Welcome to my website at Jazzcorner. Here on this page,
I would like to combine serious music motifs in a more "occasional" manner. Hence the title Divertimento.

January 2020

With the new year upon us, I hope to contribute more compelling music to the world. The Japan Tour this past year was an amazing experience. The band toured from Sapporo all the way down to Okinawa covering most of Japan. Want to thank all the wonderful musicians who took part in this huge tour. And much love to all the wonderful fans that filled the venues with enthusiasm and love of music.

To my new friends and old friends and even people that passed through my life just briefly, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Music requires listening just as much as creating.

After four albums with Fractal Attraction, I have decided to finally start my trio project which has been on the back burner for a long time. I think now is the time to do this as I feel ready both psychologically and musically. Trio is a very challenging format as you know. The musicians are much more naked and everything you play has even more weight in the whole musical gestalt. Members will be announced very soon. We are looking for a Spring record date and late Summer release. Just in time for a Fall Japan Tour.

On the personal front, my son is now a Junior at Brooklyn Tech. Time really flew by and he’s pretty much all grown up. Majoring in Law and Society at Brooklyn Tech. Brooklyn Tech is an amazing school and really proud that my son brings home grades I never even came close too. LOL. Evolution as it were. I do wish the world was a better place for him to thrive in as he becomes a full grown man. We live in very difficult times, that is for sure. And yet, I think artists need to stay with the light. It took me a minute to figure out but darkness doesn’t work. So I ask that all my fellow artists to collectively keep on keeping on with courage and love. Let’s create a better wold together.

All the best to all of you. Peace and Love.

Jan 4, 2020

April 2019

My new album “Apotheosis” featuring Thana Alexa on voice, Sebastien Ammann on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on piano, Clarence Penn on drums, and myself on guitar has been reviewed by the Jazz Owl aka Travis Rogers Jr.

Check it out below:

With Gene Ess’ album Absurdist Theater, I said that “Gene Ess is a philosopher.” He is indeed that but he is an anthropological philosopher. In Eternal Monomyth, he took Joseph Campbell and C. G. Jung and explored the quest of the hero.

In Absurdist Theater, he delved into thoughts akin to Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer and even Camus. He looked for meaning and for hope and finding neither, he found beauty. Now, Apotheosis completes a trilogy of thought and art that finishes the hero’s quest.

Apotheosis is not used in a theological sense by Gene. He does mean “becoming god-like” in the simplest and worst-used version of the phrase. He doesn’t even mean it in the musical understanding of a grand theme used in connection with a person. He means it in Joseph Campbell’s terminology where completion has been achieved. Buddhism might call it enlightenment and Christianity might call it revelation but even those great terms are not quite right.

A hint comes from Gene’s quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche including in the CD jacket. “The only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.” Ah, there it is. This album is the completion—the ultimate completion—of the hero’s quest. It is standing over the vanquished foe, even when that foe is ourselves.

Well aware of the danger of over-extending the metaphor, our hero Gene has a group of fellow-travelers in the band who have been with him for much, if not all, of the quest. That is an important part of the journey, the companions.

Thana Alexa has been with Gene for four albums now, starting with Fractal Attraction.  Thana may know and understand Gene’s music and vision better than anyone. And she makes it sing. That’s not a bad pun, that is a reality. Her voice intones the anguish, the hope, the danger, the joy of the journey. She is amazing.

Sebastien Ammann is back, absent from Gene’s line-up since appearing on Fractal Attraction. He is the right pianist for interpreting the music and drive of Apotheosis.

Yasushi Nakamura is on acoustic and electric bass, a returning comrade from Eternal Monomyth. Gene calls him “one of the best bass players I have ever heard.” He is that and he is also an excellent conduit for Gene’s probing work.

Clarence Penn is on drums you hard hard-pressed to find a drummer with Clarence’s interpretive feel. Gene calls him “one of the best jazz drummers in the international jazz scene.” Thana and Clarence are the two artists who have accompanied Gene for the breadth and length of the trilogy. And both have shown their own sense of development in the environment of Gene’s compositions.

The album opens right where it should, with The Return. The hero must make his/her return to the place where it all began. Whether it is the great religious figures or Gilgamesh or Odysseus, the journey can only come to completion on the return home. And certainly, there are faint catches of familiar motifs from the earlier albums. Clarence’s deliberate drumming, Yasushi’s expansive bass lines, and Sebastien’s chording lay out a homelike base for Gene and Thana to explore.

Sands of Time (Okinawa) takes Gene to his homeland and the island of his childhood. Thana provides a welcoming intonation for the returning hero. Sebastien turns in warm and inviting piano work while Clarence creates cymbal washes that remind of sandy water swirling around the beach-combing man of dreams. Yasushi is as steady as the waves. And Gene explores well-traveled avenues and coves, mountain tops and deep vales.

Same Sky is the ode to oneness and solidarity among the family of humanity. Gene provides an exquisite acoustic guitar for Thana’s rhapsodic hymn to human compassion and understanding. Some have called it a lament. I disagree. Thana sings

Mine is the same sky We look to
You and I

How did our eyes
Learn to see differently
To feel the need to
Separate you and me

We hear the names
We see the hate
Feel (the) pain
In times, we’re not treated the same

There is beauty in our differences
In learning from our brothers
Only then will we truly know

I choose to live a life
Including you
If we accept our b rothers
Only then will we truly grow

That growth is part of the Apotheosis, that coming to understanding. And Gene musically achieves the imagery he seeks to convey his message. What begins as just Gene and Thana grows to include piano, bass, and drums. Beautiful.

Bluesbird is swinging blues that casts reflections of introspection acquired through the journey. While blues, it is not blue. It is a reminder that recalling where we have been has led us to where we are now. And where we are is the springboard to the future. And you’ve got to love the lock-step scat-guitar duet.

Tokyo Red is another return—this time to Gene’s birthplace. Instead of a remembrance of what was Tokyo in Gene’s infancy, it is an exploration of what Tokyo is now—vibrant and exciting. Just like the music. Gene gives some of his best soloing and Sebastien plays over the rumbling bass of Yasushi and intricate drumming of Clarence. Funky stuff.

Perhaps the most haunting piece—and this may truly be a lament—is Fireflies of Hiroshima. The piece is replete with Japanese modalism and Thana’s vocalizations add a chant quality to the piece. It is not just a lament for Hiroshima or even Japan. Hiroshima is a rip in the fabric of humanity.

The piece takes on an ironic sadness, too. Firefly watching is enjoyed all over the world and certainly in Japan. One eyewitness of the horrors of Hiroshima described the sparks and hot ash raised over the bombed city as “deathly fireflies.” Where children may once have sung watching the fireflies, Thana chants something close to a wail of grief. The song reminds us that the hero’s journey is full of tragedy and grief is inescapable.

Day for Night is the overcoming of that grief. It reminds one of Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes with the morning.” There is indeed a time for grief but there is most assuredly a time to set it aside and forge ahead. Yasushi gets in some get solo work here—melodic and excusive. Keep your ears tuned to Clarence Penn. He does all things a good drummer does but he also does the little things that make him great. The tune fades out with a sweet piano overturned nocturne. Brilliant.

The album ends with Two Worlds. It reminds me of Gilgamesh. In the epic’s prologue, it reads: “He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labor, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.” The last paragraph of the final chapter—called The Return—repeats the very same lines. T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my end is my beginning.”

This is the hero’s journey, the quest which is circular and takes us back home and back to ourselves. Learning to live in the two worlds of spirit and matter, two times of past and present, and yet be a whole person, that is the hero’s journey.

Welcome home.


~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl

September 2017

My thoughts on SNSD aka Girls' Generation

Last summer, I had the fortune of meeting the lyricist for Girls' Generation. She composed lyrics for songs which Girl's Generation would sing in Japanese. This lyricist told me that this k-pop group is ridiculously strong. Hence, my interest was piqued and decided to check them out.

Long story short, I have been a fan ever since. The compositions are superb, the production is envious, and the whole project is very smart. By the way, Girls' Generation is the highest grossing pop act ever, period. Not Madonna, Taylor Swift, Beatles, or whatever. In Asia, we don't openly talk about our financial blessings as much as the western culture. Modesty is a virtue.

So I got notice that their new album will be released while I am in Japan for my summer tour. I found a day off and went to Tower Records in Shibuya and picked up their new album titled "Holiday Night". I was blown away from the soundscape. The pre and post production is out of this world. The obsession to every detail is incredible.

I find it kind of off beat that someone like myself who grew up with Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Coltrane, Bird, Miles, etc is compelled to write about a bubblegum pop act but I find it fascinating when someone decides to sell yet another ice cream sundae and then goes on to do everything humanly possible to make the best ice cream sundae in the world. Girl's Generation is really doing amazing work, folks. No joke.

August 2016

Hi all,
’Any exciting plans this summer?’.....Yes, before working on my album release, I am taking a break and returning to Japan. It has been a long time, and feels strange to have the opportunity to return now and share this trip with my son, for whom this is the first visit. I am also hoping to reconnect with musician friends there, with Japanese artists and with Gene Jackson, who, as many of you know, is a long­time collaborator in my projects. So much of my music comes from the story of my journey from Japan to New York, I myself wonder these days about my feelings returning there, even if it is just a brief vacation. I do not look with nostalgia to what I left behind personally, but how much of what I remember will still be there? What is it that I am going to find? I guess that happens to all of us migrants .....


June 2016

I have been listening to so many things lately, particularly some of my old classical albums, not so much searching for inspiration, but for contentment. They always deliver, and after I complete a new project, I spend time dusting my vinyls and kicking back. I have always had a soft spot for Brahms, although I have listened to a lot of Wagner this past Spring, particularly Tristan.

...But, on a different note, what’s up with BabyMetal? I am impressed with the concept, impressed with the band. ...subarashii


January 2016

A review of my album Eternal Monomyth from JazzTimes.

Gene Ess, Eternal Monomyth
The Journey of A Hero
By H. Allen Williams

Gene Ess is one of the most original and highly creative guitar players I have had the continued pleasure of reviewing. His last offering Fractal Attraction, I had the pleasure of reviewing in 2013 was landmark, now in 2015 this is simply the best album I have heard this year. His playing displays a vast knowledge and respect for the institution of the history of jazz, and the instrument as well as possessing an original style that continues to define how the guitar best serves a wide variety of musical styles and pushes jazz forward. Ess is probably considered a musician's musician who will catch the ear of the finest players. However, his musical prowess is for general consumption and will be enjoyed by all that want some meat and veggies with their musical rice.

Eternal Monomyth is Ess' musical statement about the harmonious journey taken by a hero. The term Monomyth originated with the great American mind, teacher, and philosopher, Joseph Campbell. Ess, our musical hero, unfolds a journey that is very human and finds the frequencies and patterns that represent the eternal pattern of the human condition, including many of its complex emotional journeys.

The band is comprised of Gene Ess (guitar/compositions), Thana Alexa (voice/lyrics), John Escreet (piano), Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). The band has a refined sense of time and a fascinating groove that makes it difficult to sit still while listening, the compositions have form and melodic complexities, but at the same time, an organic flow and logic that draws the listener in, where all the intricacies become a part of a grand emotional journey lead by Ess. The group sound is always balanced and Ess and Alexa's doubling as melodic leads is unique and successful in its presentation.

Each musicians in this band uses space and big ears in their playing and each solo presented on the project is creative, musical, and virtuosic, but the focus is the rhythmic component, the sense of group listening, and the power of the ensemble playing as a whole drives this group to astonishing heights of excitement. Ess leads a refined group of musicians with his compositions whose playing complements one another, whose aim is the sound of the group, the quality of the band as a whole. They achieve this goal to the highest degree. Even though each tune is made up of original, tightly fashioned, and sophisticated components, the quality is a delight for the listener and the listener eagerly looks forward to the next section or tune and what wonderful surprises that it will bring.

Don't look for long technical solos from Ess, he will not spin out endless choruses of musical sophistication to make the listeners jaw drop, although he does have the chops to play any technique he desires, and has exhibited chop-filled lines many times in his career, that is not the point of this record. However, Ess' guitar work is very deep and sophisticated, but in a musical sense. That is what we are about as listeners and there is no dross here. This is music moving forward and our hero is sharing his journey, which he invites us to participate in, do not miss this one, Eternal Monomyth is highly recommended.


September 2015

New review of Eternal Monomyth has just been published at All About Jazz.

