BIOGRAPHY & INTERVIEW - by jazz critic Scott Yanow
The Jax Jazz Collective, which consists of some of the finest jazz musicians based in Jacksonville, Florida, first came together in 2012. Pianist Joshua Bowlus remembers: “Most of us had played together previously and we wanted to create a group that we felt was representative of our diverse musical experiences and of jazz in Jacksonville in general. Our goal is to perform unique arrangements of standards, paying respect to the tradition while also playing the music in a different and modern way.” The collective is influenced and inspired by such well-respected straight ahead jazz groups as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the SF Jazz Collective and the Roy Hargrove Quintet as well as modern groove-based fusion groups such as Snarky Puppy and Kneebody. The Jax Jazz Collective’s recent recordings of the music of Jerome Kern and Billy Strayhorn are important early steps in the promising and exciting band’s development.
All of the members of the Jax Jazz Collective are young, talented and have plenty of musical experience, often stretching beyond jazz into other genres. They integrate all of their individual likenesses and differences into their arrangements to create a cohesive group sound. The sextet is a co-op with most of their arrangements being contributed by Joshua Bowlus and Mike Emmert. “We thought it would be a good idea for our live performances to focus on the music of one composer at a time,” explains Joshua, “providing unique slants to their music, giving the audience something both familiar and different. When we performed the music of Billy Strayhorn live in Jacksonville, it went over so well that we decided to do it again with another well-known composer Jerome Kern. After another successful run of performances, we decided to record the music and document our progress.”
The JJC released their first CD in July 2014, an album dedicated to the music of Billy Strayhorn. The next release is scheduled for early 2015, and will feature the music of Jerome Kern. Each project has eight selections by the composer with the trumpet playing split between Ray Callender and Alphonso Horne. The group has mostly been performing in Jacksonville and Tallahassee thus far, appearing recently at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival this year. “We hope with the release of these recordings that we will be taking our music to other jazz festivals in the near future,” says Joshua Bowlus. “We plan to continue with future recordings exploring the music of other composers. Eventually we will be creating our own original material as well.” With any luck, the Jax Jazz Collective will soon be bringing their exciting brand of modern jazz to a festival or venue near you.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
It is obvious from the start of “Take The ‘A’ Train,” the opening selection on Lotus Blossom: The Music of Billy Strayhorn, that the Jax Jazz Collective is not content to play vintage songs the same old way but instead is motivated to add to the legacy of the rich melodies. Their rendition owes little to the familiar Duke Ellington Orchestra version, swinging hard and featuring passionate solos that are energetic and fresh. “Isfahan” is a Mike Emmert arrangement that utilizes modern harmonies, “Raincheck” (which adds percussionist Doc Handy to the group) is transformed into an up-tempo calypso, and Emmert’s intense alto performance displays a clear influence by mentor Bunky Green on “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” making the group’s version of that song quite unique. Also on Strayhorn is a colorful revival of “Johnny Come Lately,” a Blakey-inspired arrangement by Ray Callender of the tune “U.M.M.G.” (which adds some fine Fender Rhodes playing), and a joyful rendition of “The Intimacy Of The Blues.” Duke Ellington often ended his concerts with a version of the always-haunting “Lotus Blossom” so the Jax Jazz Collective decided to do the same with their album.
On All The Things You Are: The Music of Jerome Kern, some of the highlights include a cooking version of “I’m Old Fashioned” featuring some hot tenor playing and inventive alto, the extended and catchy closing vamp of “Long Ago And Far Away,” a surprisingly up-tempo “Make Believe,” Alphonso Horne's trumpet feature on a lyrical “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and the modernized and heated treatment given to “Yesterdays.” Also included are a driving version of “Nobody Else But Me” (which includes some wailing tenor) and an up-tempo “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star” (which includes some exciting drum breaks) that is inspired by Art Blakey’s version of “Moon River.” Capping off the album is a creative version of the title track “All The Things You Are,” turning the veteran standard into something very new and soulful.
For further information about the JJC and their music, please fill out the message form on the “Contact” page.