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Houston Person

By Published: March 15, 2004
AAJ: You've spent a lot more time working in this country than many other jazz artists. Playing in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, where some of the "bigger names" often don't get, and developed a following.

HP: Those are some of the things I wanted to do. I wanted to be appreciated as an American artist. Sure I want to work abroad. I want to work everywhere. I don't care where, I love it. But I don't want to be put into a place where I think that European audiences are better than American audiences. Sometimes a lot of people say that because that's the only place they work. That's why I'm going into the Lenox Lounge. I think that it's important for jazz to be in Harlem and I'm always going to be true to this music.

AAJ: There's been much complaining that African Americans don't appreciate their own music when it comes to jazz, but you seem to have a good following among your people.

HP: Of course.

AAJ: Do you think it's because of the way you approach the music?

HP: Yeah. You see, what's happened over the years is that they've stripped jazz of the qualities that it had, which was the blues and one of the most important part of its character was dancing. You take that away and you're going the way of extinction. You take any form of music and it has dance associated with it. Classical music has the ballet. Polish music has the polka. Any form of music, every form has had dance associated with it. One of the greatest musics that had dance associated with it is jazz. It went all over the world with people dancing to jazz. Then all of a sudden you had to just sit and listen to it. A lot of people cant just sit and listen to music because it makes you want to dance. So, that's one of my pet peeves.

AAJ: Well, you keep a dancing feeling in your music.

HP: Yeah, if you want to dance, then get up and dance. I play a lot of dances. I play a dance at some of the jazz parties and some of the cruises I do, they let me play a dance and the people love it. That way you can attract a lot of people who might not like jazz, but they can dance to it and they like it. A lot of the important elements have been stripped from jazz. Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet were people who were also entertaining.

AAJ: You've been at the forefront of bringing jazz back to its roots. You're doing the gig at the Iridium with three B-3's?

HP: Three great organists. And the organ is just a natural groove. It's a groovy instrument (laughs). You're sort of locked in. You know what to expect and you're never disappointed, because it's going to be based on swing.

AAJ: You are one of the few jazz musicians who has gone on to become a jazz record producer.

HP: A lot of people are starting to get into it now. I started early on with my own records. I learned a lot from my producers - Bob Porter and Don Schlitten - I learned a lot from them. Primarily, I just started doing my own albums and Etta's. Then people started coming and asking me to do their records, so I just got into it and there I was.

AAJ: Do you think it takes a certain kind of disposition that you have that may not be that common in other musicians?

HP: I don't know what it is. I know a lot of other musicians ask me to do it. I don't know what it is. I do try to get along with everybody. I do like to go in, when we do get into the studio, to take care of business and get it done.

AAJ: So the labels like you because you're economical.

HP: That's got to do with it, too. Preparing. Preparation and helping musicians prepare. You just try to do the best you can with what you have, given the economics of jazz, because it does have a certain economics.

Recommended Listening
Houston Person - Goodness (Prestige-OJC, 1969)
Charles Earland - Black Talk (Prestige-OJC, 1969)
Houston Person - Basics (Muse, 1987)
Houston Person/Ron Carter - Now's The Time (Muse, 1990)
Etta Jones - My Buddy: Songs of Buddy Johnson (HighNote, 1998)
Houston Person - Sentimental Journey (HighNote, 2002)

Photo Credit
Ronnie James

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