Gene Ess: Eternal Monomyth (2015)
By GEANNINE REID, Published: September 15, 2015

Award winning guitarist, Gene Ess, draws upon a diverse background to form his unique style of playing and writing. Eternal Monomyth is a companion piece to Ess' last album, Fractal Attraction. Ess explains, "the music should be heard in that regard. In a transparent sense, it is a continuation of my exploration with the combined timbre of the female voice and the electric guitar wrapped up in original compositions and supported by a piano trio. But acutely, it is about the discovery of my own personal truths through the "making" of music. There is a saying that states that an individual's most personal experiences are also the most universal to humanity as well. If that is true, I hope you, the listener find in this album, your own desire to discover your own personal truths."

The ensemble is comprised of Ess on guitar with Thana Alexa providing the vocals and lyrics and John Escreet playing piano supported by Thomson Kneeland on bass with the pulse driving Clarence Penn on drums. Ess describes the compositions as follows, "the 8 pieces that make up this album are loosely based on junctures in my life. And hence, perhaps this album is the most autobiographical of all my works. It was recorded over the course of couple of days in a studio in Brooklyn. It is a jazz record in the sense that it was recorded live to multi-track and pretty much left it at that. Peaks and valleys of the individual musician's performance are retained throughout the music program deliberately. Also, the music was carefully recorded at high resolution for a superior audio quality result. I hope you get to listen to this album on vinyl LP and/or high resolution PCM audio on a high performance audio system."

All of the tunes are fresh Ess compositions cast in new and sometimes surprising colors. Guitar fans will delight in the ample opportunities Ess has to show off with his remarkable technique and his mastery of the tone woods and wires. Ess' compositional style is undeniably ingenious and alluring; it is strong on the melodious side with singable lines that move soundly through the chordal colors and frequently lead listeners to unexpected new places. One at a time, each of these compositions provides listening enjoyment, but the chemistry of the group and what they have to say is emphasized over and over again. If you're looking for CD to break new ground and explore something more profound than the usual guitar based release, you have found it with Eternal Monomyth.

There are multiple factors conspiring to form a complete artistic statement here. For one, all the players seem to be in the same musical mindset and pleased to be working with each other and respect each other as equals. Ess starts the eternal journey with "Forsaken Island," a duet of his guitar and Alexa's voice, stating in unison, the two segue into dyadic harmony. Kneeland and Penn set up the swirling groove, with Escreet joining. The journey continues with Ess and Alexa, playing the various melodies together sometimes and sometimes in counterpoint. There are multiple solo interludes, Escreet's playing is featured in two that are fine musical statements and seamlessly follow the compositions feel and colors. Ess' composition traverses many colors, but the listener can feel the focus these players exude, listening deeply to each other, this deserves much adulation. Ess' tone is warm and focused with a bit of boost to the midrange, his attention to storytelling; his supple, graceful lines weave in and out of the ethereal composition with confidence, which is mature and full of heart. Kneeland's solo is in the pocket and full of impeccable intonation, again the group listening is front and center. Alexa's scatting solo is beautifully creative; and emphasis is placed on developing melodic fragments leading to an ascending phrase that leads us to the cadence.

"Summer Cantabile" finds Ess on the acoustic steel-stung guitar playing a hauntingly beautiful intro. Here Alexa takes the traditional vocal role and sings lyrics with the melodic statement. Her voice is pure and easily conveys the emotion of the lyrics. Ess also shows his mastery of orchestration in keeping this intimate balled as a duet. "Drakaina" carries over various melodic themes that were introduced in the preceding track, "Summer Cantabile." "Drakaina" an angular and twisting melody is executed with precision by Alexa in tutti with Ess. The counterpoint between the melodic line of Ess and Alexa against the piano figure is very effective. Ess' solo on this track is truly a marvelous statement, sophisticated embellishments, and fluidity of phrase. In the pocket rhythmic placement results in a superior musical statement.

Secondly, the compositions Ess has compiled and excellent vehicles that not only display Ess ear to compositions detail, but allow each player to display their virtuosic command of their respective instruments with lots of interesting interplay and essential listening, case in point is the second tune "The Trials" where Ess opens the tune with a guitar solo section in a trio format. Ess' voicings are fresh well-placed moments with flurries of notes that should even have the most world-weary critic nodding with approval. Ess' playing on this tune is joyous and inspired, his technique and attitude is that of one who truly loves music. How does that relate to composition? Well, It breaks the normal head-solo-head syndrome that seems to overwhelm so many of the compositions in our genre. No mistaking it, that formula works, but sometimes just a little change makes a big difference in the overall musical voice, both in melodic association and form design, of a projects flow. When the melody is stated, it is played delicately by Ess with Alexa following the melodic line nicely. After the melody, Ess continues to solo, giving the tune a nice balance of improvisational ability and compositional composure. Penn and Kneeland hook-up to provide a huge swing beat under Ess' solo lines to create an excellent climax to the tune and an overall pleasing arch to the composition (both penned and group created).

This is Ess at his best, he is not afraid to show it, especially with outstanding support from Penn, Kneeland and Escreet who all add to the warmth of Eternal Monomyth. However, Ess' continued exploration with the guitar and voice as focused color doesn't get lost and actually adds to the intensity and fluidity of the melodic lines yielding a special musical spirit and warmness to this brilliant album. Hopefully he will feature the steel string or classical more prominently in future recordings. Eternal Monomyth says something new and exploring something more profound than the usual guitar based release, you should listen for yourself, Eternal Monomyth will not disappoint.

Track Listing: Forsaken Island; The Trials; Entrance | Exit; Summer Cantabile; Drakaina; Blues for Ryo; Mono-no Aware; Into the New World.

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar, compositions; Thana Alexa: voice, lyrics; John Escreet: piano; Thomson Kneeland: bass; Clarence Penn: drums. Record Label: SIMP Records Style: Modern Jazz


June 2015

Music Life and Times Review : "Eternal Monomyth" the Hero's Journey of Gene Ess.


January 2015

Here are links to videos of my group Fractal Attraction:

A short video on my new album "Eternal Monomyth"

Original composition "Silver's Fate" from album Fractal Attraction

Live studio performance of "Fractal Attraction"

Live performance of "Blues for Two"

Live performance of "Ascent"

Live studio performance of "Silver's Fate"


December 2014

Nov 30, 2014 Keith Jarrett Trio @ NJPAC

Last night was a very profound moment for me. The performance was a very significant one for the trio although most audience members were not aware of this fact. Keith played with very heightened emotion and discipline. Very concise but soulful. All understandable considering what this concert meant to him and Gary and Jack.

Backstage, I met some old acquaintances and friends. I also met Keith for the first time. Along with his son Noah and his lovely daughter.

To say I am a fan of Keith Jarrett is an understatement. His music runs in my blood and soul since I first heard his music in 1985. In this here now gone tomorrow business, it is an incredible feat that the Keith Jarrett Trio is now 32 years old playing to sold out auditoriums around the world!

Thank you (you know who you are) for inviting me to this amazing evening and introducing me to your family and everyone that makes up the Keith Jarrett Trio!


June 2014

A review of Fractal Attraction at AllAboutVocals.com

by Constance Tucker

Guitarist Gene Ess has long been a part of the guitar jazz fabric, but far beyond that, his compositions lend themselves to the incorporation of vocalists as seen on his last CD; A Thousand Summers and now Fractal Attraction that features vocalist Thana Alexa. The unique approach of Alexa using her voice as an instrument and equal contributor to the instrumental fabric is captivating.

Each member contributes to the overall compositional sound and utilizes their jazz vernacular beyond the boundaries of ordinary, also comprised of David Berkman (piano), Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums), the ensemble offers a cohesive, yet bountiful approach. The compositions are all original and penned by Ess, except for 'Fractica' which was written by Alexa.

The opening track 'Silver’s Fate, kicks off with a motif in 9 set by the bassist, Kneeland, joined by vocalist Alexa and guitarist Ess, the melody is very intervallic in nature and moves lightly over the rhythm section. Alexa takes flight with a frenetic scat, driving each musician to push and dig in. Her rhythm juxtaposed against guitarist Ess' quick lines is enlightened. Ess takes of the melody as Alexa punctuates underneath. Ess is known for his outstanding rhythm and modern note choices. This track sets the pace for an engaging journey.

'Ascent' is a wonderful centerpiece; the cut begins with an almost Avant-garde exploration, and then morphs into a Latin-underpinned piece that floats across the melody with a dark tinged emotive. Ess has always excelled with introspective pieces; his tone is round, yet darkened, while still maintaining a buoyancy and impeccable clarity. His solos are thought provoking and fascinating at the same time. The rhythm section he has assembled is perfect in their support of his ideas and concepts.

Alexa's composition 'Fractica' is a pulsing melody filled with complex phrases and tensioned harmony. Alexa attacks the melody with confidence as Ess creates a playful foil.  Pianist, David Berkman creates and inspired solo while still maintaining the essence of the melody intact.

Fractal Attraction offers a high quality of well-conceived compositions, keenly crafted ideas and thoroughly expert musicians. To categorize Thana Alexa as a vocalist is almost an improper way of describing her role. For me, she was just as much of an instrumentalist adding to the textile of the music as well as any of the instrumentalists. Her voice is poised, commanding and quite supple all in one. Ess' ability to put together musicians that compliment his compositions, not to mention his prowess as a guitarist, makes this a strong offering that demands its place among the modern jazz discography, but can also be appreciated fully by the jazz purist.


May 2014

April was a busy month. My band documented a performance on video.

Here are couple of songs. More will be coming.

This composition is titled Silver's Fate. Featuring my group Fractal Attraction.

This is the title song from the album "Fractal Attraction". Music composed by myself and lyrics by Thana Alexa.

If you like the music, please consider supporting our efforts to bring beautiful music to you. You can purchase an album here.


November 2013

A new review on Jazz Times!

Gene Ess
Fractal Attraction

11/21/13 - By H. Allen Williams

Guitarist, composer, arranger and educator Gene Ess, has been methodically building a diverse catalog, both as a player and composer, which draws upon a diverse background to form his unique style. Ess' early years were spent studying classical piano. However, growing up on a US Air Force Base on Okinawa, Ess received a mix of influences and was exposed to the indigenous music of Okinawa and the pop and jazz music coming from the clubs and solders on the base. Ess showed an early affinity to music, performing in clubs and festivals all around Okinawa at the early age of 14. His intense love of music allowed him to receive a scholarship to attend the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston and private studies with Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Banacos, Ess graduated from Berklee Magna Cum Laude.

Since moving to New York in 1981, Ess has worked with Rashied Ali's (John Coltrane) quintet, touring globally and recording a well-received album No One in Particular. Ess has played with: Carlos Santana, Ravi Coltrane, Lonnie Plaxico, Archie Shepp, Matt Garrison, Reggie Workman, Dave Liebman, Al Foster, Harvie S, Donny McCaslin, Danilo Perez, Killer Ray Appleton, Eddie Henderson, Scott Colley, Gene Jackson, David Berkman, Ari Hoenig, Rudy Royston, Nicki Parrott, James Weidman, Thana Alexa, Thomson Kneeland, Slide Hampton and Tigran Hamasyan. Ess' 2009 album, Modes of Limited Transcendence, was warmly received globally and won the prestigious 2010 SESAC Outstanding Jazz Performance Award. A Thousand Summers (2012), featured Nicki Parrott on vocals and focused on songs from the jazz canon creatively arranged by Ess and Thomson Kneeland.

Fractal Attraction (2013) is Ess newest collection of compositions that features a veteran quartet of working New York musicians with Gene Ess on guitar, Thana Alexa on voice, David Berkman on piano, Thomson Kneeland on bass, and Gene Jackson on drums. Ess continues to explore the possibilities of the human voice in the jazz ensemble with Thana Alexa being used pre-dominantly as an instrument (singing syllables instead of words) to blend with the guitar to deliver an unique color to the melodies. The music contained within Fractal Attraction is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition with a strong and focused push to evolve the music forward with a unique language that is vibrant.

"Silver's Fate" starts with Kneelend's bass establishing a clear 9 feel, followed by a unison angular melody of guitar and voice. Alexa's scatting solo is full of embellishments and digs deep into the rhythmic foundation provided by Jackson and Kneelend. An interlude of creative guitar voicings between the guitar and voice melodic figures sets the mood for Ess' guitar solo. The guitar tone is rich and dark, but not so much as to be unclear, Ess' lines are full of intellect and heart patiently building his themes to a logical climax and conclusion for the passing of the baton to Berkman's piano solo. Berkman's solo is short, but full of energy and a creative juxtaposition of chordal patterns with melodic burst.

