Gene Ess is one of the countless guitarists trying to make a name for himself. With a resume that includes Ravi Coltrane and Carlos Santana there is little if any doubt concerning talent or ability, the bottom line is that the competition if fierce. The latest release from Ess is A Thousand Summers is a complex look yet deceptively subtle take on some jazz standards simply updated with a fresh perspective. Working with vocalist Nicki Parrott who is the musical hot fudge to the deliciously cool and swinging flavor that Ess lays down with each tune, this release is a solid winner. I caught up with Ess to ask him a few questions:
Can you tell us about how the project came together?
"In May of 2011, I had a chance to work with a vocalist from the U.K. at the Blue Note. Although not noticed at that time, this event triggered in myself a strong desire to play repertoire that I came up as an electric guitarist and to also have a singer sing the lyrics instead of another instrument playing the melody. Adding a singer moves the music from the abstract to the more specific and programmatic. I suppose in hindsight, the experience I had in May of 2011 functioned as a window of sorts into what became "A Thousand Summers."
A vocalist had to have played a part in song selection; how much and was this a collaborative choice in song selection or more of an adaptation of styles in order to better suite each other?
"Actually, the repertoire for "A Thousand Summers" was selected by myself. The selection was based on the songs that had become some of my favorites over the years. All of these melodies to my ears are some of the most beautiful and sublime. The challenge was to take this "standards" music and somehow make it my own. It is very easy to over-think a piece and make it into a Frankenstein of sorts by utilizing all types of modern compositional tactics. Especially in this past decade where this complexity for complexity sake seems to be the norm. It makes for ghastly music in my opinion. I prefer the Zen aesthetics with its simple beauty that goes very deep. However, the simplicity can't be underestimated. The simple is much much more difficult than the complex. Once the music and the concept for the album took shape, I recruited who I thought were the best musicians for the project. I knew Thomson Kneeland and Gene Jackson was a must for the project early on. Even if that meant delaying the time frame to accommodate their availability."
Do you plan on working with Nicki or other vocalists again and if so can you see yourself continuing in the same vein as this release or perhaps venturing off into new territory.
"I would love to work with Nicki some more. But I am open to working with other great singers as well. In July, I have a nice concert coming up with Nicki Parrott on board. One problem of the "jazz" biz is that only a handful of artists can carry a full time working band economically speaking. That being the case, we all have to freelance and do other projects. So the availability and scheduling of musicians just don't work out as you'd like more often than not. But the great news is that there are so many great musicians here in NYC to tap from. Lack of talent is never a problem. And working with different musicians bring out new nuances to the music which I absolutely enjoy. So, yes, I will continue working with singers and have already worked with handful of different ones. All of my albums are quite different from each other. As it should be because they reflect different times in my development as a human being and a musician. I only go through the rather difficult process of giving birth to a new piece of musical work when I have something new to express. I don't make albums because I want to. I only do them when I have to. And I have no desire in turning my music into a "brand."
Despite being somewhat of a prodigy you have a varied background including some solid studies in the classical field. Do you recommend this to all budding young guitarists?
"My recommendation would be to study with dedication the music that moves you. Why would you study classical music when the music doesn't speak to you? That is like investing time and love into a relationship with a woman that doesn't attract you at all. I suppose it is possible but not very fun. However, it is very important to differentiate between laziness and "not liking". We all live in a temporal realm where we are born and then develop and ultimately decay and pass away. What you may not like at age 8 might be something you truly love at age 12. However, speaking for myself, I like and love all great music and musicians. When I first heard Glenn Gould at age 2, my mother told me I was absolutely crazy about his music and was banging away on the home piano along to his recordings."
What guitarists do you listen to now and what was the name of the last disc you purchased?
I listen to all the ones that everyone listens to. I don't really listen to guitarists that much. It is not the most compelling instrument in jazz to my ears...Piano and saxophone is Queen and King. And funny, to me, the guitar is a hybrid of a piano and a tenor saxophone living on a very bizarre pitch organizational map of the fret board. I think you have to be kind of a lunatic to seriously want to study the guitar! As I said earlier, I like to listen to ALL musicians that can play from all styles. But if I have to name a player, I would have to say Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. The musician that speaks to me the most is Keith Jarrett and Charlie Parker.
My latest disc as of March 31, 2012 I purchased is Keith Jarrett's "Changeless". But I am buying music constantly!
EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS TO GENE ESS AND PUBLICIST KARRI GAFFNEY FOR THEIR HELP!