Eric Essix's Jazz Escape at Ross Bridge in Birmingham

31 May 2015 / by Mary Colurso (writer)
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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Call it a jazz festival, and Eric Essix won't argue. However, Essix prefers to think of his new Birmingham event as a getaway for smooth jazz fans -- a classy, comfy weekend that boasts a great deal of music.  

Eric Essix's Jazz Escape, set for Aug. 29-31 at Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, will offer a lineup of 10 acts, including Brian CulbertsonKim ScottKaren BriggsKelley O'Neal and the Eric Essix Project. (Nine of the 10 acts have been confirmed; see the photo gallery above for details.)
Jostling for position among a jam-packed audience is out; small-crowd comfort, coddling and perks are in. If Bonnaroo is a camping adventure, and Hangoutresembles a big ol' beach party, the Jazz Escape strives to be more like a luxe vacation for 500-600 people.
"I kind of look at me, personally, and stuff that I would like to do," says Essix, 54, a guitarist, composer, bandleader and producer. "I've gotten to an age now that when I travel, I like convenience. If I'm watching music, I don't particularly like a big crowd. I want to relax. I don't want to move around a lot. I'm thinking about things I like and enjoy. There has to be a demographic out there that likes the same thing."
 With the Jazz Escape, he's also following a trend set by other jazz festivals, such as Earl Klugh's Weekend of Jazz (with events in Colorado and South Carolina); the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City, Fla.; and the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival and Brian Culbertson's Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, both in California. 
The destination is just as important as the music at these events, which emphasize resort-style amenities such as golf courses, spa services and wine tastings.  Essix hopes to showcase Birmingham in much the same way, pointing festivalgoers to city attractions -- restaurants, shopping areas, museums and more -- in their free time. 
"There's a huge contingent of people in the smooth jazz world who travel from event to event throughout the summer months," Essix says. "I'm after that national audience, those folks in other markets. It's a very specific audience." 
Actually, Essix says he had the idea for the Jazz Escape several years ago, but found his interest rekindled after playing at one of Klugh's jazz weekends in South Carolina. In the meantime, Essix founded the Preserve Jazz Festival in Hoover with Jason Henderson, overseeing that event from 2007 to 2013. 
Another look at Eric Essix performing "Foot Soldiers" with James "P.J." Spraggins on drums and Kelvin Wooten on piano at the Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall in the Alys Stephens Center.
Essix split from Preserve Jazz after the 2013 fest, seeking a new challenge and believing the time was right for him to partner with Ross Bridge. He also launched the Eric Essix Foundation for the Arts and Education, a nonprofit that aims to help young people through clinics, performances and tutoring programs. 
"This is what it's all about. This is what it should be all about," Essix says. "The event has to be connected to something bigger. I look at the Jazz Escape as the primary fund-raising event for the foundation." 
All proceeds from ticket sales for the Jazz Escape will go to the foundation, Essix says. He's looking to sponsors to cover the event's expenses, as he and Henderson did with the Preserve Jazz Festival. 
Tickets for the Jazz Escape can be bought in two ways, as part of hotel packages or for the concerts alone. Festivalgoers who stay at the hotel will pay $468.90 for a two-night stay, $650.16 for a three-night stay. Concert tickets are $135 general admission, $175 VIP; they include admission to shows on Saturday and Sunday. There's also a Friday night mix-and-mingle in the hotel lobby. (See the ticket FAQs page on the Jazz Escape website for more info.)
Essix says he's not trying to compete with other jazz events in Birmingham, which tend to cater to folks who live in the metro area. However, jazz lovers here will have plenty of concerts from which to pick and choose.
The Preserve Jazz Festival, set for May 25, will relocate to Sloss Furnaces this year. Jazz in the Park, a free series sponsored by Magic City Smooth Jazz, usually settles into Avondale Park in Southside for its summer run. There's also a new event in town, the Steel City Jazz Festival, on tap for June 5-7 in Linn Park downtown. 
Essix believe the Jazz Escape is different enough to stand on its own, and he's hoping to build the franchise into an annual event that sells out in advance. 
"I'm not trying to be exclusive, but I'm trying to serve a certain part of the community that likes convenience and luxury," he says. "Everyone has a special thing they like to do every year, and this could be that thing. … I'm also trying to sell the city of Birmingham and what it has to offer. There are tons of things to do here that I think people would like. The music is just a bonus. If you're a jazz lover, the music will be like icing on the cake."

The author

Mary Colurso

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