John Esposito is an American pianist/composer/drummer/producer who works on a wide array of creative music projects. His technical skills and the range of his artistic palette extend across the stylistic boundaries of the stride piano, swing, bebop, modal, and free music movements. He has performed and recorded with artists including Nick Brignola, Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, Carter Jefferson, Franklin Kiermyer, Joe Lovano, J. R. Monterose, David “Fathead” Newman, Eric Person, Arthur Rhames, Sam Rivers, Roswell Rudd, Pharaoh Sanders, and John Stubblefield. Esposito is the owner/executive producer of the independent label Sunjump Records, and has created music for theater, dance, film, TV commercials, and multimedia performance art. He is a visiting full-time assistant professor and artist in residence at Bard College and resides in New York State’s Hudson Valley.
After attending SUNY Albany Esposito worked as house pianist at the Gemini Jazz Café for several years, leading his own group with guest soloists that included Stubblefield and Nick Brignola, and spent a year working in saxophonist J. R. Monterose’s band. He moved to New York City in 1980 and met the phenomenal young saxophonist/pianist/guitarist Arthur Rhames while playing on guitarist Steve Geraci’s Beat City label record date for Aliqae Song with Stubblefield and Rashied Ali. Esposito worked in the Arthur Rhames Quartet for the next five years. In 1985, he formed Second Sight—a quintet with trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Jeff Marx, and drummer Jeff Siegel. They recorded Flying with the Comet in 1986, an album of Esposito’s original compositions and released on his Sunjump Records label, followed by Tiger Tracks in 1987. This five-year period marked the beginning of Esposito’s work as a producer, and in addition to Second Sight’s music Sunjump released a Jose Chalas record, Living On Avenue F, and Marc Wagnon’s Shadowlines. Throughout the 1980s Esposito also worked with saxophonists Hugh Brodie, Greg Abate, Bobby Johnson Jr., Beaver Harris, Brignola, Jefferson, Montrose, Rudd, Stubblefield, and many others. In 1987 he moved to Woodstock, N.Y., and in 1989 formed the FM Artists Coalition with saxophonist Erica Lindsay and bassist Anthony Cox. The group lasted three years, beginning with a series of monthly house concerts, continuing with two years of coproductions with the Woodstock Guild in the Kleinert/James Gallery, and culminating in August 1992 in the three-day Jazz, Poetry and Visual Arts Festival at the Byrdcliff Barn. Esposito produced 25 concerts for the FM Coalition, and the 160 artists presented include Holland, Karl Berger, Tim Berne, Cindy Blackman, Baikida Carrol, Dave Douglas’s Tiny Bell Trio, Marilyn Crispell, Santi DeBriano, Jack DeJohnette, Howard Johnson, and Wadada Leo Smith. From 1990 to 1992 he played regularly with the Glen Richmond trio at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City, and solo piano at the Village Corner, Bradley’s, and the United Nations.
Beginning in 1993 Esposito began working as pianist and arranger with the groups headed by Franklin Kiermyer and Eric Person. He recorded four albums with Kiermyer: In the House of My Fathers (Konnex, 1993) with Douglas and Stubblefield; the critically acclaimed Solomon’s Daughter (Evidence, 1994) with tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and bassist Drew Gress; Kairos (Evidence, 1996) with saxophonists Rivers, Person, and Michael Stuart; and Sanctification (Sunship, 1999) with Stuart and bassist Fima Ephron. Gigs included NYC’s Sweet Basil with Person, Gress, and Joe Lovano; US tours that included the San Francisco Jazz Festival at Yoshi’s in Oakland, the Panasonic Jazz Festival at the Knitting Factory in NYC, and Lincoln Center; and a 10-concert tour of Canadian jazz festivals including Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Esposito also played on four albums with Person’s Meta Four, beginning in 1996 with Eric’s More Tales to Tell (Soulnote) with Holland and Gene Jackson. Gigs included NYC club appearances at the Blue Note, the Knitting Factory, and Visiones; tours of jazz festivals and clubs including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Billy Higgins Festival (Fresno), Savannah Jazz Festival, Texaco Jazz Festival (NYC), Newport/Friehoffer Jazz Festival (Saratoga Springs), Ford/Montreux Festival (Detroit), Newport Jazz Festival (NYC), and the Bell/Atlantic Festival (NYC). Media performances include a broadcast of the Detroit Montreux concert on Branford Marsalis’s Jazz Set on NPR. Esposito appeared on three more Eric Person CDs: Extra Pressure (2000), Live at Big Sur (2003), and Reflections (2006) with Dave Douglas and Kenny Davis. He toured with Eric Person’s Meta Four in performances at the Guimaraes Jazz Festival (Portugal), the Blue Note (NYC), Big Sur Jazz Festival, Blues Alley (Washington, D.C.), Savannah Jazz Festival, Jazz Factory (Louisville), Brooklyn Academy of Music, and dozens of clubs, concerts, and workshops at colleges across the United States. Featured media performances included a Knitting Factory concert and interview on BET Jazz and webcasts from the Blue Note and Knitting Factory.
In 2002 Esposito renewed his collaboration with saxophonist Jeff Marx on two CDs: The Great Unknown (Naugual) and Treading Air . . . Breathing Fire (Soluna). He continued his work with Marx, contributing four compositions to the Marx/Siegel CD Dreamstuff (Ayler Records, 2005) and playing piano and writing compositions for the Esposito/Marx/Siegel recording Inyo (Sunjump 2009). In 2006 he revitalized Sunjump Records, which had been inactive since 1988, releasing John Esposito: Down Blue Marlin Road, a deconstruction/reconstruction of some of jazz’s most overplayed standards. The second was a quintet date of nine Esposito originals, The Blue People. He followed this in 2008 with John Esposito: A Book of Five Rings; Sangeeta Michael Berardi: Earthship; and a rerelease of Second Sight’s Flying with the Comet on CD with three bonus tracks. In 2009 he produced three releases: Geraci’s Aliqae Song, an archival recording of that first meeting with Arthur Rhames in 1980; the previously mentioned Inyo; and Mitch Kessler’s Erratica. During this period Esposito began experimenting with music/video duet improvisations with video artist/photographer Laura Steele, culminating in a concert at the University of Chapel Hill. In April 2009 he presented a multimedia concert with Steele at Bard College that combined through-composed and freely improvised music with Steele’s real-time video mixing using prerecorded images and live video feeds projected on four walls. Audience seating was configured in various geometric shapes throughout the space. The septet was divided into three segments placed in different parts of the hall. He produced two Sunjump Records releases in 2010: flutist Jayna Nelson’s Bloom of Creation; and Orisha, Esposito’s second trio CD with nine new originals. The year 2011 brought the release of Kessler’s Der Erlkonig. Other recording projects in 2011 included the Esposito/Marx/Siegel trio CD Tahrir and the mixing/mastering of Berardi’s Calling Coltrane (both released in 2012). Recent undertakings include production of a four-CD boxed set, Second Sight: Complete Studio Recordings; a CD release of A Book of Five Rings: Ground; and a collaboration with Berardi on the music for a record date featured in the upcoming film Playing with Parkinson’s by noted jazz documentary filmmaker Burrill Crohn. This documentary film of Berardi’s life’s work as a painter/poet/musician is undergoing the editing process.