Award winning guitarist, Gene Ess, draws upon a diverse background to form his unique style. Studying classical piano, Ess's early years were filled with sounds of Beethoven and Chopin. Growing up on a US Air Force Base, Ess was simultaneously receiving a mix of influences: he was exposed to the indigenous music of Okinawa and - to the pop and jazz music coming out of the clubs for the American soldiers. All this amounted for an early obsession with music.
Considered a child prodigy by fellow musicians and instructors, Ess performed in clubs and festivals all around Okinawa at the early age of 14. After graduating high school, not satisfied, Ess left for George Mason University. There, Ess pursued classical music studies with Larry Snitzler, a prominent concert guitarist who was once Andres Segovia's disciple and orchestral composition under Dr. Glenn Smith.
Downbeat magazine presented Ess's performance of Lennox Berkeley's 'Theme and Variations' with the 'Outstanding Performance Award' in 1983. Consequently, Ess received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he continued his musical quest and was heavily influenced by the music of John Coltrane. During those years, Ess started leading his own groups, which included among others, pianist Danilo Perez. After studies with Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Banacos, Ess graduated from Berklee with honors in 1989 and moved to New York in 1991.
Moving to New York City proved fruitful. Ess's first 'gig' in New York was at Condon's with the Rashied Ali Quintet. The personnel included Rashied Ali (drums), Reggie Workman (bass) and Eddie Henderson (trumpet). Ess's collaboration with Rashied Ali has continued to this day. Rashied's guest spot on Ess's acclaimed release Sunrise Falling exemplifies Ali's shear technique and ability coupled with Ess's masterful compositional and accompaniment skills.
Sandbox and Sanctum is Ess's latest work. It is a series of eight (8) original compositions tied together into a song cycle for quartet. The music takes us through an audio journey of all things innocently joyful and sacred in our lives. The performance on this album is filled with individual fire and collective coherence. The album features master bassist Harvie S, along with expressive drummer Gene Jackson and Grammy nominated, Donny McCaslin. Both McCaslin and Jackson add their prodigious talents throughout Ess's innovative compositions. McCaslin's angular lines on the first track Free 2 Fast create a memorable solo propelled by Jackson's rhythmic comping. Ess burns throughout the album with a deep woody tone creating lines lyrical and compelling.
Ess has performed his music in Europe, Asia, and the United States, both as leader of his own group and as a sideman. Ess lists Arthur Schopenhauer and Charlie Banacos as major influences in his art/music.
Guitar Player Magazine has described Ess's compositions, Balk Talk, Bullpen Drama, and Ask the Guru, performed by his former group GSQ, as electrifying fusion, played with solid technique and soul.
To this day, it is impossible to list all the outstanding musicians that Ess has worked with. Some of them are Al Foster, Rashied Ali, Ravi Coltrane, Danilo Perez, Harvie S, Santi Debriano, Gene Jackson, Donny McCaslin, Mika Pohjola, Reggie Workman, Slide Hampton, Cindy Blackman, Archie Shepp, Eddie Henderson, Greg Tardy, David Binney, Yamashita Yosuke, and Carlos Santana.
Ess is a vital part of the New York music scene and can be seen at these popular New York venues, Blue Note, Iridium, CBGB Jazz Gallery, Kavehaz, Avery Fisher Hall (Lincoln Center), C Note, 55 Bar, Jazz Spot, Tea Lounge, Time Cafe, Knitting Factory, 55 West, Central Park, William Patterson Jazz Series, CUNY Purchase Jazz concert, Europa Club. Ess can also be seen at festivals and clubs in Japan, Korea, and Europe.