merchandise (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 would really like to release another album. Like soon. My partner (Adam Bronstein) is also a musician and we are competing to release albums. He’s getting ready to release #2, and I’m like—damn. I have to start writing! I have one finished song and a few unfinished ideas. I hope the silence of winter will give 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 a year. Releasing an album is so much work! 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 Blue Cheese is the move!

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