Essiet Essiet IBO with Sylvia Cuenca

Essiet Okon Essiet first received critical acclaim 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.

He began his musical studies at age ten on the violin. His father worked for the United States and Nigerian governments, his job taking the family to many places, including Europe, Africa, and various cities in the United States. His family finally settled in Portland, Oregon, where he began studying bass at the age of fourteen. His 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, the bassist began what has proven to be a significant freelance career. He 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 his festival performance, Essiet leads his own group, IBO, a Nigerian jazz project that mixes jazz harmonies with West African rhythms.

Sylvia Cuenca is a drummer on the New York jazz scene who has had shared the bandstand with saxophone legend Joe Henderson for 4 years and trumpet legend Clark Terry for 17 years. She was a guest clinician at the Sisters in Jazz Program at the IAJE Convention in NYC and the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center. Cuenca has been a longtime faculty member at the Jazz for Teens and Pre-Teen Program at NJPAC and the Stanford Jazz Workshop.

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