Houston Person is spare with words; he says it all with his tenor. Originally from South Carolina, the well-traveled jazz master lives in New York now. He has a rigorous touring schedule and keeps a smile on no matter what, spreading his music with a message: Jazz is joy.
Where does the “sass” in your sound come from?
It’s just what I hear, it just developed that way over the years.
Why did you switch from piano in school to tenor sax?
It wasn’t an immediate switch, it was just that when I was growing up, everybody took piano lessons – everybody had a piano. My parents gave me a sax for Christmas when I was a junior in high school and I liked it.
Who are your favorite musicians?
So many of them. Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young…those guys from that period. My initial influence was Illinois.
What is the major difference when you go from one label to another?
I have been quite fortunate. I haven’t had losses, just gains. Been associated with Muse Records and HighNote records for the last 30 years. Before that I was with Prestige a long time (I started with them).
How would you characterize the New York jazz scene?
The New York jazz scene is great! Clubs are doing well, concerts are doing well, the scene in New York, it’s still the leader for jazz.
Where do you go in your head when you are performing?
I just play. Well, I think about beautiful things, that’s about it, and peace.
What has your touring schedule been like this year?
Lot of places- just back from a P3-week tour of Spain and Denmark and France. I’ve been quite a few places. They love jazz there and they have nice young crowds.
Places you want to perform where you have not yet been?
I’ve been to most of them. Look forward to going to a lot more.
Your own favorite CD (or track) and why?
I like them all – I made them, so I stand by them. At different times, they are all my favorites.
How do we get jazz out to more people?
They’ve got to get out to hear live jazz and that would be the best way. They have to go live to hear it.
In summer, there are lots of free concerts and festivals so they can go hear it. And NPR stations are great for jazz. It’s all around.
How many tenors do you own? Do you have a favorite?
No favorites. I own two.
If your tenor could talk to you, what would it say?
We’ve had a good run.
Melodically, what direction do you think jazz is going right now?
There are different approaches, I don’t think one casts aside the other. They’re all just side by side. There might be one side more popular at a certain time but they all coexist.
I have a CD coming out in October. We’re working on it now. Personnel: Lafayette Harris Jr., Vince Ector, Matthew Parrish, Rodney Jones and Warren Vache.
What do you want people to know about you?
I’m a pretty good guy.
Photo courtesy of Steve Mynett, Vancouver, Canada
© Debbie Burke 2017