Born into a musical farm family in Northern Maine, Philip Yaeger learned to sing as soon as he could talk and can think of at least ten ways to cook a potato offhand. At the age of ten he began playing the trombone under the influence of his father; soon after that he discovered there was an entire genre of music devoted to improvisation, which – to the annoyance of his music teachers – he had already been doing anyway. He began playing jazz at the tender age of 14 or so, with the Wood brothers (Justin and Tyler), who have since settled in New York and made names for themselves in the NYC music scene.
Fast-forward to 1999: After 5 1/2 years at William Paterson University in New Jersey (where he had the honor of studying under such luminaries as Rufus Reid, Sy Johnson, Steve Turre, Conrad Herwig & Ed Neumeister) – and with such luminaries as Chris Cuzme, Dave Cinquegrana, Freddie Hendrix, Johnathan Blake, Mike Lewis, Adam Linz, etc., etc. . . . Yaeger finally received a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance and moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It bears mentioning that the amount of time it took to annex said degree was not only because he was in some respects a somewhat indifferent student: almost immediately after his arrival in the Tri-State area he began playing in dissolute locales of the Village 90’s funk/rock scene, such as the Lion’s Den (now Sullivan Hall), Kenny’s Castaways (still there, still looks like a dirty pirate ship), the Continental, and the Pyramid (both defunct) – where shows routinely ended around 4am. That made it difficult to get up for class at 8:30.
Ah, New York at the turn of the millenium: the East Village was still at least nominally cool, the LES was still gritty and affordable, and brave realtors were just beginning to make forays across the East River into a neighborhood full of warehouses and Orthodox Jews known as Williamsburg. Yaeger practiced some, played a lot – Ari Hoenig and Lionel Loueke come to mind, as do Sabir Mateen and other members of the so-called Downtown Scene – Andy Bemkey, Joe McPhee, Matt Lavelle, Daniel Carter, often during sessions at a coffee bar called the Pink Pony (on Ludlow next to the bar Max Fish, where he once saw Jim Jarmusch having a beer). He played in a band called Elwood through most of 2000 – his only extended brush with the unimaginable machine that is the North American pop industry – and also in a Zimbabwean pop band with some truly fantastic musicians, which he still misses terribly. He also appeared a number of times at the Knitting Factory (during its Tribeca heyday), once or twice at the late lamented Tonic and also started making his way down to Philly to play with Tim Motzer and associates, including King Britt, and later, Ursula Rucker. He also worked briefly for a messenger company, longer for the investment bank Merrill Lynch, and moved some quantities of office furniture.
In 2002, when his Brooklyn apartment was closed for badly-needed renovations, he and a couple friends thought: Why not move to Philadelphia? Post 9/11 NYC was not the easiest place to live and there wasn’t a lot of work for a completely unknown freelance trombonist. Turned out there wasn’t all that much in Philadelphia either, but he found a new home in West Philly and a steady day job doing catering work – and, of course, continued playing, with people like Tim Motzer, Ursula Rucker, Tim Kennedy, Gregg Mervine, and Doug Herlinger. Even made some music which later came out on record – Nu Cultures’ Butterflies, Zebras & Moonbeams (1K), for example.
After two years of that, a failed attempt to start school in London and a growing realization that he needed out of his comfort zone, Phil contacted Ed Neumeister, now teaching at the arts university in Graz, Austria, and arranged to start a master’s degree there. He moved to Graz, began learning German, and for all practical purposes, started over from scratch.
Twelve years later, Yaeger lives in Vienna, a city both comfortable and musically interesting – so long one doesn’t dip too deeply into the legendary Viennese malaise, or the beer. He has added to his list of credits: David Murray, Jon Sass, Frank London, Uri Caine and once – briefly – Joe Zawinul. He appears on a quite a lot of records: Studio Dan’s Creatures and other stuff, Things and Dekadenz (JazzWerkstatt/Alessa) and Lukas im Dorf’s Very Live! (Laub Records), Gut Genug für die City by the 5/8 in Ehr’n, and – believe it or not – a Tom Jones record entitled 24 Hours. He has also achieved some little renown as a composer/arranger, a longtime dream of his: works of his appear on the aforementioned Creatures… and the eponymous first release of a band known as Kompost3 (Laub). He has also absolved commissions for the JazzWerkstatt Graz and Bern, the Feldkirch Festival, the Lungau Big Band, tubist Jon Sass, the Bürgermusik Götzis, and quite a few others. Most notably, he has gradually become the house composer/arranger and occasional bandleader of the Jazzorchester Vorarlberg. To date two records containing his music have been recorded by the ensemble: Introducing the Jazzorchester Vorarlberg and The Voice Within – the latter featuring a singer named (somewhat improbably) Fatima Spar. He is nominally only the arranger of that album, but, well…let’s just say there’s a lot of him in it. In any case, he is very happy with the music on these two records.
That music, by the way, must be described as “rooted” in jazz, though strong currents of soul, rock and roll, and European art music sometimes threaten to carry it away – then again, jazz has always been nothing if not open to outside influences. He writes and plays for God, humanity and the cosmos, and – despite serious misgivings about the current state of the world – basically believes strongly in mankind.