"Blues for Two" is mid-tempo swinger that lives between two tonality centers, with a straight-eighth bridge giving a nice rhythmic variety and augmentation to familiar blues form. Berkman's solo seemed to be inspired by the popping cymbal work of Jackson as the two flowed through the form. Ess' solo is a study in creative chromatics and is followed by a succinct statement from Kneelend's big bass sound.

Ess shows off his pen work with "Ascent," which has a great solo piano intro by Berkman. The development of a theme over time and with various colors seems to be the goal of this Latin-grooved composition. The minor color is keep throughout the story of introspection with Ess delivering an brilliant solo that continues to keep the melody development theme front and center.

Overall Fractal Attraction is a very intelligent collection of compositions that simultaneously respects the history of the jazz language while pushing the vocabulary forward. Fractal Attraction has a coherent style and compositional elements that allow the group to speak as one cohesive unit. Ess is as dazzling a player as any six stringer (or seven) on the scene today, but this music is not all about chops and intellect, every note on this recording serves the composition. With Fractal Attraction, Gene Ess absolutely transcends.


October 2013

New interview with Jud Branam of All About Jazz published here:

Fractal Attraction is a new album for quintet by Gene Ess. A collection of seven original pieces composed by Gene Ess along with a single piece from Thana Alexa, this album features veteran New York musicians working together to create music that is original and compelling. Gene Ess on guitar, Thana Alexa on voice, David Berkman on piano, Thomson Kneeland on bass, and Gene Jackson on drums.

Here, the voice of Thana Alexa is used pre-dominantly as an instrument and shares front line duties with the guitar. The voice/guitar frontline is supported by the rhythm section of Gene Jackson, David Berkman, and Thomson Kneeland.

'Fractal' is the name given to images, landscapes, sounds, and any other pattern that is self-similar in nature, that is, if you look at one small part, no matter how small, you get a sense of the whole picture. With this in mind, the music was composed from a loose (a la jazz) perspective and not a rigid adherence to any rules or subsets of rules imposed by the fractal composing techniques. The result is a collection of swinging music that looks forward and looks to the past with musical respect.

The album opens with "Silver's Fate" which starts off with a strong motif in 9 stated by the bassist, Thomson Kneeland. This opens the door to the melody as Gene and Thana sings the lines together. This piece summons what is to come for the rest of the album. The solos here are a great mix of intellect and heart throughout. The ensemble playing is particularly impressive.

"Blues for Two" is a two tonality blues with a bridge. This song features clever reformatting of the blues form by Gene Ess. This piece was inspired by the great Blue Note records from Hank Mobley which featured Grant Green.

The center piece of the album is "Ascent" which comes in at about 14 minutes. The composition features great solos. The opening theme is morphed into a dark Latin-groove where the melody is developed further. The coda is beautiful in the way the melody is reiterated sometimes in unison and sometimes in harmony. The music evokes feeling of climbing higher spiritually. Gene Jackson propels the rhythm section with great swing and musicality.

"Letter from Boston" is a "brighter" tune by Gene Ess. Very challenging melody to sing and play on any instrument at tempo. Gene Jackson takes a great drum solo at the end of the piece with some interesting ensemble backings.

"Tanabata" is a festival for forlorn lovers in Japan. It occurs annually on July 7th. The music has a beautiful flow and the melody is quite pure and innocent. The bass plays the melody with the bow and is joined by voice as the music develops. The accompaniment is in 18 and 5 simultaneously coming together every 90 pulses. Much like the forlorn lovers from the ancient Tanabata tale.

"Fractica" is a composition by Thana Alexa. Quite fun to play and is a challenging piece. The melody is quite catchy and stays in the mind long after hearing it. Nice solo piano work by David Berkman here.

The album winds down with Gene's composition "Descent". For the sharp-eared listeners, you will notice that "Descent" shares some motivic ideas with "Ascent". This piece is a companion piece to "Ascent". The melody features octave displacement and hence angular but is very melodic and has a Baroque feel to the way the theme pushes forward. Great solos here by Gene, David, and Thana.

The last composition of the album is also the title track. "Fractal Attraction" was composed by Gene and the lyrics are by Thana. This song is the only piece that features lyrics on the album, thus taking the music out of the abstract arena.

This new Gene Ess album, Fractal Attraction is a follow up to last year's chart-topping album A Thousand Summers. It is Gene's second leader album featuring vocals and develops the usage of the voice further from A Thousand SummersFractal Attraction features eight original compositions which are forward thinking but simultaneously respecting the best of the past from the rich jazz music history.


June 2013

Review by Brent Black @ Critical Jazz

I have to admit my bias here. I love the underdog. I especially love the Independent artist and trying to do my part to shine a light on some artists that are every bit as talented as some major label artists that were fortunate enough to catch that big break. The follow up from the critically acclaimed A Thousand Summers finds guitarist Gene Ess back with a new vocalist in Thana Alexa and eight original compositions that while forward thinking for those progressive jazz types, Fractal Attraction still shows Ess with one foot firmly planted in the past. You cannot move forward unless you understand where you have been. Fractal Attraction is that perfect balance or as I prefer to say, "old school becomes new cool" in the most capable hands of Gene Ess. Vocalist Thana Alexa takes the point along with Ess and plays well against his keen sense of melody and swing. Alexa is a vocal talent whose musical stock is an arrow pointing straight up!

"Blues for Two" is a delightful two tonality blues with a bridge that is tweaked by the impressive arrangement Ess creates while drawing upon the inspiration of the classic Blue Note sound of Grant Green. "Ascent" times out at 14:08 and will probably drive the jazz minimalist over the edge but the smoldering Latin groove and melodic development should have even the casual listener dialed into the emotional connection created here. "Fractica" is the contribution from vocalist Alexa which has an infused pop sensibility while creating that perfect union of simplicity and complexity which compliments the piano solo from David Berkman.

The exponential growth of an artist such as Gene Ess in roughly a year is staggering. A quick look at the musical resume of Ess includes names such as Carlos Santana, Dave Liebman, and Danilo Perez. Fractal Attraction has the very real possibility of being that break out release that Independent artists dream of. Any negative comments concerning the release would be beating the hyper-critical drum and that is not why I am here.

Incredibly well thought out, imaginative and engaging finds Gene Ess as a name to remember!

Tracks: Silver's Fate; Blues for Two; Ascent; Letter From Boston; Tanabata; Fractica; Descent; Fractal Attraction.

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar; Thana Alexa: voice; David Berkman: piano; Thomson Kneeland: bass; Gene Jackson: drums. 4 Stars!


December 2012

Announcing an upcoming release by Gene Ess slated for Spring 2013 release. A new band titled "Fractal Attraction" featuring veteran NYC musicians Gene Jackson on drums, David Berkman on piano, Thomson Kneeland on bass, and rising-star vocalist Thana Alexa.

A follow-up to the successful "Thousand Summers" album, the music will continue featuring vocals but this time in an original music context.

"From beginning to end... filled with delightful surprises in context, substance, and passionate expressiveness. There isn't a single moment when one isn't completely enthralled with the musical virtuosity, superb composition, and stunning production values, the whole of which transcends the music and takes the listener to another graceful dimension." - Cindy McLeod, JazzReview.com Thank you for your continued support. The music is available in Europe and Japan/Asia as well along with all of North America.

Albums available from www.cdbaby.com, www.itunes.com, www.jazzgenemusic.com, www.amazon.com, and many others.


July 2012

Review from July issue of NYC Jazz Record - review by Elliott Simon

Guitarist Gene Ess is a very talented technician and arranger. He is comfortable with Trane-inspired Santana soliloquies: check out "Now, Parting" with drummer Rashied Ali and bassist Matt Garrison (Sunrise Falling, Amp Records, 2003) and blistering crisp boppish runs that borrow from rock and blues. Through this approach he has constructed his own brand of open yet complex post-bop fusion.

The last thing then one would expect from Ess is a mainstream album of jazz standards featuring a female vocalist. On the surface that is what A Thousand Summers is but close listening reveals much more than this old throw pillow. Vocalist Nicki Parrott and the rhythm section - bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Gene Jackson - are wonderfully engaged in complex arrangements. Parrott, a first-call NYC bassist, here puts aside her upright to concentrate solely on the vocals and proves to be the perfect choice. Not possessing a powerful set of pipes, she instead uses her command of phrasing, melody, timing and vocal charm to enable these standards to retain their intent while they are up-cycled.

Aside from Parrott, the arrangements are center stage, with Ess and Kneeland splitting the duties on these ten nuggets. Rounding out the quartet is pianist James Weidman and he, along with Parrott, is able to adapt exceptionally well to the two arranger's differing styles.

Kneeland's arrangement and Parrott's expressiveness turn Henry Mancini's "Charade" into a mysterious platform that Ess uses to showcase his improvisational ability. Conversely, Ess uses a Trane-like opening exposition to squeeze out the R&B sappiness from Joe Sample's Schubert-inspired "One Day I'll Fly Away", resulting instead in a poignant smoky jazz atmosphere. On rare occasions planets previously unknown to each other align for a creative synergy. A Thousand Summers is one of those precious stylistic moments.

For more information, visit jazzgenemusic.com. Ess is at ShapeShifter Lab July 10th and runs a jam session there Sundays. On July 14th, Ess and Nicki Parrott will be at the Falcon Arts in Marlboro, NY performing music from this album.



May 2012

Review of A Thousand Summers

by C.J. Bond

Gene Ess - A Thousand Summers: Featuring Vocalist Nicki Parrott
Year: 2012
Style: Jazz
Label: SIMP Records
Musicians: Gene Ess - guitar; James Weidman - piano; Thomas Kneeland - bass; Gene Jackson - drums; Nicki Parrott - vocals.

Review: Gene Ess is a virtuosic jazz guitarist who knows precisely how he wants his music to sound and feel. On his new CD Gene Ess: "A Thousand Summers," he shows that he knows exactly how to achieve what he wants. Though serendipity played a salient role in influencing a key creative decision and fostered a pivotal change in musical concept, his selection of musicians for this date tells how keenly his artistic sensibilities are tuned. Ess has drumming sensation Gene Jackson anchoring his rhythm section. The incendiary Jackson was last heard lighting up the CD New York Standards Quartet: "Unstandard," (A&R Challenge Records, 2011), alike Manhattan's magic night skyline. Also in this high-powered aggregation is bassist-to-watch, Thomson Kneeland, and exciting pianist James Weidman; all in all, a group that sounds as good, as it looks on paper.

Dwelling a little on serendipity and goal certitude, reveals how a performance by Ess at the Blue Note in NYC with a singer, triggered a shift in creative trajectory from his general penchant for featuring his instrumental compositions, to "an album from me that includes a singer" (Ess). In this case, not just any singer, but a veteran of the NYC Jazz scene; an accomplished musician who had worked with iconic guitarist Les Paul, and who also, as Ess says, "plays a mean bass and I needed a singer that can nail it in one or two takes in real time." The featured vocalist: Nicki Parrott.

There is another side to this CD that cannot be overlooked or dismissed. The tunes selected by Ess are, in his words: "timeless and some of the most beautiful melodies I know." He has opened the songbooks of renowned writers: Rogers and Hart; Cole Porter; Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer; Gordon Jenkins; Michel Legrand and jazz composers Thelonious Monk, Nat Adderley and Joe Sample.

Although the music selected by Ess and his band are beautiful melodies, their arrangements are novel, challenging, and at times complex, but Ess does not lose sight of, or abandon swing; and that is how the date begins, with Rogers and Harts popular song, delightfully arranged by Thomson Kneeland (I Didn't Know What Time It Was). Ess's guitar supplies a bright rhythmic bounce that draws you in, and Kneeland gets in a solid bass solo to support Nicki Parrott's swaying vocal. Parrott sings with a Blossom Dearie-like compelling innocence, vulnerability and resignation that paint the hurt and sadness in Joe Sample's (One Day I'll Fly Away) and Thelonious Monk's (Looking Back (Reflections)) with such meaning, it's as if she had lived the words.

