Born in Missouri and raised in Denver, Javon Jackson left his studies at the Berklee College of Music in 1986 to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He remained a fixture until Blakey’s passing in 1990.
He made his recording debut in 1991 with Me and Mr. Jones, featuring James Williams, Christian McBride and master drummer Elvin Jones. He joined Jones’ group in 1992, appearing on the great drummer’s albums Youngblood and Going Home. Jackson’s 1994 Blue Note debut, When the Time Is Right, was a straight-ahead affair produced by iconic jazz vocalist and bandleader Betty Carter. His subsequent four recordings for the Blue Note label through the ‘90s were produced by Craig Street and featured wildly eclectic programs ranging from Caetano Veloso, Frank Zappa and Santana to Muddy Waters, Al Green and Serge Gainsbourg. His subsequent four recordings for the Palmetto label had him exploring a blend of funk, jazz and soul with such stellar sidemen as organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, guitarists Mark Whitfield and David Gilmore, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummer Lenny White.
In 2012, the saxophonist released a potent tribute to a towering influence, Celebrating John Coltrane, his inaugural release on his Solid Jackson Records which featured the venerable drummer and former Coltrane collaborator Jimmy Cobb. Jackson released The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni, a collaboration with the famed poet, in early 2022 on his Solid Jackson label. In 2013, he accepted the position of Professor of Jazz Saxophone; Director of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz Studies at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, Theatre and Dance.
A native of Baltimore, Gary Bartz ventured to New York City to attend the Juilliard School in 1958. At the time, performers such as Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman, and Miles Davis were playing at Birdland and the city’s other premiere clubs every night, and Bartz regularly snuck in to see them. In the 1960s, Bartz joined the Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln Group and the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop, quickly earning a reputation as the greatest alto saxophonist since Cannonball Adderley. In 1965, after meeting the group at his parents’ nightclub, Bartz joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and recorded Soulfinger, his recording debut. Around the same time, he began working with McCoy Tyner, and their relationship deepened the influence of John Coltrane on Bartz.
In 1970, Bartz received a call from Miles Davis, who asked Bartz to perform with his band at the historic Isle of Wight Festival. In the same year, Bartz also formed his own group, Ntu Troop, after the Bantu word for “unity.” Ntu blended soul, funk, African folk music, hard bop, and avant-garde jazz on such albums as I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies, Music is My Sanctuary, Another Earth, and Home. Bartz has recorded more than 40 solo albums and appeared on over 200 as a guest artist. More recently, he released Coltrane Rules: Tao of a Music Warrior, Live at the Jazz Standard Volume 1 and Volume 2, and several others, on his own label, OYO.
After moving to New York from Detroit in 1959, Charles McPherson joined Charles Mingus’ band, performing with the bassist from 1960 to 1972. It set the trajectory for a successful career that continues to this day.
McPherson has toured the U.S., Europe, Japan, Africa and South America with his own group, as well as with jazz greats Barry Harris, Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton, Nat Adderly, Phil Woods, Wynton Marsalis, Randy Brecker, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. He’s recorded as a guest artist with Mingus, Art Farmer, Kenny Drew, Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. He has recorded as a leader on Prestige, Fantasy, Mainstream, Discovery, Xanadu, Arabesque, Capri and several smaller labels in Europe and Japan. Additionally, Charles was the featured alto saxophonist in the Clint Eastwood film Bird, a biopic about Charlie Parker.
Charles has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Don Redman Lifetime Achievement Award and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from California State University San Marcos. Widely recognized as a prolific composer, Charles is Resident Composer for the San Diego Ballet where he has written three original suites plus two arrangements for chamber music and jazz combos.
Writing for the New York Times, Stanley Crouch described McPherson as “a singular voice who has never sacrificed the fluidity of his melody making and is held in high esteem by musicians both long seasoned and young.”
New Orleans-born saxophonist Donald Harrison has performed with more than 200 jazz masters. Over the course of his career, he’s created three influential styles of jazz. Harrison honed his experience playing with Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Eddie Palmieri, Dr. John, Lena Horne, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Chuck Loeb, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Digable Planets, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, The Headhunters, and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has mentored artists as diverse as The Notorious B.I.G., Jonathon Batiste, Christian Scott, Trombone Shorty, and Esperanza Spaulding.
At the age of nineteen, Harrison created a modern jazz take on the New Orleans second-line tradition and introduced his composition “New York Second Line” to the jazz world in 1979. By the mid-’80s, he created Nouveau Swing, a distinctive sound that blended the swing beat of modern jazz with hip-hop, funk, and soul music. In the ’90s, Harrison recorded hits in the smooth jazz genre. He began exploring music through the lens of quantum physics in 2000. With quantum jazz, Harrison heard how to move music from a two-dimensional state into a four-dimensional state.
He and his music have appeared on the HBO series Treme, Oscar-winning director Johnathon Demme’s film Rachel Getting Married, Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke, and Marvel’s Luke Cage. He’s also been recognized as Big Chief of Congo Square in Afro-New Orleans culture and was made a Chief in 2019 by Queen Diambi Kabatusuila in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa.