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Ethan Foote

Washington, DC      

Ethan Foote is a multifaceted musician, one whose reach as a bassist, composer, arranger, and songwriter touches many points. Rooted in the traditions of jazz, Western classical, and folk music, he is also an experimenter seeking new creative forms for music — and new encounters between music and other forms of art. 

While at Oberlin College, Ethan pursued his academic interests in the humanities, studying primarily literature and philosophy and graduating with a B.A. in English in 2010. He absorbed the school’s pervasive music culture by playing in jazz ensembles, attending concerts of classical and contemporary music, and taking classes in music theory and music history. As a composer, he continued to focus during this period mainly on jazz, though elements of folk and Western classical music could be heard even in his jazz compositions.

Upon returning to D.C., Ethan resumed his career as a performer and continued to play jazz regularly. He branched out in several new directions, first by teaching himself guitar and rediscovering the cello. Applying these new instrumental abilities, in conjunction with his interests in chamber music and songwriting, he began working on new material in a folk-inspired vein. At the same time, he encountered the vibrant D.C. theatre scene and started working alongside actors, devisers, and visual artists. In such collaborative pieces as the 2013 Source Festival production Fox Cried (co-created with Jack Novak and Jane Claire Remick) and the one-woman show Tale of a Tiger (devised by Rachel Hynes), he would explore unconventional uses of music within the context of theater and visual media, breaking new aesthetic ground for performed music, interdisciplinary art, and the double bass as an instrument. Moving into newer territory still, Ethan took part in the accompanying band for acclaimed dancer and choreographer David Dorfman’s Come, and Back Again at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland in November 2013. He also studied film scoring with New York-based composer and mentor Rick Baitz through BMI’s 2013 Composing for the Screen workshop.

In 2013, Ethan began working with singer and guitarist Marian McLaughlin. As an arranger of McLaughlin’s highly original and complex music, Ethan has written for an array of instrumental forces and performed his arrangements in several noteworthy contexts. In April 2014, he led a string trio in accompanying McLaughlin at one of NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts, where host Bob Boilen has been a longtime supporter of McLaughlin and of her collaboration with Ethan (which he later featured on All Songs Considered). In 2015, than performed in concerts presented by the University of Maryland’s Common Tone series and by the Artist-In-Residence program at the Strathmore Mansion, in which McLaughlin was a 2015 participant. Among the many talented musicians included in these ensembles have been members of area string quartets Excelsa and invoke (the latter being frequent collaborators with Ethan in their own right).

Ethan’s expansive treatment of McLaughlin’s songs became an integral part of her second album, Spirit House, which McLaughlin released in September 2015 and which Ethan co-produced with her and producer/engineer Mike Okusami. The album’s daring combination of McLaughlin’s unabashedly idiosyncratic musical poetry and Ethan’s soaring arrangements has garnered it widespread respect and acclaim, attested to by coverage from NPR’s All Songs Considered, Folk Radio UK, and Vinyl District, among other sources. Enabled by Okusami’s brilliance in the studio, on Spirit House McLaughlin and Ethan go beyond the basic chamber-folk orientation of their live performances and employ a huge stylistic range of acoustic and electric elements, incorporating everything from orchestral thunder to psychedelia to bits of Afro-pop and Motown. Ethan toured with McLaughlin in September 2015 in support of the album, this time as a trio with cellist Katie Weissman; the trio toured again in 2016.

Independently of his role as McLaughlin’s arranger, in 2015 Ethan released Fields Burning, an album consisting entirely of his own music. Featuring vocalist Wanda Perkins and string quartet invoke (among others), the album is, like Spirit House, an ambitious and imaginative blend of folk-rock and chamber music, yet with an altogether more romantic character, heavily influenced by British folk styles and tending toward the mystical. The album has been strongly favored in progressive rock circles as far flung as Dutch prog-rock site DPRP.net and Tokyo’s Garden Shed, a record shop specializing in progressive artists.

In the spring of 2016 Ethan was accepted to the 2016-2017 class of the Strathmore Artist-In-Residence program, a selective year-long residency for six young D.C.-area artists held at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda, MD.

Ethan has also recorded double bass, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, cello, and percussion in several studio sessions in recent years. In addition to his comprehensive work on Fields Burning (2015) and Spirit House (2015), he has contributed as an instrumentalist to Dérive (2014), Marian McLaughlin’s debut album; The Lark EP (2013) by New York-based electronic jazz pop artist Mary Alouette (aka Alarke) (for which he also served as an arranger); Exit 1 (2014) by Hindustani classical violinist and composer Nistha Raj; Beneath Potomac Skies (2014) by Americana artist Ken Wenzel; Dreams of Light (2015), the first album by Wind Divine, his trio with Wanda Perkins and invoke violinist Nick Montopoli; and Fireflies, Fairies & Squids, the upcoming album by electric cellist Wytold.

For all his work as a composer, arranger, and session musician, Ethan remains a performer and a gigging musician. The breadth of his abilities has afforded Ethan the opportunity to take the stage at such venues as the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre’s Sydney Harman Hall, the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Mansion at Strathmore, Blues Alley, and the Howard Theater, as well as a host of smaller performance spaces in D.C., New York, and elsewhere.

Alarke – Just You [Treehouse Edition]

“Just You” combines harmonic colors of Gypsy jazz guitar and the steady pulse of techno beats, highlighted by a bass line that explores and inverts a musical theme. The text recalls shared memories of intimate moments and vulnerabilities. Solo guitar passages run parallel to a synthesizer’s ascending line with a filter sweep that opens up the sound, signifying the singer’s final raw expression of truth. The haunting chorus, “just you and I,” repeats as it washes away into marshy sound effects. Performed with Alarke and Sami Arefin.

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Marian McLaughlin: NPR Tiny Desk Concert

When I saw Marian McLaughlin perform with a string quartet, I felt compelled to bring her to the Tiny Desk. Ethan Foote, the fellow on the upright bass, did the arrangements; Geoff Manyin is on cello and Nick Montopoli, on violin, is from the group Invoke. The strings add considerable atmosphere to McLaughlin’s music. These three songs are from McLaughlin’s self-released record on Bandcamp, titled “Dérive.” –Bob Boilen

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Tale of a Tiger

Three excerpts from the one-woman show “Tale of a Tiger” by Rachel Hynes, with an original score for solo double bass by Ethan Foote. This footage is from a performance in March 2013 at Theatre on the Run in Arlington, VA.

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