Photo by Jennifer Manna

Photo by Jennifer Manna


Born in Denver, Colorado Max was involved in music from an early age and began playing saxophone at 9. During his teenage years he developed his musicianship through performances in his father’s quintet, city and statewide jazz ensembles, and collaborations with local rock and pop acts. The most notable of these was a studio session he recorded for Joe Richmond (Churchill) and Isaac Slade (The Fray).

In 2012 Max enrolled at Oberlin College and Conservatory to study with Gary Bartz. While he was a student there he also developed lasting mentor-student relationships with Eddie Henderson, Jamey Haddad, and Billy Hart and had the opportunity to perform with musical icons such as Ingrid Jensen, Ambrose Akinmusire, Chirs Thile, Dayna Stephens, Billy Drewes, Abraham Laboriel, Allison Miller, Simone Shaheen, and Gonzalo Grau. In 2014 his won an Outstanding Performance award in the Downbeat Undergraduate Small ensemble competition.

Around this time Max began playing extensively with the other three members of what would later become the electro-acoustic group Echoes. Their music has been described as “the sound of jazz in the ‘right now’” by Jazziz Magazine and has graced stages in Canada, Jordan, India, the Netherlands, and across the United States. Their work has been supported through grants from the US Embassy, the Oberlin Conservatory Dean’s office, and the Avaloch Farms Music Institute. Echoes released their debut EP “Square Two” in August 2018 and their first full-length album “Loading Screen” in 2019.

In 2016 Max was the first jazz musician ever selected for a grant from the Frank Huntington Beebe Fund in its century-long history. Through the support of this grant Max spent six months in Chennai, India researching the rigorous and systematic South Indian Classical system. He augmented this study through two shorter trips to Ghana and Cuba to complete his project of applying the Carnatic system to the music of the African Diaspora.

Max settled in Chicago in 2017. He can be seen performing regularly alongside other Chicago musicians at venues like the Green Mill, Andy’s, and the Jazz Showcase. His quartet called simply “Max Bessesen” has performed across the US and will release their first recording in 2020 with veteran trumpeter and fellow Denver native Ron Miles.

Max is a key member of a variety of education organizations including The Stanford Jazz Workshop, Discover Music Discover Life, and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. He maintains a studio of private woodwind, piano, and composition students from his home in Irving Park.