Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photo by Dokk Savage
Eric Essix is a busy man. The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame inductee recently released his 26th and 27th albums and commemorated his thirty-year career as a recording artist with a celebratory concert at the Alys Stephens Center, where he also serves as Program Director. The Birmingham native, responsible for bringing world-renowned talent to our city, shares his mission of music, faith, and community.
Eric, how did you get started as a musician and what inspires you to continue creating?
My earliest memories are from church. I was in the children’s choir and became interested in playing the guitar when I was ten years old. I wasn’t very good at that time, but I felt encouraged by the folks at church. I didn’t have any musical aspirations then; I was focused on sports and was even considered playing college basketball but ultimately chose to pursue music. I understood that the career of an athlete is finite, but music is a lifelong gift.
I owe everything to those early experiences and have been extremely blessed. My spirituality is what continues to guide me. I constantly read, study, travel, and listen. I find inspiration in my own personal experiences and others’ stories too. I always say, “If you live long enough, you’re bound to have something to write about.”
How do you choose which artists to book at the Alys Stephens Center, and how much does your personal taste in music factor into your selection?
At ASC, we feel an obligation to meet the needs of all of our communities through our programming and educational components. My focus becomes the quality of the artist and the music they represent. The goal is to select the very best in any genre. I personally love all kinds of music: rock, blues, bluegrass, and jazz, of course, and my work at ASC has allowed me to become a fan of some artists I wasn’t familiar with.
If you weren’t a musician or involved with ASC, what would you be doing?
The life of a musician and the ability to make a living at it has changed since I started out in 1988. It’s a great side gig, a passion, and creative outlet. But, I think if I were starting out now I’d be a chef. I love experiencing the city through our culinary scene. Some of my favorites are Surin West, Bottega, Cantina, Bettola, Yum Yai, and Post Office Pies.
As a lifelong Birminghamian, what does our rising city mean to you?
Birmingham today has a diverse, smart, and creative population, and I applaud UAB for playing a huge part in developing a global community. One of my favorite things to do in any city is to feel immersed in a mix of different languages and cultures. I get to interface with people of all walks of life through music, concerts, and food right here in my hometown.