Eugene Goss: Hidden local jazz gem

By Griffin Brammer, Newswire Live Show Manager

You’d be hard pressed to find anything online about Eugene Goss. No autobiography, no Wikipedia, nothing. Even the jazz sites dedicating themselves to the greats of the genre can offer up little more than a name and an impressive myriad of song credits.

With all this being said, imagine my surprise as I was sitting front row at the Caffè Vivace, a local coffee house and lounge, when a stout older gentleman approached me asking for my help to get his walker up on the stage.

After a minute of maneuvering that would make my nursing professors proud, he introduced himself: “Nice to meet you, Griffin. My name’s Eugene.”

And with that, the band kicked into action and the quiet, unassuming old man was no more.

The 70-something year old Goss is a true-blue American crooner. Though I did not dare ask his age, it’s clear from his performance that this man has been in the business for a great many years.

Every tone was sung with so much heart and soul, from the bass to the falsetto. Each note was so golden and smooth, you’d swear Goss was dripping honey out of his mouth.

Newswire photo courtesy of Chloe Salveson

Goss’ vocals go way far beyond singing though. Keeping in line with his almost avant-garde performances, Goss entertains the audience with scatting, bird calls and even a particularly masterful impersonation of the muted trumpet solo halfway through his rendition of Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green.”

Goss cites inspiration for his music and song choices from a great variety of essential American artists, from Gene Kelly to Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. 

“Music is America’s best ambassador,” Goss said.

 However, Goss is every part a percussionist as he is a vocalist, and it’s clear that his inspiration is most drawn from the percussive stylings of American and African folk music. His musical menagerie of instruments came one after another from an unassuming black leather bag that would put Mary Poppins to shame.

Cowbells, wicker rattles, whistles and something I learned is called a vibraslap were all utilized in an expertly absurd way to highlight his music and embrace the randomness of the jazz genre.

Perhaps his biggest inspiration comes from his fellow Cincinnatians. Among the audience from the night’s performance was a whole host of Goss’ musical comrades, including fellow jazz artist Mandy Gaines, whom he invited with much coaxing up on stage.

What followed was the most profoundly beautiful, heart wrenching rendition of “Moon River” I had ever heard in my life.

Newswire photo courtesy of Tess Brewer

After a resounding ovation and a couple tears shed from fellow staff writer Owen Miguel, Gaines had nothing but praise for Goss.

“I’ve traveled the globe singing, and people always ask me if I know this person or that person,” Gaines said after the duo’s performance. “But when I ask them if they’ve heard of Eugene Goss… You’d be surprised just how many have.”

I also hold Goss in high regard simply for his contagious personality. During the intermission, he made it his mission to introduce himself to every new face, even giving some song recommendations along the way. (Print Managing Editor Chloe Salveson was given Daphnis et Chloé by French composer Maurice Ravel).

I also loved his stubborn insistence for the audience to participate in accompanying him with the choruses of Stevie Wonders’ “Treat Myself” and “Moon Blue.” It made for a magical experience.

You also have to commend Goss’ leadership over the accompanying band, local trio Kepler II. It was clear from his masterful instruction and playful collaboration with the talented group, featuring guitarist Carlos Vargas-Ortíz, bassist Sam Reuscher and drummer Isaiah Cook, that both parties had a great deal of respect for each other and their music.

Goss remains relatively anonymous with good reason. 

“Every time you play a show, it’s always ‘Hold on, lemme just…’ click,” he said, in reference to the constant stream of photos and videos that he believes interrupt his shows.

Goss is a firm believer of taking things slow and enjoying the moments you find yourself in. 

“You can’t run faster than the speed the world’s spinning,” he said.

So, please, if you ever find yourself at the Caffè Vivace, or any other late-night jazz club, and you see an old man shamble up to the stage with nothing but a walker and a bag full of miracles, set your phone down, grab a drink and tune in. You’re in for the performance of a lifetime.