We met Houston Person in July at Estoril Jazz, the oldest jazz festival held in Portugal. He was due to play with Joey DeFrancesco but as the Hammond B3 player missed the show he jumped from guest to main attraction. Before the concert we had the chance to interview this much underrated tenor saxophonist and talk about his 40 years of jazz playing and his relationship with audiences all over the world.
All About Jazz: Is it different playing from one country to another?
Houston Person: Not really. I just like a good audience.
AAJ: Do you think we have a good audience in Portugal?
HP: Oh yeah! Yeah. That's what I like: a good audience. And you find good audiences all over the world.
AAJ: Where have you been playing in Europe?
HP: Last week I was in Switzerland and next week I go to the North Sea Jazz Festival.
AAJ: Is there more or less work in jazz now than 10 years ago?
HP: Well, there is always a lot of work. Those musicians that play music that's accessible to the audience will work. That's the way it is.
AAJ: You never had a problem with having work?
AAJ: Do you agree with the people that say you are underrated as a tenor saxophonist?
HP: It doesn't bother me. I just keep working. That's my proof. My calendar is full through May of next year. That's what I go by.
AAJ: As a jazz musician how is your life like? Do you play all the year long?
HP: I play all the time. I used to balance my time between travelling and at home but now I'm traveling way more than I'm working home.
AAJ: Where are you currently living?
HP: New York.
AAJ: Do you still play in the clubs?
HP: Oh yeah!
AAJ: What do you think of the new generation of tenor saxophone players?
HP: Ohhhh! I like them all, really, I really do. Some get more recognition than others. But there are some great guys out there playing. I sort of like them all.
AAJ: What about this band that plays with you tonight?
HP: They've been with me for about 20 years.
AAJ: What is it for you the reason to keep playing after all these years? Do you still get real pleasure from playing?
HP: Oh yeah! I like travelling a lot and playing for different people and different cultures. I'm having a good time.
AAJ: Have you ever felt any sort of racial discrimination in Europe?
AAJ: And back in the USA?
HP: No. Just no more than the normal routine. Nothing really over.
AAJ: Who are the people that buy your records? Black or white people?
HP: A mixture. Everybody.
AAJ: We understand in Europe that in the USA black people are not going to jazz shows anymore. Is that correct?
HP: I don't think that. No. No, no. I don't know who said that... I have large black audiences. It's according to what you are playing, what you present to the audience. I have a vast repertoire of songs so I have no problem with that. I have all kinds of people coming to my shows.
AAJ: For how many years have you been playing?
AAJ: Is there a difference between when you started and now?
HP: Yeah, I hope I'm better! (laughs)
AAJ: (laughs) I mean't in the business?
HP: Well, musicians are taken care better when they travel. That's good. I like that.
AAJ: What repertoire will you be playing tonight?
HP: I don't know! We'll see where the audience drives me and we will go from there. It's a wide range of things. We do standards, blues, jazz standards, all kind of stuff. We'll see what the audience wants.
AAJ: Some people say we can't get much more from the old standards. Do you agree?
AAJ: What can we get from them? Can you still sound new and fresh on them?
HP: Yeah, one thing we can get is playing the melody. A lot of people who say that don't know the melodies. Not true at all.
AAJ: René Marie said to DownBeat that she is through with the standards, that they just don't thrill her anymore and don't allow her to express creatively...
HP: Well, let's see how much she works... I hope she is successful. We'll see.
AAJ: Who is the best jazz musician you have played with so far?
HP: So many! A lot. I could name anybody, really. A lot of good musicians.
AAJ: What are the milestones of your career?
HP: When I recorded with Lena Horne and when I recorded with Horace Silver.
AAJ: Do you still listen to jazz at home?
AAJ: You buy records?
HP: I'm a record collector.
AAJ: Do you remember the last one you bought?
HP: No, I don't remember. Gee! I can't remember.
AAJ: And besides jazz do you listen to other music?
HP: Everything. I like Brazilian music, I really like that, when they sing with the Portuguese language because they can really sing in bossa. I like country and western, I like the blues, I like the rhythm and blues.
AAJ: You have a lot of blues in your phrasing...
HP: Yeah, I grew up with the blues.
AAJ: Which records would you reccommend to someone who wants to start listening to jazz?
HP: Hmmmm, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Stan Getz... And they all play standards so that's a good way to be introduced.
AAJ: When will you have a new record out in the market?
HP: In September.
AAJ: Waht's the title?
HP: All Soul.
AAJ: What can we expect from it?
HP: It's more linked to the blues and it's real hard jazz.
AAJ: What about the record Social Call, why did you choose that title?
HP: It's just a song written by Gigi Gryce. It's such a good song and I wanted to pay a tribute to him by naming the album after his song.
Selected Discography as a Leader:
All Soul (HighNote, 2005)
To Etta, With Love (HighNote, 2004)
Social Call (HighNote, 2003)
Sentimental Journey (HighNote, 2002)
Blue Velvet (HighNote, 2001)
In a Sentimental Mood (HighNote, 2000)
Together at Christmas (HighNote, 2000)
Soft Lights (HighNote, 1999)
My Romance (HighNote, 1998)
Island Episode (Prestige, 1997)
Person-ified (HighNote, 1997)
Color Photo: C. Andrew Hovan
Black & White Photo: John Pizzuti