A definite highlight of the CD plays out in the differing arranging styles of Gene Ess and bassist Thomson Kneeland that color the music's emotional character. Each arranged five tunes. Two of Kneeland's arrangements are standouts, Cole Porter's (So In Love) and Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer's (Charade), and seem to represent expressions of a vibrant arranging personality in the harmonies and changing tempi, with attendant complexities, quirks and changes heard in the angularity and jaggedness from Ess's guitar and Jackson's drums; but there is rationality at the core in Parrott's always clear interpretation of the lyric. Another aspect of Kneeland's arranging forte is unveiled in the way the rhythm section works together (Looking Back (Reflections)), with a brooding Ess guitar, Kneeland's slightly dark bass line, and James Weidman's searching piano; Gordon Jenkins' (Goodbye) lays itself out, lilting but sad, retrospective, resigned, entirely felt in Parrott's tender yielding to the ensemble's cool energy.

Ess's arrangements are more melodic, with space for distinct harmonies, pronounced swing and less angularity (One Day I'll Fly Away). Jazz composer Nat Adderley's (The Old Country) is usually offered as a bitter-sweet lament, but Ess shows sparkling creativity with a swinging upbeat arrangement with lots of real estate for a fine James Weidman extended piano solo, impeccable brush work from Gene Jackson, and Nicki Parrott nailing it every time, first time, as Jackson's drums and Ess's guitar engage in one of their rhythmic reminiscences that go all the way back to 1995. (All Or Nothing At All) emerges as one of Ess's most varied and complex arrangements, with its dark guitar intro that leads into a swinging Parrott vocal, driven by hard bop rhythms, punctuated by two daring, off-the-floor improvisational solos, first by Ess on guitar, and then by pianist James Weidman that morph into Ess's initial dark guitar chords to end the tune. (East Of The Sun) is organized for Ess's guitar, Weidman's piano, Kneeland's bass, Jackson's drums and Parrott's reading of the lyric to knit together some of the most bopish textures of the date.

Gene Ess ends "A Thousand Summers" with a virtuosic guitar performance (a la Julian Bream,) accompanying the sultry voice of Nicki Parrott on Michel Legrand's nostalgic and classic song from the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. A perfect frame for a date that contained a thousand pleasures.

Track Listing: I Didn't Know What Time It Was; One Day I'll Fly Away; So In Love; The Old Country; Charade; East Of The Sun; Looking Back (Reflections); All Or Nothing At All; Goodbye; I Will Wait For You.

Produced by Gene Ess
Recording Engineer: Jim Clouse
Recorded at ParkWest Studio, Brooklyn, NYC
Mixed by Jim Clouse and Gene Ess
Mastering Engineer: Gene Ess
Mastered at Garbanzo II Studio Queens, NYC
Executive Producer: Gene Ess
Album dedicated to Ryo


October, 2011

Following is review from AllAboutJazz.com:

By Dan McClenaghan,
Published: January 3, 2009

Guitarist Gene Ess put together a quartet with saxophonist Donny McCaslin for his Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP Music, 2005) . On Modes of Limited Transcendence he ups the harmonic ingenuity factor with a different quartet, replacing the horn with a guitar, to craft an often cooking, quartet-of-equals chamber vibe.

Ess began his musical journey as a pianist, but left the eighty-eight keys for the six strings. His chording cohort on the set, pianist Tigran Hamasyan, comps behind the leader with a sparkling zest, mixes and melds harmonies with the leader, and takes his own vibrant solo spots. Bassist Harvie S and drummer Tyshawn Sorey round out the quartet, squaring off with Ess and Hamasyan in a seamless dance that swings or funks out or relaxes into cool grooves on the eight tunes.
Like Sandbox and Sanctum, Modes of Limited Transcendence is a listening experience best enjoyed as a whole, with its empathic four-way interplay and collective inspiration. "Discovery in Three" features of pretty and pensive piano solo with a gathering momentum in front of whispering cymbals, leading into a solo by Harvie S, the bass man stepping out front with Ess shimmering behind him. Ess takes his turn with an eloquent rumination punctuated by cymbals splashes, buoyed by a lively piano.

"Gagaku Dreams" drifts in on a deft bass line that teams up with an amorphous and otherworldly ensemble mode that captures the surreal aspect of dreaming. "The Art of Nothingness" has a floating momentum, and "Trance Chant" is hard edged and energetic.

There is a Japanese word, "Shukumei." It means, roughly translated, "the life you ought to have lived." With Modes of Limited Transcendence Gene Ess delves deeper into his "Sukumei," and creates the art he has to create.

Track Listing: Ryo's First Flight; Discovery in Three; Trance Chant; Art of Nothingness; Hero to Wizard; Messiaen Shuffle; Gagaku Dreams; Sufficient Reason.

Personnel: Gene Ess: guitar; Tigran Hamasyan: piano; Harvie S: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Record Label: SIMP Records | Style: Modern Jazz


December 2008

Here is the first review of my brand new album "Modes of Limited Transcendence":

"It would be a bit foolish to say that in the vast world of recorded jazz, you still have to look for music of substance. Considering how much jazz is released on a regular basis, there's more than enough music to go around, but sometimes they end up bring nothing but sonic clutter. Gene Ess is not clutter, in fact for some it may be the jazz album you've been seeking for most of your life."

He was born Gene Shimosato, a cool enough name right there but that's beside the point. For now he is known as Gene Ess, which in a way is cool in itself but that will leave potential listeners and fans to question "what's Ess?" Now you know. He could've been Gene @, and people would've asked "at what?" At his music, that's what, and his music is incredibly played and recorded on his brand new album, Modes Of Limited Transcendence (SIMP). Ess produced this alongside engineer Randy Crafton and mix engineer Sal Mormando, and on top of that, Ess mastered this disc himself. The Japanese tend to have a keen ear, and as I'm currently listening to the audio book of Oliver Sacks "Musicophilia" -- I learned that there is a strong belief that some ethnicities do have a better sense of listening and comprehension, although it is uncertain still as to how this happened. Is it with the ear canal, or the hairs within the ear? That's besides the point, for we are talking about Gene Ess.

Ess plays the guitar in a Pat Martino-style occasionally offering a few Pat Metheny touches, or at least this is what I hear. Whether it's a luxurious solo or something that plays along the piano melody (courtesy of Tigran Hamasyan, he plays with such elegance and grace that you wished he would record more so you could buy his entire discography, or hopes he performs at a nearby jazz venue for two weeks so you could skip meals and check out whatever they play. Then there's the incredible rhythm section of Tyshawn Sorey drums and Harvie S (no relation to Ess, on bass), and these guys play with the kind of finesse reminiscent of some of the best jazz albums of the 1970's, when freeform could weave itself into bebop or bop while mellowing out in the ECM range. "Messiaen Shuffle" is a track that combines all of these elements into an energetic song where you can visualize the walk and strut created by Ess while the traffic and disgruntled faces (created beautifully by Hamasyan, S, and Sorey) are put in view. The tone that Ess has is most welcome, not distorted nor complex, not unlike Larry Coryell. The contrasts and coloring of these musicians are not so much precise, but . . . how do I say this, it's an exciting listen to not only hear musicians play like this, but to hear it recorded and mixed so well.

Keen musicianship, keen ears, keen love of jazz and music, and creativity in general. If you welcome these things, welcome Gene Ess into your mental vicinity. One of the best jazz albums of 2008."

John Book, Run-Off Groove, Dec 2008

More reviews to come. The album is doing well in its first month. Here are some fine shops to get one if you don't have one already.


August 2006

There is a new interview I did with Paul Olson from AllAboutJazz.com.

You can read the full interview at: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=22320

Below is an excerpt of the interview..

Guitarist Gene Ess grew up on an American military base in Okinawa, Japan, and the eclectic mix of music he was exposed to there gave him a far-reaching enthusiasm for music. It also, perhaps, pulled him away from the classical piano his mother had encouraged him to pursue. A musical scholarship sent him to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and meaningful apprenticeships with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi and pianist Charlie Banacos. It was inevitable that Ess would relocate to New York, where he joined drummer Rashied Ali's group; the two still work together. Last year saw the release of Ess's Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP, 2005), a quartet set on his own SIMP Records imprint. I spoke with Ess about his collaborators, his guitar philosophy (or lack of same), his collaborators and his plans for the future.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about your most recent album, Sandbox and Sanctum, which came out in 2005 on SIMP Records. This is a quartet set you recorded in March of last year with drummer Gene Jackson, sax player Donny McCaslin and bassist Harvie S. This is subtitled "Song Cycle for Quartet," and that certainly suggests that there's some thematic unity or conceptual thread that links the pieces together to make a whole. What is that whole? Does the CD have a concept?

Gene Ess: Well, I used the term "song cycle" in more of a loose way. Even though I started off as a classical musician, and that's a term that's used quite a bit in the classical world, I used it in more of a jazz context in that there are no musical themes that run through the whole thing. But the songs do combine to make up the whole structure of the piece. In other words, they're in a specific order and they're different parts of a musical story that I'm trying to tell.

The title basically says it. "Sandbox," for me, is a symbolic analogy to a place where, spiritually, we as individuals play. I think everybody has that place-a place where we can play and be childlike even if we're 30, 40, 50, 60 or whatever. For me, these songs and this music were that: a place where I can play. And "sanctum" is something that has the spiritual connotation of worship. So I'm trying to invoke a place in your own individual world where those two collide. So the music tells the tale of that person who, through their evolution, tries to find that place of peace and joy. That place is playful, but at the same time it's something of deep, spiritual seriousness and consideration.

AAJ: Would you prefer that the listener experience this recording as a whole instead of just singling out individual songs?

GE: Well, yes. From my perspective, the album should be listened to as a whole. I mean, that's not so easy in this day and age, and even jazz radio is just going to select one cut and play it that way. I think each tune stands on its own, but my preference-and the way I created it to be listened to-is from the beginning to end. I wanted to take the audience into something that's out of this world, someplace that's not really here-somewhere that might reflect their own truths. I always think that when people say, "oh, that music is beautiful," it's really not the music. They're saying that about themselves. They see themselves in that music-it's just a kind of mirror that helps a person see their own beauty. So music's a kind of tool to let people experience their own humanness from time to time, because most people do have a very fast-paced life in this 21st century. It's a very difficult world to be in most of the time.

AAJ: It's certainly a very mundane world most of the time.

GE: Yes, mundane. Will Durant, the great American philosopher, basically said that, first, real life is hell. But he also said that we human beings need to pay less attention to the river that carries society-which is filled with the blood and the screams of all the terrible things we do to each other-and pay more attention to the riverbanks, where you actually can see the mother nursing her baby or the artists and craftsmen creating. So if people can find an hour to listen-I think the album's about an hour long-it might help. And all the spaces in between the pieces are calculated and I added these soundscapes at the beginning of the first cut, "Free 2 Fast," and also at the end of the last piece, "Kerama Processional." Two soundscapes to draw the person into this music and then after this journey, to let the guy out. It's almost like a ride, and if people get it, great. Other people might not, but that's not really my concern. It's my musical vision and all I can do as an artist is put it out there.

AAJ: Tell me how you arrived at this particular lineup of musicians to make this record.

GE: Well, Gene Jackson is somebody that I've been playing with since '94. We did a pretty big tour at that time with Ravi Coltrane; we did the jazz festivals in Japan and also some performances in Korea. He and I clicked right from the beginning-it's just one of those situations where you play with somebody and it feels great, and there's really no explanation for it because I've played with other great musicians where we didn't really click musically. But we really bonded, and we've been playing together since then here and there-small gigs, some bigger gigs, whatever. It was great that he was able to do those couple dates at the recording studio because he's quite busy with other projects.

As far as just knowing somebody, Donny and I go even farther back-we went to school together in '84. So I've known him for years, and Donny McCaslin was burning even when he was a student at Berklee in '84, '85. We were in some classes together, some ensembles together, but aside from these school performances, we never played together that much. I knew he had moved to New York, and I met him just out of the blue on one of the strangest gigs; I guess here in New York they call them "club dates."

We played some pop music, and I'm not saying that in an insulting way, but it was just a very badly-produced event done by this producer. Anyway, Donny happened to be the saxophone player on it, so I was reunited with him in New York after ten years or so. So when it came time to do this recording, I knew he'd be the perfect tenor player for it. I've been told the eight songs on this record are rather difficult to play, especially what I've written for the saxophone.

AAJ: The themes seem pretty tricky.

