Bassist Essiet Okon Essiet first began his musical studies at the age of ten with the violin. His father worked for the United States and Nigerian governments, an occupation that took his family to many places, including Europe, Africa, and various cities in the United States. His family finally settled in Portland, Oregon, where Essiet began studying bass at the age of fourteen. Essiet’s early exposure to many cultures, languages, and religions fostered his worldview of strength through diversity. “Some musicians are purists,” said Essiet, “but I like to mix styles. I like many different types of cultures.”
His big break came in 1982, when he met Chicago-based percussionist Famoudou Don Moye, a founding member of such important collectives as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Leaders. Moye asked Essiet to join his quartet, and during that same year the bassist met Abdullah Ibrahim, the famed South African pianist. Working with Ibrahim, Essiet toured the globe, splitting his time between Europe and the United States. Eventually, Essiet joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and settled in New York City. In the 1990s, Essiet began what has proven to be a significant freelance career.
Essiet has performed and recorded with such notables as Benny Golson, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean, Kenny Barron, Billy Higgins, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kenny Garrett, Kurt Elling, and Geri Allen. In festival performances, he leads his very own group, IBO, which is a Nigerian jazz project that mixes jazz harmonies with West African rhythms.
Essiet’s first critical acclaim came more than a decade ago as a member of saxophonist Bobby Watson’s post-hard-bop group, Horizon. He has since established himself as one of New York’s premier bassists. Essiet’s current collective release (January 2018), Soul Chemistry, is both powerful and captivating. He, along with Vincent Herring, David Kikoski, Joris Dudli, and Anthony Wonsey on the Alessa Records label, will have your attention with the first note on the first track that is appropriately titled: “Art.”