A Good Stew: A Look at Javon Jackson
Submitted on behalf of Bob Margolis
Fine art often doesn't fit into categories, swim in schools, break boundaries or follow theoretical trends. It is simply just good. Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson is a subscriber to that school. A subscriber, that is, to the school of thought, popularized by Ellington that says there are two types of music: good music and the other kind. This refreshing approach to the music can result in rewarding projects such as Jackson's new release, set to be in stores by October, entitled Good People. The record, named after the title cut which was penned by the 31-year old tenor man in honor of his parents, is full of all that's good, even great: good musicians, good feeling, good music, good intentions, good execution, good results. This over abundant amount of goodness is helped by the fine ensemble that Jackson has put together for his past two records which features a highly unusual yet cohesive and effective blend of instrumentation. Guitarist Fareed Haque, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Billy Drummond, percussionist Cyro Baptiste and producer extraordinaire, Craig Street (the man behind Cassandra Wilson's last two outings) are again on board, after first recording last year's A Look Within). For Good People, added to the mix are superb guitarist Vernon Reid, a veteran of Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society and Living Color and organist John Medeski of the trio, Medeski, Martin and Wood. These last two guests add a fine bit of color to Jackson's musical quest. The musical quest that Jackson is on is exemplified by his refusal to put himself in a musical box. Why limit yourself?, he says... I'm trying to find individuality... I'm putting myself in some different situations so that I can find myself through other vehicles." The addition of Reid and Medeski was not an accident says Jackson: "When I'm writing, it always helps to know who's going to play... When I wrote for the new record, I knew what I wanted. For instance, I envisioned performing with Vernon, and immediately thought that doing something by Santana would be fun." Jackson is well aware that there are some supposed purists who will react with indignation and rolled eyes at the concept of Jackson doing Santana material as well as that composed by Frank Zappa, as was the case on Jackson's previous record. These same people miss the obvious point that Bird and Miles along with many others recorded the pop songs of their day and transformed them from what could be called low art to high art. Is there a better example of this then Coltrane redefining how "My Favorite Things" is heard and played? How can they explain Miles doing "Surrey with the fringe on top?" Lee Morgan doing Beatles songs? Lester Bowie doing Michael Jackson material? Some may turn up their nose at Jackson's willingness to travel wherever his muse takes him, even if this time, it's far from the safe shores of traditional jazz. But Jackson has several great role models, Art Blakey, with whom Jackson played with for a number of years, and of course, Miles Davis. "I'm trying to find another way for me to deliver this stuff, meaning jazz, acoustically.. There's a whole world out there. And for me to be hanging out with Vernon is not much different from Miles hanging out with Jimi Hendrix." Says Javon: I'm using different material that I've come across over the last four years, stuff from Santana, Tony Williams' Lifetime, Brazilian music... I credit my producer, Craig Street for this to a degree. When we started working together, he and I just started trading tapes of all kinds of music that we liked and it just kind of opened things right up. he is great. I have really enjoyed working with Craig." In addition, Jackson explains, There are too many emotions in my body to just deal with the music of the 40's, 50's and 60's. I do have to keep the jazz banner held high and keep my integrity, but if you listen to Art Blakey, what he was doing with Billy Eckstine and what he was doing at the end of his life are very different. I have to stay on that sort of track."