GE: Yeah, and just the music in general. I don't think it's something you can sight-read at a session. It takes some time to get the gist of it. I'd had other players play this music on some gigs, and it just wasn't right, and it occurred to me to have Donny come in, because we'd just done a gig at the Blue Note together before the time of the recording, and I just thought he would be the perfect player for this. I was right; he played the heck out of it, man [laughing]. I'm very happy with the way he played. He interpreted the melodies and these intricate little fills pretty much the way I had imagined it. I guess that can happen-you know, I think we're exactly the same age, and he's had a really similar background to mine. He did a great, great job. He's another very busy player, so other saxophone players have filled in on my gigs since the recording, and it never comes off right. Not like Donny did it, anyway. Kudos to Donny.

Harvie is someone that I just met in the last two or three years. Of all of us, he's the veteran guy; he's older than we are. He's somebody I used to listen to as a student. I've always admired Harvie. Whenever I've heard his bass playing, I've been struck first by his characteristic sound of his playing, and second, by what a free-flowing kind of player he was. It was very attractive to me whenever I heard him on various recordings. So I just came across some people who knew him, and I gave him a call. He was very supportive. He wanted to hear the music first, but once he heard it, he said he loved it. He told me he thought it was very fresh and very different from what's coming out now. So he said he was happy to do it, and he's been doing almost all of my gigs-including the very small ones in New York. I'm very grateful for that.

AAJ: Gene Jackson is an essential part of this music-I've always admired his restlessness, and there's plenty of that here. He never plays on autopilot. He's really prowling around within the music here, almost fighting with it, and that really brings it to life.

GE: That's exactly right. He's unique in that way. I've never met a drummer with that intuitive thing he has. And you know, the way he approaches it can, and does, fall on its face from time to time. It's one of those situations where he'll try it and one night it just doesn't work. But the nights when it does work, it's magic-just unbelievable drumming. And I prefer that. I would rather have the band just screw it up, have an off night, rather than play that autopilot kind of sound that a lot of guys in New York have.

I guess a lot of these guys have such technical virtuosity that they do go on autopilot; that's what it is. Without mentioning any names, I remember not too long ago, this drummer was filling in for Gene, and he had heard from Harvie that the music was a little bit difficult. So he wanted the recording. I told him, "listen, I don't want you to play like Gene Jackson does on the recording. I want you to bring your own stuff." But he said he didn't want to sound bad on the gig, and that was understandable, so I gave him the recording before. And you know, he didn't try to play like Gene, but it didn't sound like jazz-it was this very-well-prepared thing. He wasn't trying to create something at that gig. Every time we play, wherever we play, each tune comes out differently.

AAJ: Well, there's no reason to learn Gene Jackson parts from the record. I suspect Gene couldn't play those himself now; he doesn't want to.

GE: He doesn't want to. He told me that when he was working with Herbie Hancock for those years he did, he noticed that Herbie never listens to any of his recordings. He hasn't for a long time. He doesn't want his music to be affected in that way, and Gene learned from that. He won't listen to anything he's played on either; he says, "that way, when I play the tunes next time, it's like the first time." So he brings that freshness. Plus, he's a very powerful drummer. Even though he's a different animal, there's something about him that reminds me of Rashied Ali, who was one of my first jazz employers when I first moved to New York. They have a very similar triplet feel, even though otherwise they have very little in common. I was talking to Gene about that, and he said it's a Philly thing; they're both from Philly. Of course, he also told me he loves Rashied Ali's playing.

AAJ: Your guitar tone on Sandbox and Sanctum is quite unique. It's got an electric brightness to it that's not exactly like anyone I've heard before. I also like how you mix just enough chords with your single-note lines in your playing. Do you have a philosophy of jazz guitar playing?

GE: I don't have a philosophy. Are you familiar with Charlie Banacos? He's a great teacher up in Boston. About three or four years ago, I asked him a similar question, because I was going through a period in my life where I wanted to come up with a maxim or methodology. He told me he didn't have it. I finally just came to the conclusion that I don't either, and that I wasn't even really a fan of the guitar per se. I know some people really love their guitars, and that's great. But I'm not a fan of the guitar itself-it just ended up being what I ended up playing. It's the instrument that I can express myself on in the most efficient way.

I started out as a piano player, but I rebelled against that-I was kind of forced into it when I was young because my mother's a classical piano teacher. I ran away from that, but fell in love with the guitar later when I was 14 or 15. So that's what I use to express myself, even though on the electronic record I did before Sandbox, I played keyboards as well. But I don't really have the proficiency on any other instrument.

AAJ: So now you're stuck with it.

GE: Yeah. I don't mind it-I love the sound of the instrument, and there are so many great guitar players. But if I have a philosophy, it's not to have a philosophy-just to play what's natural and what you need to express. And I'm not at the point where I feel I express everything as honestly or as naturally as I can. Whenever I reach that point, I think maybe it'll be time [laughing] to try something else. It's still a struggle. I do think that you need to try to find a voice that's your own, and I work very hard at that, man. I try to not sound like every guitarist out there, which is getting more and more difficult! I remember reading an interview with Paul Bley, and he said, "well, it's not really your fault if you don't sound that individualistic in this day and age, because there's so much that's already been done!" He said that in the forties and fifties, it was different. In terms of guitar sound, I know what I don't like and try to stay away from that-and that's how I ended up with the sound I have on the guitar. I am actually pretty happy with the guitar sound on that record.

AAJ: Beyond your guitar tone to the overall sound of the music on Sandbox and Sanctum-do you think this represents your mature sound, the music you're playing today?

GE: Yes and no. The live performances that we continue to do still include these songs, because it is my latest album. But this week, I'm going into my isolation booth to compose for five days straight to try to come up with my next record. I've had enough time-I usually know when it's time to go do that, to put it on paper. It's like giving birth. I don't really enjoy that process of putting it on paper-well, not on paper, I use composing software called Sibelius, but still, it's this time-consuming process of putting all the things inside you out as best you can. So I'm going to do that. Are you familiar with Jerry Bergonzi?

AAJ: The Boston tenor player?

GE: Yes. He was my teacher years ago. I gave him this record. He's one of the few people who I really respect in terms of what they'll say to me, and said he loved the record, but he thought the music carried with it a spiritual and inspirational value. That was touching to me that he caught on to that. I'm not an evangelist-some people want to convert other people, and I have nothing to do with that. But for me, music is the most spiritual activity that a human being can do. I don't really do it for any other reason than that. Why do I even do music? In this day and age, it's not really practical. Financially, it's almost like a hobby. But it's the one time in my life that I actually feel that I am doing what I'm supposed to do. My next record is going to be less complex. There aren't going to be as many odd time signatures, not that shifting of time or things like that. Lately internally, I've been hearing something more hymn-like. So I think my next album will reflect that; it'll be something more simply stated. I'm hoping to have the same guys, but we'll see. Everyone's very busy. I'm hoping to do the record later this year.

AAJ: I do want to ask just a bit about your previous album, Sunrise Falling (AMP Records, 2003). This is very different from Sandbox and Sanctum. It's very much a studio album where aside from the drummers and bassists on the tracks, it's all you on guitars, synths, loops, and programmed parts. I suppose it's a fusion record, but to me it sounds as much like groups like Sound Tribe Sector 9 as anything in jazz. What were you going for?

GE: I'm an electronic buff. I like building electronic things. The one piece of electronic gear that fascinated me most, of course, is the computer. I'm still, after years of opening them up and looking inside, amazed at what a CPU does. And it comes from sand. It's amazing what a human mind can do. So computers have been this fascinating subject for me. I learned this 4GL language called FOCUS, just to be able to work with this software called Max/MFP, made by Cycling '74. It's a heavy piece of software and it's used by these musicians/philosophers to create their art. There are two elements to that record. I wanted to express my electronic side, using some musician friends that I've worked with in the past. At the same time, I was contacted by AMP Records, this U.K. label that specialized in electronic music; they wanted me to do a recording for them. So I knew I couldn't do a jazz record because that's not what they did. And I'm of a generation of musicians that, when we grew up, there was no jazz. We didn't hear standards. They certainly weren't on the radio. Most of my generation of musicians learned jazz in more of an educational setting. So I grew up with electric guitars and synthesizer, things like that. I was talking with one of the bassists on that record, Matt Garrison. He said, "why can't Weather Report be my standard? That's what I grew up with." And in a way, Heavy Weather is my standard; that's what I listened to as a 14-year-old kid. Not Coleman Hawkins playing "Body and Soul." That was not around! I hardly even heard jazz on public radio. It's a peculiar problem for me that the greatness of this music, the invention of it, all came from the United States. And the United States seems to care about it the least. It's such a great music that you would think there would more public love for it. But you know, in my darkest hour, I feel like one note on the piano says it all for me. I kind of like B flat. B flat on a nice grand piano-within that note and the overtones, everything in my life that means anything to me seems to be inside that. That one note is enough.

Selected Discography
Gene Ess, Sandbox and Sanctum (SIMP Music, 2005)
Gene Ess, Sunrise Falling (Amp Records, 2003)
Rashied Ali Quintet, No One in Particular (Survival Records, 2001)
One World Tribe, Prayer for September (Prayer Wheel, 1995)

March 2006

Here are some more reviews of my "Sandbox and Sanctum" album.

Cindy McLeod, Jazzreview

With the release of Sandbox and Sanctum, Gene Ess has firmly cemented his place as a major jazz artist of the new millennium. His post-bop work is delivered with adventurous spirit and intense ethos, offering a powerful, unique voice to the idiom. A guitarist of virtuosic proportions, Ess plays fluid chromatic lines sometimes reminiscent of John Abercrombie. His performance is simply stated, yet reveals stunning technical fluency, the signature of all true greats. There's a delicious sense of tension/release with his performance riding over the rhythm section, Ess is a master of the art of creating dynamic interplay. Supple, sanguine, and superb are the three words that kept popping into my head as I listened, this recording knocked my socks off and will be in my CD player on a regular basis for many years to come.

For this quartet outing, Ess has enlisted a first-class ensemble with Gene Jackson's drum set, bassist Harvie S and saxophonist Donny McCaslin. The four create a carefully constructed, masterful expression of the artist's compositions, eloquently stated with a profoundly deep vision imbued with creativity and thoughtfulness.

Jackson's drums synthesize with Ess's guitar in the style of Coltrane and Elvin Jones, he kicks this musical venture into high gear with unbelievable speed and dexterity in his stick, brush and cymbal work. Bassist Harvie S puts in an astounding performance with a facile, melodic performance, creating a symbiotic interplay with drummer Jackson for a swift and assured bottom end. Grammy nominee McCaslin is a fine player who offers beautiful rich tone and sinewy sax lines to the overall sound, weaving amongst the voices of the other players in a seemingly effortless performance.

From beginning to end this recording is filled with delightful surprises in context, substance, and passionate expressiveness. There isn't a single moment when one isn't completely enthralled with the musical virtuosity, superb composition, and stunning production values, the whole of which transcends the music and takes the listener to another graceful dimension.

Understated and exquisite, Ess has brought these four masters together to fuse their individual voices into one glorious masterpiece. Highly recommended.

Karl Stober, Ejazz News
Depict if you can, the flow of raging rapids as it journeys through a mountains demanding ravines. It's with that same natural poetic ecstasy that the hands of Gene Ess manipulate the frets of his instrument, an unnatural action for some. However, for Ess it is that specific gift that has the strings alive with vehemence. Ess's new release Sandbox and Sanctum released on SIMP Records in 2005 showcases the acute talent of this man and his quartet, so far removed from the pack, equipped in sorts with a unique and diverse method of style. Sandbox and Sanctum is a capsule of original compositions put in motion to work in sync providing a philosophy set to music. In embracing this jewel box, allow yourself to flow with segues, tones, and arrangement variances, most amazing are the moments captured while you listen. This disk makes you feel many things all of which are personal. If you're not familiar with the Ess design, you're not alone. However, after experiencing Sunrise Falling (2003 AMP Records) and No One in Particular Rashied Ali Quartet (2001 Survival Records) it will help you understand the string work. Ess is one musician that invites innovation and exposes it to the world. Push play on "Baptisma Pyros" for it will demonstrate the precise string flow and movement of Ess's style. Gene Jackson also keeps the piece together with the ease of his skin injections. Ess again comes out with a subtle dominance in "Sun Matsuri" but what I enjoyed in this cut was the sax appeal of Donny McCaslin, coming out with vibrant determination. However you slice this arrangement it is a special piece that states a strong message. Figure it out for yourself! So refreshing is this offering that I can just expand only on what I feel not what you should feel. Take the spin and it will have meaning for you.

