Biography of tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson

Tenor Saxophonist Javon Jackson

Javon Anthony Jackson (born June 16, 1965) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist, bandleader and educator. He came into international prominence as a member of the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1986 until Blakey’s death in 1990. Jackson went on to release 20 recordings as a bandleader and tour and record on over 150 CDs with jazz greats including Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden, Betty Carter, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Stanley Turrentine and Ben E. King.

Part of a new generation of musicians that blends tradition with neo-jazz, Jackson’s own bands feature straight ahead jazz, hard bop, soul and funk. Widely recognized for his diverse styles, Javon was tapped to play on Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up” in 1993.

Jackson was named Chair of the University of Hartford’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz Studies in 2013. In 2019, Newport Festivals Foundation expanded the reach of its popular Newport Jazz Assembly program with the introduction of the Jackie McLean Jazz Studies Jazz Assembly, under the direction of the saxophonist and educator. Jackson also serves as Artistic Director of Jazz in the Valley, an annual music festival in the historic Hudson Valley, now in its 20th year.

Early Life

Born in Carthage, Missouri, Javon Jackson was raised in Denver, Colorado. He chose alto saxophone at the age of 10, but six years later, he switched to tenor saxophone. Jackson attended the University of Denver before transferring to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He left Berklee in 1986 to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, where he performed alongside pianist Benny Green, trumpeter Philip Harper, trombonist Robin Eubanks and bassist Peter Washington. Jackson was a staple in the Jazz Messengers until Blakey’s death in 1990.


University of Denver, Denver, CO 1983 (Attended)

Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA Bachelor in Music Degree 1999

State University of New York at Purchase, Purchase, NY Master of Music Degree 2003


In addition to his busy performance schedule, Javon Jackson is a highly sought-after jazz educator, conducting clinics and lectures at universities, colleges and elementary and secondary schools nationally and internationally. He served as Assistant Professor of Jazz at Long Island University in New York (1996-1998) and at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College in Purchase, NY (1999-2007). Professor Jackson has been Director of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford since 2013. He serves as Chair of Jazz for the National YoungArts Foundation and is also a member of JEN (Jazz Education Network), where he assists as JENerations Jazz Festival’s Artist and Clinician Coordinator.


2009 Full-length score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lodger” for the Syracuse International Film Festival. The original score debuted at the festival and was performed live by Jackson at the film’s screening in October 2010.


1992 Javon Jackson was featured in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” starring Denzel Washington. In the role of saxophonist/bandleader Illinois Jacquet, Jackson performed the iconic Lionel Hampton/Benny Goodman standard “Flying Home.”


2012 Benny Golson Award, Howard University, Washington, DC, for recognition of legendary excellence in jazz


In 1991, Javon Jackson made his recording debut on Criss Cross Jazz with Me and Mr. Jones, featuring James Williams, Christian McBride and master drummer Elvin Jones. The following year, he joined Jones’ group, appearing on the drummer’s albums Youngblood and Going Home. Jackson made his Blue Note debut in 1993 with When the Time Is Right, produced by the renowned vocalist and bandleader Betty Carter. He recorded five more recordings for the Blue Note label through the ‘90s, including a diverse range of music by Caetano Veloso, Frank Zappa, Santana, Muddy Waters and Al Green.

Jackson also released four recordings for the Palmetto label, where he explored a mix of funk, jazz and soul with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, guitarists Mark Whitfield and David Gilmore, trombonist Fred Wesley and drummer Lenny White, among others. He also presented three recordings for the Chesky label, including Three’s Company, featuring powerhouse bandmates bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Drummond.

Javon introduced his own label, Solid Jackson Records, in 2012, coming out of the box with Celebrating John Coltrane, which featured former Coltrane collaborator and drummer Jimmy Cobb. That same year, he released Lucky 13 on Solid Jackson, this time highlighting the dynamic soul-jazz keyboardist Les McCann. The recording included McCann’s 1969 hit, “Compared to What,” as well as Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” His 20th album as a leader and the third on his label, For You was released in 2018 and received critical and audience acclaim for Jackson’s collection of original tunes, plus standards and some favorites by several jazz elders.

According to a 2019 JazzTimes review of For You: With tradition always in mind but keeping the settings varied, Jackson salutes mentors, inspirations, and family, among others. His love of Sonny Rollins is clear as day on “I’m Old Fashioned,” he mines Wayne Shorter’s shuffling “Backstage Sally” for all its worth, and he puts the album to rest with some gusty statements on the McCoy Tyner-inspired “88 Strong.” His ray-of-sunshine demeanor also proves to be a key component of the production, lighting up Cedar Walton’s “Simple Pleasure” and bassist David Williams’ tropically infused “Native Son.” When not dealing with searing heat or pure light, Jackson can be found wearing his heart on his horn. He lends true grace to “Lelia,” a ballad dedicated to a cousin who was taken too soon by cancer.


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