As the artist coordinator and programming consultant at the Alys Stephens Center, the Birmingham native has mastered the business side of the music business, while keeping a firm grip on his craft.
Essix, most famously known as a jazz guitarist, moved into the administrative role nearly two years ago; it involves keeping an eye on artists’ contracts and allows him to teach at the educational center, ArtPlay.
“It’s kind of a natural progression for a lot of artists — especially jazz artists,” he says.
“They’ve been very accommodating to my projects and my touring schedule,” he says of balancing his day job and his music. “It doesn’t really feel like work all the time.”
Essix’s journey to self-discovery took a deep turn in 2000 when he released “Southbound,” the first of three albums that were a trilogy of music centered in and around his music roots in Alabama.
“I really defined who I was by going down that path,” says Essix, who had been struggling with the “jazz” title for quite some time. “It was so liberating for me because finally I could be who I was. I could play the kind of music that I liked, and I think I’ve carved out an identity as an artist born and raised in the South, with all the sensibility.”
His latest album, which is self-titled, gives the listener an unexpected piece of Essix’s core.
“It’s a little scary, because I don’t know how people are gonna accept it when they hear it,” he says of his 19th album. “I’m hesitant to even call it jazz.” The instrumental album is a fusion of rock, blues, folk and even “straight funk.”
“It is what it is now,” adds Essix. “There’s no turning back.”
Looking back, Essix barely made it to recording his first album. He worked for UPS for 11 years and recorded two albums before applying to the Berklee College of Music in Boston — twice.
“Had I just decided I’m not going to do music anymore, I think I probably would have lived a very, very miserable life,” he says. “I had decided that this is what I do — it’s who I am, and this music has to come out in some way.”
Since graduating in 1993, Essix has since created his own independent label, Essential Recordings, created the annual Preserve Jazz Festival, and has toured and performed with numerous artists, including fellow Alabamian Bobby Womack.
He is already focusing on his next project, an album commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.
“I think — and I probably shouldn’t say this, ‘cause I don’t want to jinx it — it will be one of the most meaningful recordings I’ve ever done,” he says.
In 2000, he recorded the song “For Four,” which reflected on the tragedy. He is seeking to collaborate with some big-name musicians for the album.
If he completes the album by the end of the year, it will be the fourth that he has produced this year — a record for him, so to speak.
“It’s a very precarious balancing act,” he says of harnessing his productivity. “I guarantee you, after next year, I’m really, really gonna slow down.”
The work has only made his curiosity with his chosen profession grow even more.
“I’m still as excited to pick up a guitar and play as I was when I … first started recording music. I still get butterflies doing what I do — and I hope that that never changes.”
Erin Williams is a graduate of Faith Christian School and the University of Alabama. She is a performing arts aide for the Washington Post Style section.
Eric Essix CD release party
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at the Alys Stephens Center, Birmingham. For tickets, visit alysstephens.uab.edu.