November 2005

Dear readers, here are some of what the press is saying about "Sandbox and Sanctum".

Press Highlights

Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
Guitarist Gene Ess' Sandbox and Sanctum features eight of his complex originals performed by a top-notch quartet. It is post-bop jazz influenced but not derivative of John Coltrane. Ess, who recalls John Abercrombie in spots, is a fine player.

David B. Wilson, Wilson and Alroy Record Reviews
His tunes are robust, and captivating ("Ryo," which alternates between slow lyrical lines and zippy riffs). Not to mention varied: the band ranges from up-tempo improvisation over walking bass ("Free 2 Fast") to classical-style guitar ("Ballad for a Swordsman") to the measured, near-R&B groove of "Kerama Professional" without a false step.

H. Allen Williams, Jazzreview
Throughout Sandbox and Sanctum, Ess displays a unique approach to the guitar. Ess's use of thoughtful voicings and eloquently chromatic lines definitely grow out of the rich soil of the likes of John Coltrane and the post be-bop era. Ess is a highly recommended guitarist to keep an eye and ear on for the future of jazz guitar.

Nicholas Sheffo, Fulvue Drive-In
Good set of instrumentals that are constantly enjoyable, entertaining and well-constructed. With a constant flow that just keeps moving and moving.

Thomas H. Greenland, AAJ New York
The latest is leaner, cleaner, and full straight-ahead, underscoring the guitarist's impeccable tone and taste. More importantly, it represents Ess, for the first time, in complete artistic control of compositions, arrangements, recording, mixing/mastering, and production-with admirable results.

Wayne Zade, All About Jazz
While a listener might think of Pat Metheny or John Abercrombie or even Grant Green now and then, Ess here really sounds like no one else on guitar: he is his own man. In his solos, his front line playing with the very fine tenor and soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin (next time: more soprano!), and his comping, Ess is a full-fledged master of taste and touch. His solos are model essays of eloquence and compression. His very special moments occur on acoustic guitar on "Ballad for a Swordsman" and a very electric rock-ish "Sun Matsuri.

Michael James, Smooth Jazz and More WSTM-TV 3 out of 4 stars
Gene Ess is an award winning guitarist from Japan. After discovering Jazz music in clubs around Okinawa, he moved to the states and studied the craft intently. His music style can be described as Avant Garde with influences from the likes of John Coltrane. It's a challenging style of Jazz that will satisfy purists and interest wannabes. "Sandbox and Sanctum" is his fourth release. The supporting quartet is outstanding. If you love music in the tradition of John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny's work with Charlie Haden and Jim Hall, this is for you! Good effort!

Nick Carver, "No Idle Frets Podcast", dedicated to podsafe jazz guitar music - Show #16
http://noidlefrets.blogspot.com Gene Ess is definitely one of the Rising Stars in the jazz guitar field.

Kari Gaffney, Publicist

February 2005

Dear readers, thanks for visiting my site. It has been quite some time since I last updated my Divertimento page. Not an excuse, but since I became a Dad, life has been quite busy! My son just turned 18 months old and the family is having such fun these days.

Anyhow, I think for this month, I will list some items that have given me a lot of inspiration and/or enjoyment. These are things that impacted my music directly or indirectly. The list is in no particular order, just what comes to my mind now. So here we go:

  • Arthur Schopenhauer's "The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims". This is a book I keep with me at all times. I have read this book over and over and I still get inspired every time. This book is two essays from his last work, Parerga und Paralipomena (1851) and Schopenhauer discusses how to order our lives to obtain the greatest amount of pleasure and success. This book got me interested in Schopenhauer's works and I have read quite a bit of his writings. By the way, pleasure and success to Schopenhauer is not what most people assume it to be. A life well lived should always reach beyond itself to a higher plane. His philosophy has impacted my musical writings and how I deal with creativity on a day to day basis. Highly recommended!
  • Charlie Banacos. Although, I have never met the man, I have studied with him on and off for some time through correspondence. In the musical community, he comes with such a high degree of respect which I think is completely warranted. I find his lessons to be humorous but serious at the same time. I walk away from each lesson with tangible new knowledge that I can work on now or save it for later. I have never met anyone that plays all of Charlie's concepts fluidly and musically but if I ever come across anyone like that, I'll let you know! That person would be a monster musician. In this day and age, I find it very encouraging to know that someone like Charlie can exist in this world. Hopefully, I will meet him before long.
  • PC Technology. I admit I am an addict when it comes to PC gear. I actually started with a Mac but soon saw it for what it is. Overpriced computers for people who did not want to study in detail what is inside it but rather admire its color and shape. If I am not working on my music, I can usually be found building or fixing something PC related. I love the trouble-shooting that comes with PCs because it challenges my logic and creativity to find a solution. Also, PCs being modular, I enjoy upgrading parts and tweaking my system with custom made parts. My music studio is PC based. Also, my music business is almost all done through the PC and internet. On a practical level, digital technology has impacted my music and life in a huge way. My last album was mostly done here in my studio using Logic 5.5 and Steinberg's Wavelab 4.0. Honestly, without computer technology, I would not be able to continue on as an independent artist.
  • Ableton Live 4.0 and Cycling 74 MAX/MSP. These two software are a must for anyone interested in computer generated music. Live 4.0 is more plebian and is very simple to use. However, its power should not be underestimated. You actually have a whole music production tool in your hands. It is loop based, though, so unless you use loops, it might not be for you. It also works great on a live gig. Bring a laptop and monitors and you got yourself a live improvising sample/loop instrument. Cycling 74's MAX/MSP is a graphical programming environment so you can just about do anything you imagine. Like other programming language, you need a lot of time and imagination to program the end patch, however. The good news is that there are thousands of user created patches available through the internet. I am still very far from being an expert at MAX/MSP, but I hope to use it on my next "electronic" album. MAX/MSP can be tough to learn if you never have written computer programs before, but I think the learning curve is well worth the admission to such an amazing musical tool. Both highly recommended!
  • 1999 Gibson L-5 Custom. This is one of my main guitars. Nothing surprising here. One of the best sounding jazz guitars I have and played in my life.
  • Finally, my son Ryo and wife Julia. They are the reason why I still want to make and play music. They are the source of my greatest inspiration and joy in my life.

Thanks for reading! Come back soon!
Gene Ess

March 2004

Hello, folks. Been awhile since my last updates here on Divertimento so let's get right into it.

Recently, I heard that the sales of classical music CDs were so dismal that American record company's were considering closing their classical division. That means no more new classical CDs are going to be produced by the American labels. This made me feel quite concerned since if that happens, I am sure the music we have labeled "jazz" will not be too far behind. The truth is if you take out the CD101 Jazz out of the jazz sales worldwide, it would be even less than the classical music sales. The CD101 Jazz or the ridiculously labeled "easy-listening jazz" is not really the same as the great music created by musicians such as John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Mingus, and Miles. However, it seems any instrumental music that is not classical is lumped under one big "jazz" umbrella. I saw Steve Vai's music described as "jazz". It seems "rock" wants the respect of "jazz" and "jazz" wants the popularity of "rock"(meaning the money).

A couple of my colleagues and I were discussing this and they both told me their theories which was the same. Basically, people have to deal with day to day living and the difficulties of life so the last thing they want to do is to have to think and spend any effort listening to music. The audience wants to be entertained more than made to think. This theory certainly holds some truth. However, after I thought about this for some time, I realized this is much too generalized to be any theory at all.

First, if this theory was true, why is any quality music purchased at all? Are people that do listen and enjoy quality music exempt from the day-to-day and difficulties of life? Certainly not. For myself, after a difficult day, I would not run to a Jessica Simpson CD or a Kenny G CD! I don't think that is because I am a musician. Even before I started to train as a musician, I never enjoyed your typical popular music. The great music of Beethoven, Chopin, and Brahms inspired me to try to become a musician at a young age, followed later in my teens with musicians such as John Coltrane, Bird, Wes Montgomery, Mingus, Miles, and so many more.

More people purchase quality music in Europe and Japan. Why? Do less people suffer from their lives there? That obviously would be a no. I don't have a perfect answer but I think education is key. Art is more considered in Europe and Japan than the U.S., sadly. Although, Japan now seems to be following the U.S. lead and is really starting to ignore art. When I toured Europe, I would on a regular basis meet teen-aged listeners coming to check out the music. Also in Japan, the same happened. Hence, there are some great musicians coming from Europe and Japan these days.

In that sense, I love New York, because this seems to be the sand box where all the serious musicians at one time or another come to play. I've had the opportunity to work with and listen to some of the best musicians here in New York and the great thing is they are from every country, race, and background. It does reinforce my passionate belief that true creativity is and needs to be universal.

Thanks for listening. As always, your thoughts pro or con are welcome.

September 2003
Hello, readers! Now that September is here, I hope everyone had a good summer. I certainly did as my first child/son was born on August 2nd. As you can imagine, I have entered the world of "no-sleep". I'm loving fatherhood, however! Thank you to all my friends who have sent me such nice emails. Things are even busier now.

Let's move on to topic here. Thanks to all of you who made it to my gigs over the summer. The CBGB Jazz Lounge gig was particularly fun. I've heard good feedback about the gig. I'll be presenting my music at CBGB Jazz Lounge again soon. I'll keep you posted. Also, I'll be back at the Blue Note this fall.

I am currently working on my new album and hopefully, it can be done on schedule. I've decided to go ahead and release this album under my own production/label company. I talked a bit about self-produced and self-released music on my last update here and I think I am going to "put my money where my mouth is". The advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages at this point in my life. The music will be more acoustic and jazz than my recent "Sunrise Falling" album. The music is all original, however. I am very focused right now in creating a larger body of work for myself. By not going through a 3rd party label, I feel more confident in being able to write music that is true to myself. Of course, if I find a record label that is "all about the music" then I might feel differently, but that has not happened yet in my life and I am not holding my breath. Somewhere along the line, I will release an album of music for solo guitar. My small recording studio is quite capable of recording solo instruments so that will be a lot of fun.

Well, that is about it for this update. My sincere thanks to all the creative warriors out there continuing to create and support inspirational works in a world that mostly celebrates the lowest common denominator. For my newborn son's sake, I better get all my cylinders cooking.

March 2003
Hello, readers! This is just a muse, but I've been thinking lately about the advantages and disadvantages of releasing your work through an established record company. The "old school" thinking is that you have to struggle until you have created enough of a "buzz" so a record company executive will perhaps give you a record deal. In exchange, the record company provides you with a publicity and distribution tool for your work along with an accountant that will count the "beans" for you. For this, the record company takes a hefty sum out of your earnings. Hefty in some cases can mean ALL earnings. I can not believe an artist will accept such a deal but I've known it to happen. To my eyes, business practices mirrors political practices which mirrors all human practices down to the one small individual. Look around you. You might feel powerless to change the world but you can make an immediate change in your own small world by adding wisdom along with your intelligence. Using intelligence to hurt and or take from this world without concern to its effects seems to be the "macho" way, but as an artist, you should at least know the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

Over the years, a lot of my peers have released their work independently. Basically, you take on the roles of a producer, artist, financial investor, and the record company all on your own. The giant advances in digital recording technology have brought the financial requirements to do a professional recording to the masses. I've heard that this will make for more bad music but I've yet to experience that. Many independent music albums I've listened to blows away major label albums in both musicianship and artistic maturity. This seems to apply to any genre of music. Of course there will be bad music from independent artists just as there is bad music from major label artists. Some point out the quality of the sound recording done by an independent artist compared to a major label recording that has access to top notch equipment and engineers. In my opinion, I'd rather watch a great movie on a cheap TV than some idiotic one on a state-of-the-art TV. The technology has made it so that home studios can sound awfully close to an outside "bazillion dollars an hour" studio.

Ultimately, all artists will have to decide how they want to pursue their art. Some create products solely to fit the market dictated by the major labels (I think there are only 6 or 5 of these companies in the world, certainly not enough for all the artists in the world). I consider musicians like that more of a craftsman who create-to-order. Their music is not necessary their own taste. Then there are musicians who follow their own muse and after the fact, try to get it distributed as best they could. Of course, this is not mutually exclusive. I recommend doing both if you decide you want to make music pay your rent. Some artists I know refuse to do anything commercial with their art and that is fine. I admire such strength but unless you have an inheritance or do something else for income, not too practical. Finally, I would never judge the quality of any art on sales numbers. Ironically, I think it takes more wisdom and maturity to deal with business success than business "unsuccess".

