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Charles McPherson

For more than 60 years, saxophonist Charles McPherson has been one of the most expressive and highly regarded voices in jazz. His rich musical style, rooted in the blues and bebop, has influenced and inspired generations of musicians and listeners.

McPherson was born in Joplin, MO, on July 24, 1939, and he developed a love for music at a young age. As a child, he began experimenting at the piano whenever one was available. He also attended summer concerts in Joplin that featured territory bands from the Midwest and Southwest. These concerts made a strong impression on McPherson, who was particularly enamored with the sound and shape of the saxophone.

McPherson moved to Detroit in 1948 at age 9. At that time, Detroit was home to one of the most vibrant jazz communities in the country. His new home was in the same neighborhood as his future mentor, pianist Barry Harris, as well as his friend and future bandmate, trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer. Additionally, McPherson now lived within blocks of the famed Blue Bird Inn jazz club.

“The street that I lived on just happened to be a street where Barry Harris lived right around the corner, five minutes away. A trumpet player named Lonnie Hillyer, who worked with Mingus along with myself for a long time, lived right on my street. And there was a jazz club a few blocks down on my street called the Blue Bird, which was, at that time, probably the hippest jazz club in Detroit. So it was interesting that, of all places, as big as Detroit is, I ended up on the same street as a really great local jazz club. The house band at that time was Barry Harris on piano, Pepper Adams playing baritone sax, Paul Chambers or Beans Richardson (on bass), and Elvin Jones was the house drummer.”

NYC Aug1962 After beginning on flugelhorn and trumpet in his school band at age 12, McPherson switched to alto saxophone at 13. Much of his knowledge of jazz at that point was from an awareness of popular big bands of the Swing Era. He was also familiar with great soloists from that time, such as alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. Based on the recommendation of a classmate, McPherson first heard the music of Charlie Parker in his early teens. Despite not having a strong theoretical knowledge of this new music, he knew immediately that bebop was the style he wanted to play.

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Don Hanson


Concert Schedule

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

The Lost Album from...

Resonance Records


Mingus At Carnegie...

Atlantic Records


Bird Lives

ACT Music


Jazz Dance Suites

Chazz Mack Music


Love Walked In

Quadrant Records


The Journey

Capri Records




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