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Jessica Jones: More "Word"

Mark Corroto By

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I love hearing ways of using words that are not just words on top of music but as one of the elements of the sound, of the ensemble
Jessica JonesTenor saxophonist Jessica Jones has worked with the likes of Joseph Jarman, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Steve Coleman and Peter Apfelbaum. A current resident of Brooklyn, NY, she lives with her saxophonist/husband Tony and is a long time jazz educator focusing on children to develop their talent for improvising, composition and oral tradition.



She has previously released Family (Nine Winds, 1997) and Nod (New Artists, 2004). Word (New Artist, 2008) includes poetry, song, and some free jazz with husband Tony and daughter/vocalist Candace Jones, drummers Lou Grassi and Kenny Wollesen, and bassist Ken Filiano.

All About Jazz: I was reading that you, in a former life studied linguistics. How do you relate this to jazz? And is jazz part of language?

Jessica Jones: I studied linguistics and tried to mold that and classes I'd taken in languages and theater into a major of "The Sound of Language As Music." When I talked to an advisor at UC Berkeley about it, he said "That sounds like a graduate level of study. What is it you really want to be doing?" and I said I wanted to be a saxophonist, precipitating a move to New York City.



Anyway, I'm sure different people have different answers to the questions you are asking me, I can only answer for the connection I experience, which is that one of the most amazing aspects about jazz to me is the culture of developing a personal sound, a representation of your most unique self through music. Speaking is an unselfconscious version of that—I react to the sound of the voices of my family, and respond to the uniqueness of people's phrasing and openness of their sound.



I think we all experience that, whether or not we notice it. One thing I like about New York City is the variety of sounds of language you hear, not just in accents but in phrasing. Like, no one says "blah blah blah—God forbid—blah blah blah" in California, where I'm from. It's like a cultural marker, along with some Yiddish/comedian phrasing like "What?! You got no hot-dogs or what?" It's like hearing [pianist Thelonious] Monk alongside [saxophonist John] Coltrane. I like the weird music it makes to hear so much differentness together.



So that's where it meets jazz to me—the valuing of individuality and diversity as enrichment for a community. And in jazz, I feel that there is definitely a movement that is, consciously or not, unifying the individual sounds, similar to how the newscasters on TV all strive to have a generic accent and lose their regional sounds. I definitely think the strength is in how we are different and still come together. And, of course, the music itself is a language also, yes. It communicates more than we can with words, and heals people, and feels to me like where I'd like to go after I die. It's more direct than words, it skips the symbolic meaning of words and sends you vibrations directly.

AAJ: And certainly on this latest record of yours, Word, you display your personal sound, but there is also a personnel component to the sound, yes?

JJ: Absolutely! I am dependent on the individuality of others to bring something intriguing to the mix. I have a basic recipe for a song, but the players bring their own take on it and it makes it much more interesting to me. I'm definitely excited to hear how something fleshes out when playing with great players.



We've been lucky to be in the company of a number of wonderful musicians, and on Word I was able to mix in some poets, who bring in another dimensional voice. In terms of my approach, if you think of [pianist/composer Duke] Ellington, he certainly had his own sound playing on his own or with a trio, but he also had the esthetic of bringing the strengths of the musicians in his band into his sound when he wrote for them. Part of the charm of the sound of [bassist/composer Charles] Mingus' music to me is the sound of [drummer] Danny Richmond with Mingus. There's a chemistry and vibration to mixing people that clearly is a component of my favorite music. Like Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack.



One thing I particularly liked about working on the music for Word is that we had such a diverse set of people. The first half, which features Candace singing, sounds more like a classy yet quirky version of a traditional jazz group, while the second half is a piano-less, horn-based ensemble, with poets Abe Maneri and Arisa White, that is buoyed by a dream engine of Kenny Wollesen on drums and Ken Filiano on bass. It's like a lot of different spices in the same meal or something. I like being kept interested. And maybe I'm also hungry right now, hence the food metaphors.

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