Tenor Saxophonist Javon Jackson Leads All-Star Quintet at UMass, Amherst | Connecticut Public Radio
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Tenor Saxophonist Javon Jackson Leads All-Star Quintet at UMass, Amherst

Feb 17, 2016

The tenor titan Javon Jackson is performing with his own most extraordinary quintet, Jazz by Five.

Even if Javon Jackson were just jamming in a casual, one-night session with a mediocre, local house rhythm section, it would still be more than worthwhile to hear what this top-seeded tenor saxophonist had to say.

Jackson, who first soared to prominence in the early '80s while touring and recording with Art Blakey, has grown over the years from roaring Young Lion status to become a solid, multi-faceted jazz eminence, acclaimed as an instrumentalist, bandleader, recording artist, and educator.

Since 2013, he has, among other off-the-bandstand accomplishments, been director of the prestigious Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, serving as the successor to the program’s revered founder, the late alto saxophonist/composer Jackie McLean.

Jackson’s discography includes some 14 recordings as leader and more than 135 CDs made with a virtual who's who of jazz greats, including Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden, Betty Carter, Cedar Walton and Ron Carter.

You can hear this tenor titan performing, not with the sort of routine rhythm section mentioned above, but with his own most extraordinary quintet, Jazz by Five, on Thursday, February 18, at 7:30 pm at the University of Massachusetts’ Bowker Auditorium, Stockbridge Hall, 80 Campus Center Way, Amherst, Massachusetts. Tickets: $35.00/$20.00 general public: $10.00 for specified college students and those 17 and under. Information: (413) 545-2511.

Jackson’s Fab Five features himself and the celebrated trumpeter Randy Brecker on the frontline, backed by a remarkable rhythm section featuring the great pianist George Cables, world-celebrated double bass virtuoso Eddie Gomez and NEA Jazz Master drummer Jimmy Cobb.

George Cables.
Credit Terrence Jennings

A trip to Bowker Auditorium would be worth it even if just to hear Cables, a versatile master who for years has been known as everybody’s favorite sideman. After all, he’s been the pianist of choice for a legion of jazz giants, including Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Max Roach, among many others.

Far more than merely a premier perennial sideman, Cables is both a consummate, swinging soloist and an empathetic, energizing element when leading his own bands, as he shows so brilliantly on two recent trio releases on HighNote Records.

On his 2015 CD, In Good Company, he collaborates with double bassist Essiet Essiet and the superb drummer Victor Lewis on pieces ranging from a flight through Duke Ellington’s "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" to a luminous rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s "Lotus Blossom." Along with two originals, including the amusing "Mr. Anonymous," maestro Cables shows expressive breadth, both nuanced and swinging, on pieces ranging from John Hicks' "Naima's Love Song" to Kenny Barron’s "Voyage." Instead of a flag-waver, Cables’ grand finale is a brief and lovely pastel portrait of Strayhorn’s "Day Dreams."

On another trio triumph, his 2014 Icons and Influences, a self-portrait of the artist, he pays tribute to an array of musicians ranging from Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller and Ellington to Dave Brubeck, Joe Henderson and the Haitian calypso icon, Lord Kitchener. On this trio album, which also exhibits Cables’ uncut creativity, the pianist selects two swift, simpatico colleagues, including Hartford native Dezron Douglas on double bass and Victor Lewis, Cables' kindred spirit, on drums.

One of the most inspirationally upbeat, bluesy, blue sky, sun-shine filled pieces on the disc is an original Cables’ gem that he wrote as a young musician just starting out in 1965, simply and aptly called "Happiness." A pure, straight-ahead delight, the young man’s fresh, ebullient view of the world is a reminder, for even the most skeptical jazzphobe, that jazz is not necessarily pedantic and inscrutable, but can be as readily accessible and instantly joyful as any other kind of music from rock to klezmer.

As a maker of music with narrative lines, Cables can express virtually any emotion from sadness to joy as he does simultaneously on his elegant elegy, "Farewell Mulgrew", an eloquent piece that is both a moving requiem for the late Mulgrew Miller and a celebration of his life, irrepressible spirit and imperishable creative vitality.

Speaking about Douglas, the young, big-toned bassist from Hartford, Cables, the Old Master, has this to say: “Dezron and I did a couple of Dexter Gordon songbook gigs and had a great time. He’s very enthusiastic, very soulful, has a great feeling, and really plays the bottom. He’s not afraid to speak up and contribute his thoughts as well as his notes.”

Barnhart’s Barnburner Band

Jeff Barnhart and His Hot Rhythm all-stars rollick through a repertoire of pop and jazz standards from the first half of the 20th century at the Essex Winter Series on Sunday, February 21, at 3:00 pm at Valley Regional High School on Kelsey Hill Road, Deep River.

Anne Barnhart.
Credit Jeff & Anne Barnhart, Mystic Music Studio & Agency

A renowned trad jazz pianist, Fats Walleresque singer/entertainer, arranger, and bandleader, Barnhart leads a barnburning band featuring his vintage jazz comrade-in-arms, the celebrated Vince Giordano, an award-winning orchestra leader/arranger, renowned scholar of period music and all-around multi-instrumentalist tripling here on bass, tuba and bass saxophone.

Barnhart’s fellow travelers on his adventurous jaunt down memory lane also include his wife, flutist/vocalist Anne Barnhart, a once devout, classically bred-and-trained musician who converted to jazz, her husband’s faith.

Also aboard for Barnhart’s swinging sentimental journey are the formidable Midiri Brothers, Joe on reeds and brother Paul on vibes and trombone; and the Swiss watch-like timekeeper Jim Lawlor on drums. Tickets: $35.00 general; $5.00 students. Information: essexwinterseries.com and (860) 272-4572.

Jeff Barnhart.
Credit Jeff & Anne Barnhart, Mystic Music Studio & Agency

Guests Beef Up Chamber Fare

Guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and cornetist Stephen Haynes beef up the nourishing food for thought served at their Improvisations/Arcade series with contributions from four special guests on Sunday, February 21, at 3:00 pm at Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor Street, Hartford.

Illustrating the art of cutting-edge improvisation, the series’ two founders and curators are joined in changing configurations by bassists Kirsten Lamb and Zachary Rowden, drummer Matt Rousseau and Dan O’Brien, saxophone, clarinet and flute. Information: realartways.org.

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