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line through the email link. Thanks for visiting.
Gene Ess

P.S. I will be performing with my own group at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City on May 11, 2003. It is an afternoon gig (1st set 12:30PM). Come on down and hang!

November 2002
Greetings, readers. For this month, I am going to post an interview I did a while ago over at AllAboutJazz.com. I'll be in Japan for most of December, so everyone have a great holiday season!

"The Best Life You Can Have": An Interview with Gene Ess

By Wayne Zade

AAJ: Gene, I've been working on a series of interviews with both American and Japanese jazz musicians about jazz and Japan. Can we start our conversation with a little about your background?

GS: Yeah. The funny thing is that I experience the subject of jazz and Japan from a different angle. Although I grew up in Japan, it was inside the U.S. Air Force base, which is like growing up in America. Being an American citizen, I see myself more as an Asian-American musician, which is a different area to me than a native Japanese musician who came over to the U.S. Being an Asian-American musician has its own complexities and difficulties within the business. Hopefully, I can extract the positives of the two cultures and use it to express myself musically.

AAJ: Tell me about the kind of music you listened to when you were growing up.

GS: All kinds of American pop music and classical music. I listened to a lot of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart. Although at 6 years old, I had no clue what I was listening to. I just remember liking all kinds of music and really did not have any separate labels for them. I learned the labels much later.

AAJ: How about the indigenous music of Okinawa? Folk songs?

GS: Well, my mother is a pretty well known classical pianist and teacher in Okinawa; this is an island in southern Japan. She started giving me piano lessons when I was four, so the first music I grew up with was all the classical European repertoire that beginning pianists play. And the music I heard at home was mostly symphonic and chamber music.

The music of the island-if you know anything about the folk music of Japan-it's very, very different from the actual Japanese traditional music of the mainland. It's very peculiar in the sense that it's almost jazz-like, because the Okinawan folk songs have accents on the off beats of the rhythm-it's all two and four, really.

AAJ: It's like syncopated.

GS: Yeah. Exactly. Very syncopated. If you're snapping your fingers to jazz, you'll snap them on two and four, and with Okinawan folk music, it's the same thing. It's very dance-oriented, people dance to it and it is very up-lifting spiritually. That was, obviously, just all around me when I was growing up-at street festivals or on any traditional holidays.

The other aspect-is because my father worked for the U.S. government at that time, I grew up on a U .S. Air Force base. He was stationed at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. So, within that community I heard all the American pop and rock and all that stuff of the day on the radio.

AAJ: Who were some of the jazz people you heard early on?

GS: The players who had the biggest effect on me early on were horn players. Coltrane, Bird, Sonny Rollins, Steve Grossman, and Wayne Shorter were some guys I liked. I played tenor saxophone in high school, so I really wanted to play like a horn on my guitar early on. However, I was playing professionally in a country-rock band back then.

That was a great opportunity for me because I didn't know anything about country music-"the Nashville sound." It just so happened that there weren't that many guitar players on the island at that time. Or maybe I just got lucky. The guy who had this group-he was a Marine from Texas who had retired, and he had married a Japanese woman. He had two or three bands that worked at all the clubs. We played everyday, Monday through Sunday, and twice on weekends. I was 14 or 15 then. So I just learned to play by ear. We just played songs. Granted, they were three chords, most of the time. But it was a great experience. Since I had to play the lead guitar, between the verses, I had to play a solo, and I would just wing it and play what I was learning at the time. I was into all the rock guys, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Steve Howe-those were the guys I really liked at 14 or so. The thing is the audience really liked my playing, which gave me some confidence to keep at it.

But as far as jazz was concerned, the first jazz that I heard was by John Coltrane, believe it or not. I kind of started out hard core. The first album I listened to was Sun Ship. I thought the title was great. I still remember it, the reason being, my high school girlfriend's father at the time was a jazz buff. He was a colonel in the Army. I would go over to their house and he had all these jazz albums. The first one that I saw was Sun Ship. I listened to that and I was blown away! That was it. I thought, "Oh, my God! What is this!" And I've never been the same since then.

AAJ: So you didn't start with the early classics?

GS: No. Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck-no. Some people have gotten to jazz in a simpler way, you know? I just went from rock to Sun Ship. Of course, once I was bitten by the jazz-bug, I went back in time and checked out Charlie Christian, Louis Armstrong, Bix, Django, Duke, and all of it, you know.

AAJ: Well, a lot of people like to connect Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, suggesting that Hendrix was a jazz musician.

GS: Hmm. Yeah, I guess I've heard that too. I don't think he was a jazz musician in the sense of the harmonic and improvisational vocabulary of jazz. But I think the general vibe of the band he had was a jazz trio. And a heck of a musician.

AAJ: You attended George Mason University. How did that contribute to your development?

GS: I went through American high school through the Department of Defense in Okinawa. I got a scholarship to George Mason. My father and mother split up; I was 14 years old. So my mother was left raising the kids, and it was rough. After my parent's divorce, the U.S. government decided to kick us out all of a sudden, put us off base. Financially, we were really strapped, so I was very lucky to get a scholarship. I was able to go to the United States by myself. I left home at 17, with a guitar and that was it. There were other colleges that I was accepted to, but George Mason really was my choice. I had the scholarship and practically went for free.

AAJ: Did you know that you wanted to continue in music?

GS: Oh, yeah. I had known that I wanted to be a musician ever since I was 12, 13. I was at George Mason only a year a half, and I treasured that time because it was the first time that I met a true classical musician who knew what he was doing. I mean, my mom is great, but there's something about your mother teaching you classical piano or something like that. But this guy was serious. He had studied with Andres Segovia, he had records out, he had a recognized name, and he was teaching at George Mason.

So I started playing classical guitar very seriously there, and I did very well there, just being in the classical music environment of Washington, D.C.

AAJ: Were you playing any jazz gigs during this time?

GS: No, not then. I was just listening. Sun Ship had messed me up. So once I got to Virginia, I was just picking a lot of other stuff, like Wes Montgomery records, Jimmy Raney records. Mostly I was doing classical guitar concerts and recitals, and going to school.

I minored in computer science. I was 17, and my mother was telling me that music was a very tough road and maybe I should have something to fall back on. I've always liked computers. I still do. I built my own PCs and geeked out with all those kinds of things. It kept me very busy.

So, while I was there and got more into jazz, I started feeling that George Mason was not the place for me, because, you know, I was 18 or so and the musician population of Virginia was not that large. I was starting to get some notoriety among classical student musicians and the teachers-people were writing pieces for me to play. But at that age, and the more I got into jazz, I thought I had so much more to learn. I heard about Berklee and Boston from my composition teacher who liked jazz. He also turned me on to Lenny Breau, who I think is a great guitarist.

AAJ: Berklee was my next question.

GS: I got a little uncomfortable just playing classical guitar. Classical guitar is, in a sense, a very "lonely" instrument, because most of the repertoire is just solo. You never get to play with anybody! It's always just you, or you and the orchestra to do a concerto. Of course, there are a few cases where you get to do duets or maybe trios. You practiced alone and then you came out on the stage and played alone. Having started playing electric guitar at 14 and traveling around with bands, I kind of missed that. So my natural progression was that I got more and more into jazz, I also thought, "Why should I constantly play somebody else's music? These guys-great composers as they are, I really don't know who they are plus they are not even alive. I just wanted to write my own music and improvise. From hearing jazz records and knowing that the musicians mostly wrote their own pieces, originals, that was the direction I went. I guess I just wanted to play my own music with other musicians.

AAJ: When you went to Berklee, did you pick a track of study, like composing, arranging?

GS: My major at Berklee was performance. I spent my last fifty bucks trying to get a scholarship to Berklee. With that, I recorded "Themes and Variations for Guitar" by Lennox Berkeley, the great British composer. He's written modern pieces for concert guitar, last century. I recorded that and sent it in to Berklee. They liked it enough that Down Beat and also Berklee gave me a scholarship for that tape. That was the only way I was able to go to Berklee.

AAJ: Were you working in bands in Boston while you were at Berklee?

GS: Yeah, yeah, as soon as I got there. But it took about six months to just get used to Boston and settle in. And when I got to Boston, I mean I was horrible. The musicians in Okinawa thought I was good, and the Virginia people thought the same. When I got to Boston, I thought, "Wait a minute! There are kids here who have been playing since, whatever age, and they're incredible." This is what I was looking for. I went there, and I was not good at all, compared to all the young musicians that I met. Some of them were like monsters at age 17 or 18.

AAJ: Yeah, it's like the Harvard of jazz.

GS: But it was good. It kicked me into trying to get my stuff together. Eventually I ended up playing in different groups-at the Willow jazz club there, Ryles' jazz club, the 1369-all popular then, probably closed now. Wally's was a small hang. It used to be an historic spot-Miles, Trane played there.

AAJ: Is Boston where you met Rashied Ali?

GS: No. In Boston, I met Matthew Garrison. We became very good friends. We played a lot of gigs together. This was about the time I was going to graduate, and by then I was thinking that Boston was getting boring, New York was the place to go. I was in Boston for five or six years. I wanted to take the next step and see how well I'd do, in New York. Boston had its share of great players, like [Jerry] Bergonzi, and Mick Goodrick, a guitar player up there. Charlie Banacos is up there and I am fortunate to have taken some lessons with him.

So we took a trip. Matthew is from New York, so we went down together just to hang out and stay at his mother's loft in Soho. We were just walking down the street and there was a guy selling records, just a street guy selling old records. This had to be fate, because we're just walking there and we see some Trane records. So we're going through the Coltrane records, and we saw one-I don't remember what the name was exactly-and I didn't have it. It had Matthew's father, Jimmy Garrison, playing bass, as he did on so many albums, of course. And Rashied was on it. And so I say to Matt, "Hey, man, check this out! Your father is on this one!"

And the street guy selling the records overheard that and said, "You're Jimmy Garrison's kid? Man, Rashied lives around the corner! You should go up there and say hello." So I'm like 22 and Matt is 18 and we're wondering what to do. We're thinking, shoot, man, we've just read about Rashied in books, we don't know what to do. Finally, we just went over there, I'm thinking, Matt's father had this long history with Rashied, we'd just see what he says. We found his loft and, by luck, he was there. We went inside and had a long talk. He was very interested in what we were up to, so I said I'd send him some tapes of what we were up to in Boston.

That's how we first connected. Then we had some gigs coming up in Boston, at Ryles' in Cambridge, one of the main clubs then. They used to have people like [Pat] Metheny, Freddie Hubbard. I asked Rashied if he wanted to be the special guest, and he was very happy to drive up to Boston and do it.

AAJ: Gene, how did you meet Ravi Coltrane?

GS: Through Rashied.

AAJ: Like "all in the family."

GS: Yeah. After we did the gig with Rashied in Boston he said, "Man, what are you doing in Boston? You don't need to be in Boston. You should move to New York." Rashied convinced me to get up my courage, uproot myself, and just move down to New York. It was great. I moved down, and he's been very helpful over the years. My first New York gig was at Condon's with Rashied, and Reggie Workman on bass-I was ecstatic. These are historical kind of guys. Antoine Roney played tenor saxophone, and Eddie Henderson on trumpet.

AAJ: What a hell of a band.

GS: Yeah. Really put me on the spot. I was the new young kid and all that, but it went very well. I met Ravi through Rashied. Ravi has a brother who plays alto sax, Oran. I don't think Oran is doing music anymore, but Ravi's been doing quite well.

AAJ: I just read somewhere that Ravi put together a new selection of his father's Impulse recordings.

GS: Yeah, Matt told me about that. There are some "live" things, with Pharaoh [Sanders]. "Live" stuff from the Harlem Cultural Center. I think that's great for him. For somebody so humble and down-to-earth. I hope more good things happen for him.

AAJ: Have you played much in Europe?

GS: Yeah. Actually, I've gone to Europe quite a bit. As a matter of fact, I've probably done more gigs in Europe than in the U.S.

AAJ: What do you think of the audiences, the scene, there? I guess it depends on the country?

GS: For the most part, well, there are more of them! As far as the number of audiences goes. They seem to know more about the music. They're very attentive fans. I've really enjoyed working in Europe.

