Tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson—he of the big round tone, killer rhythmic sense and elegant understatement—began his career playing with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He’s also worked with a who’s who of jazz luminaries from earlier generations, including Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Charlie Haden. Respectful of the tradition, Jackson brings a depth of experience and feeling to his always forward-looking work.
You played hard bop early in your career, but on your three CDs for Palmetto Records, you’ve been playing a more groove-oriented jazz.
I was always interested in doing material by different artists other than just the jazz repertoire. On one of my Blue Note [Records] CDs, I had a Frank Zappa piece, and I’ve done some Muddy Waters and I’ve done some Stevie Wonder. I was always trying to find different vehicles for me to present the music with.
Your latest Palmetto release, Now, is a very strong effort—a step forward from its predecessors, much tighter. How did that happen?
Maybe I became a little more clear in terms of what exactly I wanted, so maybe it has more of a band sound [than] the last two. Also, we were doing a nice run of gigs before we went into the studio. Also, maybe the material. It’s hard to say. Sometimes it takes time for it to gel—like building a car. You know, the first incubation of it has a lot of bugs, and as you keep working it out, it gets a little tighter.
In your playing, no matter how intense things get, you always seem to leave space for the listener.
My favorite artists, the people I listen to, leave space. Talk about Miles Davis, even John Coltrane. Even though Coltrane had a period where they called it “sheets of sound,” if you listen to Coltrane, there was a lot of space and a lot of passion and room in his playing. Sonny Rollins is a favorite of mine. I mean, you can go to any genre. Bob Dylan, he leaves space. It’s like with a conversation. If I’m talking all the time, how can you have a conversation with me?
You’re traveling with great players on this tour—including Jimmy Cobb, the last remaining member of the [Miles Davis] Kind of Blue sessions.
I met Jimmy when he was playing with Nat Adderley. Over the years, we’ve developed a nice friendship. Last year, he took me to Japan, and then we just made a record, a quartet record with myself, Cedar Walton, Christian McBride and Jimmy. It’s going to be a great opportunity to get out and play some music with him. He’s a living legend, but he’s still like a child. What I mean by “child,” he’s got that exuberance when he plays, and he’s always eager to learn. He’s eager to try to grow.
With the Super Band lineup, what material will you be playing in New Mexico?
We might do one or two things from [Now], but as you can hear—the nature of that music and the nature of this band—that would be pretty hard to pull off. We’re definitely going to be doing a mixture of my originals, some jazz standards, some Broadway standards with our arrangements. George Cables has a couple of compositions I love to play, and we’ll be doing some ballads. So it’s going to be a good mixture of music, but it’s going to be on the cutting-edge as well.