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Notations from Essiet Essiet

Bassist Essiet Essiet says he’s often questioned not only about jazz but about his name. Given to the first born son, the double name is a tradition in Nigeria, his family’s homeland. The acclaimed artist offers more on his background and his affinity for jazz.
Besides jazz, what other kind of music do you like that might surprise people?
I’m open-minded. I grew up listening to a lot of Nigerian music called “highlife.” My folks had records around the house. I think I have a lot of that in me, that feel of Nigerian highlife music, West African. A lot of people know my background, my heritage. I have a group of my own that I play some of that music—a mixture of jazz and West African rhythmic music. The difference is not so much the bars, but the syncopation and the rhythm and the feel. There’s a twelve-beat feel that started getting into jazz with Elvin Jones and Coltrane. They really got into it, the twelve-beat and the 6/8, which is West African.
You take a walk through the forest and you see a group of men ahead: Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus and Ron Carter—which one would you choose to talk with?
I’ve already talked to Ron—I used to take lessons from him. Ray Brown, I talked to a little bit. I saw Mingus once, but didn’t get a chance to talk to him. One of my favorite bass players was Paul, so I’d probably talk to Paul. All those guys are my favorite bass players, but Paul was one of the guys that really got to me early. His style I can identify with a lot.
Do you ever look at a young musician and think “Oh, yeah, I recall how that felt?”
All the time. I don’t know if it’s really the same now as when I was coming up because, first of all, there weren’t so many schools; we used to learn a lot from the older players. They were like our teachers in school; we had relationships with older players. I remember when I lived in Portland, I got a gig with Pat George at this place called the “Prima Donna” in the early ‘70s, a four-month gig. I learned so many standard tunes from that gig and I think the bulk of standards I know are from that gig. Now kids come out of school and I don’t think youngsters know as many tunes as they had to back then. They know more technical stuff and theory.
Other than the bass, what instrument do you appreciate the most?
The drums. I’m usually paired with the drums. With the drums, you have to have so much independence. You’re actually playing the drum set, numerous instruments at the same time. Most others, you’re only playing one instrument. I guess the drums are a combination. It used to be separate, like the bass drum was separate. So I appreciate the drums.
How does jazz speak to you?
It has huge variety, so it speaks to me in many different ways. First of all, it touches me in my soul and heart. Also, it stimulates the intellect, ‘cause you have to think. Lastly, it’s also a universal language.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
That’s a good question. I hopefully will have accomplished a lot of my goals, which are musical, but also financial and spiritual. I hope to be involved as a person and stable financially, and a developed musician. I hope to be helpful to other people as much as I can. Reaching out to young people, or older people, or anybody, just to be helpful.

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