Primary Instrument: Guitar
Guitarist Gene Ess brings his award-winning musicianship from a very diverse background. He grew up playing the classical piano and his early years were filled with the classical sounds of Beethoven and Chopin. Simultaneously, Gene was receiving a mix of influences: he was exposed to the indigenous music of Okinawa-Japan, and - growing up on a US Air Force Base- to the pop and jazz music coming out of the clubs for the American soldiers. All this amounted for an early obsession with music.
Gene performed in clubs and festivals all around Okinawa at the age of 14 playing popular music. The popular music did not satisfy Gene and after high school graduation, Gene left for George Mason University, where he pursued classical music studies. There he studied with Larry Snitzler, a prominent concert guitarist who was once Andres Segovia's disciple. Gene also began studying orchestral composition under Dr. Glenn Smith.
Downbeat magazine presented Gene's performance of Lennox Berkeley's 'Theme and Variations' with the 'Outstanding Performance Award' in 1983. Consequently, Gene received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he continued his musical quest and was heavily influenced by the music of John Coltrane. During those years, Gene continued performing and started leading his own bands that included, among others, pianist Danilo Perez. The Guitar Player Magazine described the performance of Gene's composition by his group as electrifying fusion, played with solid technique and soul. After studies with Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Banacos, Gene graduated from Berklee with honors in 1990 and moved to New York in 1991.
Moving to New York proved fruitful. Gene's first 'gig' in New York was at Condon's with Rashied Ali Quintet. In the band along with Rashied were Reggie Workman and Eddie Henderson. Gene's collaboration with Rashied Ali has continued to this day. Checkout Rashied’s guest spot on Gene’s acclaimed “Sunrise Falling” album.
“Sandbox and Sanctum” is Gene’s latest work. It is a series of 8 original compositions tied together into a song cycle for quartet. The music takes us through an audio journey of all things innocently joyful and sacred in our lives. The performance on this album is filled with individual fire and collective coherence. The album features master bassist Harvie S along with Donny McCaslin and Gene Jackson. Both Donny and Gene Jackson add their prodigious talents throughout. Checkout Donny’s solo on the first track “Free 2 Fast” and Gene Jackson’s comping behind it! Gene Ess burns throughout the album with a deep woody tone creating lines lyrical and compelling.
Gene has performed his music in Europe, Asia, and the United States, both as leader of his own group and as a sideman. Gene lists Arthur Schopenhauer and Charlie Banacos as major influences in his art/music.
To this day, it is impossible to list all the outstanding musicians that Gene has worked with. Some of them are: Al Foster, Rashied Ali, Ravi Coltrane, Tigran Hamasyan, Harvie S, Tyshawn Sorey, Gene Jackson, Donny McCaslin, Reggie Workman, Dave Liebman, Cindy Blackman, Archie Shepp, Eddie Henderson, Greg Tardy, David Binney, Yamashita Yosuke, and Carlos Santana.
He was born Gene Shimosato, a cool enough name right there but that’s besides 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 audiobook 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 disgrunted 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 musicianships, 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. ~RunOff Groove
Sandbox and Sanctum
Personnel: Gene Ess, Harvie S, Donny McCaslin, Gene Jackson
Personnel: Gene Ess, Matt Garrison, JoJo Mayer, Rashied Ali, Fima Ephron
Prayer for September
King Records - Paddle Wheel
Personnel: Gene Ess, Ravi Coltrane, Takuya Nakamura, Tony Moreno, Lonnie Plaxico
As A Side Musician
No One In Particular
Rashied Ali Quintet
Personnel: Rashied Ali, Ravi Coltrane, Gene Ess, Matt Garrison, Greg Murphy
First Flash of Success
Big A Records
Personnel: Bob Malone, Gene Ess, Phil Antoniades, Eric Vincenot
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Willing to teach:
Intermediate to advanced students