AAJ: Do you go with American musicians or meet European musicians there?

GS: I've done both. On one of my last trips, I did a tour of Spain, with a rhythm section that's very well known there. It's a pretty common thing. Gary Bartz was doing it right before me. The hosts rotate guests. The European musicians keep working that way. They have one New York guy in the band as the headliner, and the rhythm section keeps working-piano, bass, drums.

AAJ: How about to Japan? Have you traveled back there to play too?

GS: I've done a major tour there; I haven't gone there so much. When I did the recording for King Records [Prayer for September], 1995 or 96, I took a band from New York to Japan. That was a great tour because we were able to play all the big jazz festivals, and the Pit Inn.

AAJ: Was this your band, or a cooperative group?

GS: It was my band.

AAJ: And you wrote quite a bit of music on that CD.

GS: My next CD will be all original music. The next one is a release that I am going to do independently. My experience with labels is that, even with King Records, they ask to put this in and that in. They get kind of too involved with the music part of it. They want to use whatever is popular at that moment. This is pretty much true anywhere, Japan, the States. So, as far as the business aspect of music goes, I've seen that a lot of my peers have had much more success in going the independent route, what with the technology being available these days.

AAJ: Tell me more about the new CD itself.

GS: The current project, or the one that's probably going to come out the earliest, is a album with Matt Garrison and myself. The concept of it is guitar, bass, and drums, with everything else that we need to do supplemented by computer. We're shooting to complete it in May, 2002.(The album will be out early 2003 from a UK label)

I'm also planning a project with Ravi. We want to follow up the previous recording [No One in Particular] with something else. So, that is going to be down the line, probably mid-2002.

The third project that I've been sitting on is to do a solo classical or concert guitar album, a recording of my own pieces. We'll see how it goes. I just had arthroscopic surgery on my right wrist from a stupid motorcycle accident. Hopefully, this won't delay it too much.

As far as the business aspect goes, all I can do is try to do my best. I've looked into traveling out of New York for gigs, but a lot of scenes, in the Midwest and in New Orleans, are strong with local players. And the big ticket players go through. Not being a big ticket kind of guy yet, I'm trying to do my best. My main concern is to try to put out the best music that I can, in the way that I want to. I'm 36 now. I don't want to worry about putting this standard on the album, using this 'flavor-of-the-week' sideman, this and that just to please a record label. I'm too old for that now. My only concern is how can I make my music better. I feel much more empowered selling something I truly believe in than music that has been compromised for some reason.

A lot of great players have to struggle to keep it together. I supplement my income by teaching-everybody in New York does and I think this is very important. I really enjoy teaching and feel all true artists teach on one level or the other. When I first came to New York, I took a lesson from Jim Hall. Just trying to be creative and doing whatever you have to do to survive, being true to yourself. Being a musician can be very tough if you don't really need music in your life. However, if you do, then it is the best life you can have!

I have no desire to play music I don't like. That's very alien to me. I just want to do my music as best I can. Luckily, it's worked, and I've been doing this for a very long time. I hope it keeps going like that.

October 2002
Hello, folks! Hope everyone had a productive summer.

Thanks for the emails, you all! I am now considering doing a DAW (digital audio workstation) forum or a FAQ. A lot of the emails are regarding how to tweak, setup, build, and connect all your MIDI PC audio hardware and software. The amazing number of products and choices, plus the learning curve can be a bit intimidating. However, with a bit of dedication, you can open up an incredible journey to a creative domain that was not possible just a few years ago.

I must say, I am a bit surprised at the number of PC users out there for music. Apple has been dominant at least in this small niche. I will not enter an Apple versus PC debate here as such diatribe is meaningless. A reader asked me why do I use a PC instead of a Mac? Well, the simple reason is I like PCs because it is a lot of fun building and tweaking them. I choose all my parts carefully, as that is much of the fun. I have built networks (LANs and WANs) and have a small LAN in my own house. All my machines are hand built from scratch and my dedicated PC DAW is quite a screamer. I think Apple with its new OS X is quite nice. However, I don't agree with their move on buying Emagic and killing off the PC version of Logic Audio. I think this will hurt Apple in the long run because it now seems that other music software developers for Apple will have to compete with Apple/Emagic. My new album was mostly done in my own PC studio, so if you are curious to hear the results, it'll be available soon. Some great musicians contributed also. Rashied Ali, Matt Garrison, Fima Ephron, and JoJo Mayer to be specific.

Please keep sending questions to my email. I'll try to answer as best I can and hopefully have a FAQ of sorts on my site with the most common questions.

My album is in the hands of a label in UK. Sorry about the delay, but the release date is really up to the label. I have a feeling they do not want to time the release over Christmas holidays, which seems reasonable enough. However, as a preview of what's to come, I will upload some tracks from the new album in MP3 format at MP3.com(duh). So head over there and check it out. Just go to www.mp3.com and do a search for Gene Ess.

Alright, folks. What else? I am busy adding new gear and upgrading my studio for my next album. I think the Korg Triton Rack and Reason 2 by Propellerhead is quite killing! A lot of electronica and great musicianship can be expected on my next album. As usual, feel free to email me with your comments and ideas. GearHeadz welcome!

Finally, thank you for visiting. Oh, by the way, the Rashied Ali album "No One In Particular" that I produced/played on can be purchased either here on the Recordings page or at www.CDBABY.com and www.CDSTREET.com. Also at Downtown Music Gallery (www.dtmgallery.com) for you New Yorkers. It is NOT available at AMAZON.com (yet).


July 2002
Hello, readers. I just returned from the UK. An interesting country, UK is. Europe in general seems to have more interest in creative electronic music. Especially Germany. No wonder a lot of my software Synths and sequencer software comes from Germany. Perhaps I hear some of my hipper readers muttering "no sh__, Sherlock".

I have started writing for my next album. This one is a musical continuation of my new album "Sunrise Falling". This will feature a lot of new subtractive Synths and other electronic sounds combined with live performances. I am also planning a new album going back to more of my 'jazz' roots using acoustic bass, sax, guitar, and drums. Check out my Projects page for more info about this. I'll update that page soon.

I have now begun to use a laptop PC as part of my live performances. Playing the laptop through MIDI is nothing new, you say. Well, yes. However, I am trying to use my programming skill to create some sort of AI and have the laptop sing and improvise along with what I am playing in real time. This is not playing against music that is already programmed into the computer. I am trying to get the computer to respond to my musical input in a creative and random (if there is such a thing in the silicon world) manner. Anyone out there an expert in AI programming? Give me a shout if you are interested in this sort of muse.

Finally, a little off topic, but not really if you think about music long enough. I am a big fan of Arthur Shopenhauer. He is a German philosopher from the 19th century. I am currently trying to absorb his book appropriately titled "Philosophical Writings". His "Wisdom of Life" and "Counsels and Maxims" essays are also truly inspirational. I think being a musician is somewhat like being a philosopher. You just use a different medium to express just that which makes life so personal, yet global at the same time. Anyone into discussing Shopenhauer and philosophy, drop me a line through my email (GeneEss@nyc.rr.com).

        Lastly, some Lao Tzu:

          Real words are not vain,
          Vain words not real;
          And since those who argue prove nothing
          A sensible man does not argue.
          A sensible man is wiser than he knows,
          While a fool knows more than is wise.
          Therefore a sensible man does not devise resources:
          The greater his use to others
          The greater their use to him,
          The more he yields to others
          The more they yield to him.
          The way of life cleaves without cutting:
          Which, without need to say,
          Should be man's way.

Ciao for now Gene

April 2002
Lately I am busy with my new project, so you will excuse me if I have not done much updating on my web site. So my new project is the first thing I wanted to mention, and you can read/hear more about it when I update my "Projects" page. The question I want to bring here today is something that is been bugging me for a little while. The emphasis put in certain things to be "Asian American." I first asked myself "I am Asian American, but what is Asian American music? Is my music Asian American? Why does it have to be Asian American?". And then it hit me: I am not into this file-cabinet system to understand music, or any art for that matter. I truly believe it is so limiting. Creating a piece with a label carved on it? I do not want to be doing that.

To me, every time an Asian American musician picks up an instrument and plays, that is Asian American music. Good or Bad. When I engage in the creative process, I search within and without me: what I have to say, how it is coming to me. And that is bound to be a result of all the things that pass through me any given day: they occur because I am Gene, because I like aviation, my education, yes, but mostly because I have dedicated myself to the creative process day in and day out. Racial stereotypes musically are the last thing on my mind when I create music.

I guess what I am trying to say is: Why are artists now just expected to go through beaten paths that fit prior familiar patterns? And there is a beaten path for every background, for every group, so we can all be easily inventoried by the media. Why do media like to make little compartments and classify anybody's music as Asian or African-American or European, only to be understood under that title? That deprives creative efforts of any richness. So much music from all backgrounds is out there nowadays, within reach of everybody that enjoys it.

If we are forced to limit our work to meet a cliche or a preconceived pattern, we are asking for constraints on how people are going to pay attention to it. Are we turning our back to the fact that creativity should aim to be universal? I guess my conclusion is we, let our background be what it may, should have the opportunity to express ourselves in any fashion we fancy, without anybody preparing this cozy-do-not-step-out-of-your-square system to fit our words. No true artist needs that. However unlikely, I want to believe that everybody out there is ready to create, listen and choose what he or she likes.

Listening is truly a pleasure: Whom am I listening to lately?

  • Gonzalo Rubalcaba
  • Wayne Krantz
  • Eliot Fisk
  • YoYo Ma
  • Gary Peacock
  • Alan Holdsworth
Thanks for visiting my site. I am mixing my new CD this month, so hopefully I'll be able to get it out not too long after that. Check out my Projects page to see more details on this CD. It is basically a trio date with guitar, bass, and drums. All the samples, loops, keys, synths, efx, and programming were done here at my GARBANZO studio by yours truly.

Finally, thanks to all the people that wrote in with 'Get Well' messages. I have recovered completely from the arthroscopic surgery on my right wrist last October and I am playing better than ever. This upcoming album was recorded after the surgery so it is a comeback album of sorts personally. Globally, it really is a comeback album because of 9/11. My wife and I saw the twin towers crumble right in front of our eyes from our 5th floor apartment in the East Village. I reaffirmed my commitment to create music in spite of this terrible attack and hence the new album.

If you have any thoughts to share, I would be very happy to hear from you. Just drop me a line through the email link. Also, visit my other pages and come back soon. I will be updating more frequently.

Serenade, cassation, notturno, and partita are all musical forms categorized as divertimento. Virtually all of them were meant for imperfect performance near the noble dinner table in the second half of 1700's. In a very real sense they were the equivalent of what we would expect to encounter these days over the tinkle of glasses in a supper club. For better or worse, jazz music seems to have become the divertimento of the day.

Too much of a good thing? Has music gotten to a saturation point? Was it easier to be more innovative in 1950 than 2001? What's new? Should serial and aleatoric music be brought back? Should we celebrate what is already done by Giants being redone by Lilliputians? Of course, this is from merely a musical point-of-view. Like any other products of this society, so much is governed by business and the all mighty dollar. Dedication to a chosen path is a very fragile one at the least.

People through finding something beautiful
Think something else unbeautiful,
Through finding one man fit
Judge another unfit.
Life and death, though stemming from each other,
seem to conflict as stages of change,
Difficult and easy as phases of achievement,
Long and short as measures of contrast,
High and low as degrees of relation;
But, since the varying of tones gives music to a voice
And what is is the was of what shall be,
The sanest man
Sets up no deed,
Lays down no law,
Takes everything that happens as it comes,
As something to animate, not to appropriate,
To earn, not to own,
To accept naturally without self-importance:
If you never assume importance
You never lose it.

Hear, Hear!

    Listening is the key to myself. Thanks to:
    • Glenn Gould: Bach Well-Tempered Clavier
    • John Coltrane: Crescent
    • Steve Grossman: Some Shapes to Come
    • Bruno Walter: Brahms Symphony No.1
    • Pat Martino: We'll Be Together Again
    • Toru Takemitsu: Requiem for Strings

    Well, this is it for now. Please visit my other pages to learn more about my music. If you have any thoughts to share, I would be very happy to hear from you. Just drop me a line. There's also an interview with me at allaboutjazz.com Finally, I will keep adding more to my site, so don't wait too long to come back. Until then, GAMBARE! (Japanese for 'keep on', well sort of...)

This jazz site is part of