Javon Jackson was born in Carthage, Missouri and raised in Denver, Colorado. Music captivated the young Javon who was exposed to some of the greatest musicians in jazz through his parents' record collection. Gene Ammons and Ahmad Jamal were early favorites. As he matured, Javon soon became captivated by the work of Sonny Stitt. Stitt, known for his prowess on both the alto and tenor saxophone, was considered one of Charlie Parker's most avid disciples early in his career but later developed a distinctive voice of his own. Like so many other horn players today, Stitt's music inspired Javon to pick up his first saxophone, an alto, at a young age. More musical discoveries followed: Rollins, Henderson, Coltrane. The work of these legends eventually led Javon to favor the tenor. Honing his craft, Jackson began working professionally in local jazz clubs at age 16, playing with former Max Roach Quintet pianist Billy Wallace. In high school he also performed in the McDonald's All-American Band. During this time, Javon met and was befriended by Branford Marsalis. It was Marsalis who encouraged Javon to attend Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music.
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Two of Javon's instructors at Berklee were saxophonist Billy Pierce and pianist Donald Brown, two former members of Art Blakey's legendary Jazz Messengers. One of the seminal groups of the hard bop movement of the 50's and 60's, the Messengers provided a training ground for the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and Javon's early mentor, Branford Marsalis.
Donald Brown helped secure Javon an audience with the legendary Blakey one night at Mikell's, a New York City jazz club. After sitting in with the Messengers, Javon's skill on the tenor led to an invitation to join the group. Those years under the tutelage of Blakey involved intensive study of both interplay and improvisation. Performing alongside Terence Blanchard, Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney and Benny Green, Javon appeared on several recordings with Blakey, including Not Yet (Soul Note), One For All (A&M) and Chippin' In (Timeless).
Javon remained with the Messengers for over three years until Blakey's death in 1990. Looking back on that time, Javon said, "I wouldn't be where I am today without him. Blakey taught me to be a man; he taught me how to be a leader."
Javon earned his degree from Berklee while continuing to tour with Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden and Cedar Walton. His debut as a leader came quickly, in 1991, when he released Burnin' and Me and Mr. Jones on the Criss Cross Label.
On Burnin', the new leader was joined by his former Berklee instructor, tenor saxophonist Billy Pierce, as well as with pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Christian McBride, then still a teenager, and drummer Louis Hayes. All Music Guide's Greg Turner writes "Jackson has the bigger sound, Pierce has the more aggressive attack, and the first-rate rhythm section keeps the proceedings heated…this is [a] recommended set of 'tenor madness' from two of the instrument's best-known practitioners."
Me and Mr. Jones found Javon in the company of yet another group of exceptional talents. A return visit from McBride, pianist James Williams and legendary drummer Elvin Jones assisted Javon in reaching new heights on this energetic recording. Cited as one of the year's best releases, reviewer Greg Turner called Me and Mr. Jones "exceptional", adding the recording is a "powerful musical statement that bridges the generations."
His first effort for Blue Note, When the Time Is Right (1994), was produced by Betty Carter and released to more critical acclaim as was its follow-up, For One Who Knows (1995), and A Look Within (1996). As a leader or co-leader, Javon recorded six discs in total for Blue Note, including 1996's Blue Spirit with the Blue Note All-Stars, performing with label mates Tim Hagans, Greg Osby, Kevin Hays, and Bill Stewart.
His fourth recording as a leader for Blue Note, Good People, found Javon moving away from his hard bop roots into a more organic, groove-based sound. The Boston Globe's Bob Blumenthal praised the work, noting that Javon was "one of the best, young tenor saxophonists to emerge in the last decade. Since teaming up with [producer] Craig Street...Jackson has become one of the more unpredictable as well when it comes to assembling bands and programs."
In 1999, Javon returned to that winning formula on Pleasant Valley. Offering several new tunes, the saxophonist worked on a broad canvas, reinterpreting classics from Duke Ellington and Cannonball Adderley and reworking pop tunes from Stevie Wonder and Al Green. The disc was met with great interest from fans and critics alike. The Boston Herald hailed it "another Javon Jackson triumph!" 52 Street Jazz pronounced the recording "an adventurous, crisp, high-energy album that fairly bristles with enthusiasm and high spirits," while the Washington Post exclaimed Pleasant Valley was "...brimming with subtle harmonic and rhythmic touches."
Javon spent several years touring with a host of jazz greats, as well as his own groups, concentrating on technique and composition. He earned his master's degree in music and a position as Assistant Professor of Jazz Education at SUNY Purchase College. Javon returned to the studio in 2003 with drummer Lenny White, guitarist Mark Whitfield, trombonist Fred Wesley (best known for his work with James Brown) and the master of the groove, organist Lonnie Smith. The resulting sessions formed his latest release, the aptly named Easy Does It.
Maintaining a seemingly effortless groove, Easy Does It has quickly become a radio favorite and garnered respect from both peers and journalists. Marcus Miller says, "This is the way to get your 'old school' funk groove on! Javon and the cats really lay it down on this one" while Lou Donaldson calls it "One for the masses! A little sweet and a little hot." Javon's old friend Branford Marsalis notes, "Javon adds a modern twist to the music we grew up with. Everybody get ready for a funky good time." Karl Stark of The Philadelphia Inquirer raves, "Saxophonist Javon Jackson plays funk with a slow hand...[he] doesn't beat matters to a froth but allows them to come to fruition in their own time. This approach to groove calls for the clear arrangements that focus the senses nicely on Jackson's titillating tenor and Dr. Lonnie Smith's snaky organ...A good funkin' time is had by all."
From a jazzed-up reading of "Right On" by Marvin Gaye to the tender ballad "Diane", Easy Does It is a cohesive set displaying the range of Javon's gifts, from soloist to composer to bandleader, serving up yet another "fine saxy stew..." (Chris Spector, Midwest Record Recap). Javon continues to tour extensively with his own group, Split Second, and performs as a special guest with various artists, including Curtis Fuller and Donald Byrd. He recently completed a two-week residency at the Quad City Visiting Artist Series. He plans on returning to the studio some time soon.
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