Essiet Okon Essiet was born on September 1, 1956 in Omaha, Nebraska to Nigerian parents. His father worked for the U.S. and Nigerian governments, moving the family from city to city. While living in Wisconsin he began studying violin at age 10 later switching to bass viola at 14.
As a child, his wide travels with his family gave him early exposure to many cultures, folkways, languages, and religions fostered his worldview of strength through diversity. This gave Essiet the ability to fluently mix styles, though he predominantly plays in the modern idiom.
Essiet was Art Blakey’s last bassist, playing with him for 2 years and recording on three sessions. He has performed with Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Mulgrew Miller, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Bobby Watson, Billy Higgins, Kenny Kirkland, Joe Henderson, Johnny Griffin, Kevin Mahogany, Kurt Elling and Geri Allen and the Blue Note All Stars to name a few.
Since 1985 he has been at the Conservancy in The Hague as a lecturer. One of the most in demand bassist in jazz, Essiet currently leads Ibo, a Nigerian jazz project.
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Herman Riley was born on August 31, 1933 in Algiers, Louisiana across the river from the French Quarter in New Orleans into a family setting where his mother Nell Brooks was a hard swinging jazz and gospel singer. He attended the L.B. Landry High School and under the influence of his music teacher William Houston, heard local jazzmen playing at assemblies and school dances.
In his mid-teens Herman took to the saxophone after seeing Illinois Jacquet but inspired by the locals he organized a jazz combo with his friends and took part in his school orchestra and marching band. It wasn’t long before he “was on the street, playing professionally”, taking short-lived gigs with R&B bandleaders like Ivory Joe Hunter, Guitar Slim and Paul Gayten. By the time he was majoring on cello and bassoon at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Riley had completed eight years of study of European music.
After two non-musical years in the US army and a short spell in New York, he ended up in San Diego, California, pursuing his music studies at City College, while playing in clubs and taking private lessons. After winning an award as outstanding solo artist at the 1962 California colleges’ jazz festival at Monterey, Riley felt confident enough to make for Los Angeles.
Recruited for some of LA’s better jazz groups, he played and recorded with Dolo Coker, Bobby Bryant, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, Della Reese, Sammy Davis Jr, Gene Ammons, Bobby Hutcherson and Blue Mitchell among others. Over the course of his illustrious career Riley added flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet and bass clarinet to the arsenal of saxophones that he carried to meet the demands of studio sessions. He toured with Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Mercer Ellington, Monk Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Etta James, as well as with the Count Basie, Bill Berry and Juggernaut big bands. Quiet in manner and self-effacing, bebop and blues tenor saxophonist Herman Riley died on April 14, 2007 at the age of 73.
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Rodney Jones was born on August 30, 1956. Mastering his instrument during his youth he performed with Jaki Byard and recorded with Chico Hamilton. An underrated cool-toned guitarist best in straight-ahead settings, by the time he was in his early twenties he was working with Dizzy Gillespie.
After moving on from Gillespie, he began working with Lena Horne as her accompanist. Jones put on the leader hat in 1977 with his debut on the the Strata East label, “The Liberation of the Contemporary Jazz Guitar “. This was followed up with his “Articulation” on the Timeless label and then another four sessions took place through 2001 for Muse, R7R and Minor Music labels.
Rodney has been cited as a jazz guitarist who uses modern quartal harmony. He also believes his journey is also one of spiritual awakening that is not separated by theology or music. He investigates the relationship between the art and science of jazz and helps musicians discover their own doorways to development and evolution of their music. He continues to perform, study and tour.
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Jerry Dodgion, born August 29, 1932 in Richmond, California, played alto saxophone in middle school and began working around the San Francisco area in the Fifties. He played in bands with Rudy Salvini, John Coppola, Chuck Travis and Gerald Wilson. He worked with the Vernon Alley Quartet, accompanying Billie Holiday in 1955.
Dodgion also played with Benny Carter and Red Norvo in the 50s, Benny Goodman and Oliver Nelson in the Sixties, Thad Jones, and Mel Lewis from 1965-1979, as well as Herbie Hancock, Duke Pearson, Blue Mitchell, Count Basie and Marian McPartland, as well as Etta Jones, Johnny Hammond, Yusef Lateef, Shirley Scott and numerous others.
A long career as a sideman, Jerry recorded up to 2004 only two dates as leader or co-leader: two tracks in 1955 for Fantasy Records with Sonny Clark on piano and an album in 1958 for World Pacific together with Charlie Mariano.
Dodgion’s first true release as a bandleader came in 2004 with an ensemble called The Joy of Sax, featuring saxophonists Frank Wess, Brad Leali, Dan Block, Jay Brandford, Mike LeDonne, Dennis Irwin and Joe Farnsworth. The saxophonist and flautist continues to perform and record.
Ernie Fields was born Ernest Lawrence Fields on August 28, 1904 in Nacogdoches, Texas, though raised in Taft, Oklahoma. He attended Tuskegee Institute before moving to Tulsa. From the late 1920s, he led the Royal Entertainers, and eventually began touring more widely from Kansas City, Kansas to Dallas, Texas, and recording. Fields’ band became the first African-American band to play at Tulsa’s landmark Cain’s Ballroom.
A 1939 invite to New York by John Hammond to record for Vocalion. He began touring nationally, never became a star but continued to work steadily, recording for smaller labels, and gradually transforming his sound through a smaller band and a repertoire shift from big band and swing to R&B. During WWII he entertained troops both at home and abroad.
Continuing to straddle these styles into the 1950s, Ernie played swing standards such as “Tuxedo Junction” and “Begin The Beguine” in a rocking R&B style. In the late 1950s he moved to Los Angeles, California and joined the Rendezvous Records and ran the house band In 1959 this band had an international hit with an R&B version of Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” that reached #4 on the Billboard chart, selling over a million copies. He would go on to record instrumentals under a variety of names including B. Bumble and the Stingers, The Marketts and The Routers.
After Rendezvous Records folded in late 1963, trombonist, pianist, arranger and bandleader Ernie Fields retired and returned to Tulsa. He died on May 11, 1997, at the age of 92.