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2021 National YoungArts Week and a Conversation with Javon Jackson

Jazzed Magazine • ArchivesNews • January 15, 2021

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Acclaimed tenor saxophonist, educator, and bandleader Javon Jackson has collaborated with the likes of Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard, and Cedar Walton, among many others. Currently professor of Jazz, and director of the Jackie McLean Jazz Studies Division in the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, Jackson is on the frontlines of perpetuating the scholarship and culture of jazz.

Before all of his later-life accomplishments, however, Javon Jackson was a Jazz National Selection Panelist for National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) and a 1983 YoungArts winner in Jazz. JAZZed recently touched base with Jackson to learn more about his background and development as an artist, student, and teacher, and to get his thoughts on this year’s National YoungArts Week +.

Let’s start at the very beginning: what (or who) first got you into music and, specifically, jazz?

I was very fortunate, as a young child, to have two parents who loved jazz music and music in general, so I heard a lot of it around the home. I’m very happy to have been able to — again thanks to my parents — have gone out to see musicians at a very young age of the level of a Sonny Stitt, later, Dexter Gordon, and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson. I was very fortunate those things occurred for me when I was just into my teenage years.

In your early development as a jazz and music scholar, who were some teachers or instructors who had a significant and lasting impact on your approach to your craft? What about their teaching style resonated with you?

People who had an important impact on me were David Baker, Rufus Reid, Kenny Barron, Dr. Willie Hill, Andy McGhee, and Dr. Larry McClellan. What stood out to me with these individuals was their availability and accessibility to students at all times, seemingly, and also just how very encouraging they were. They also had a style that was simple, and easy, and direct for me as a musician to understand, and I could see myself in their place down the road.

You’ve played and collaborated with a number of high profile artists. Which projects stick out to you as having been especially meaningful and why? Related: of your performance and recording career, when you look back now what do you consider to have been your “big break?”

They all stick out. Every opportunity that I’ve been able to be a part of musically, so obviously playing with Art Blakey. It was my first opportunity to really travel and tour around the world. Then later to tour with Elvin Jones was an incredible opportunity. Elvin was gracious enough to play on my first recording as a leader. To later record and tour with Freddie Hubbard was incredible. And my time with Cedar Walton, Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, spent so many opportunities, so it’d be hard for me to say one or the other, but those are kind of some… just that lineage. To have played some with Donald Byrd, to have done touring with Stanley Turrentine or Jackie McLean and Benny Golson as part of The Jazz Messengers, to be able to have toured with Curtis Fuller extensively – these are things that are very important to me. Having the opportunity to have played with Jimmy Cobb, for quite some time with Louis Hayes, Al Foster. And, in addition, Betty Carter produced my first recording on Blue Note and I value my relationship with Betty and the help that she gave me. I just couldn’t say one only, so I’d rather not. That’s why I gave you so many because it’s still an even longer list.

Regarding the big break in my life, it would be Art Blakey, the opportunity to be in his group. And also before that, my thanks to Branford Marsalis, initially, for giving me the encouragement to go to Berklee College of Music. While at Berklee College of Music, I met Donald Brown, and Billy Pierce, and also James Williams, who were very much supportive of me and gave me the opportunity to learn some things. And then Donald, ultimately, being responsible for me to get a chance to audition for The Jazz Messengers, as at that time, he was the pianist.

Javon JacksonAs a teacher, yourself, what formats do you find to be most rewarding: traditional classroom, masterclass, private lesson?

I kind of find them all to be equal. Private lessons obviously give me more of a one-on-one situation. Master class, I get to impart some of my thoughts and perspectives to a group of people. Traditional is more a lecture style. But they all, to me, have the same value in terms of me, hopefully, supporting students with information that they’re seeking, and also being receptive to their questions, and being patient with how they absorb their information and how they utilize it for themselves.

Can you talk about how you wound up at The Hartt School and what your present-day duties are?

I did a master class with the great Curtis Fuller at The Hartt School. I think it was in 2008 or 2009. And then I was able to see the campus. Actually, I’d been there once before. Jackie McLean himself had brought me to do a master class for the program. The position became available to chair the jazz program in 2013 and so I auditioned, I interviewed – it felt like an audition – but I interviewed and I was hired. And that’s how that came about. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to be there. Jackie McLean created the program, initially, as a course for Afro-American history in 1969, or maybe the early ’70s, to be specific. And then later, in the ’70s, he created the jazz program. And the first person to graduate from the jazz program was a female, an incredible artist named Sue Terry, a soprano saxophonist. And so, I’ve just been honored to help keep the legacy of what Jackie started alive and to be a support system to as many students as I can and support the department. There are a lot of great jazz artists that are on faculty there. And so, we’re working together to keep developing the program in Jackie’s memory and the spirit of what he embodied when he was to create that program now known as the Jackie McLean Institute.

Specific to National YoungArts Foundation, can you discuss working with developing musicians?

Well, again, what I really appreciate about it is the students come in, very willing to listen and very eager to take constructive criticism and support of what they’re trying to do. We work together in such a short time during National YoungArts Week. We only have a few days to create and prepare a live performance of 50 minutes with the music that we put together basically, in one day. Another aspect about YoungArts that is truly special is their focus on interdisciplinary thought and experimentation so the artists are always pushed to truly explore their own artistry and other art forms.

What is the program like, what do you appreciate most about it?

What I most appreciate also about the program is that National YoungArts Foundation supports bringing master artists to work with the students. So it’s always great to see the students where they’re working with a Ron Carter or a Kenny Barron, Jon Faddis or  Joann Brackeen. All these various instrumentalists that come in and talk about their experiences and allow the students to ask their questions and also, for the students to allow these master musicians to reflect on their lives and hopefully, to impart information that will be helpful. No doubt, helpful. At a certain time, they can go back to it in their mind and in their memories and use that information to help propel their careers.

I was a YoungArts finalist in 1983. At that time, YoungArts did not yet have the same programs as now and was just a precursor to being involved in any type of regional or national situation where you’re brought in to perform with other students. YoungArts means a lot to me now. I am involved with the Foundation now for several years. It’s the dedication and the commitment that is shown by the Foundation to help students and then create a pathway for them with various opportunities across all disciplines. So it’s really an honor and it’s humbling to see all the students, and it’s also humbling to see the hard work that’s done behind the scenes that a lot of times the students don’t necessarily see. I get to see from conversations and meetings and how steadfast they are to create things that will be a wonderful experience and opportunity for all artist that are selected.

Any thoughts on this year’s National YoungArts Week + being (understandably) presented “virtually?” We’re all aware of the challenges presented to both teachers and students in the past many months. Are there any upsides?

There were a lot of upsides. One of the upsides is that we were able to get guest artists in master classes when normally, maybe those artists would not have been available to come down to Miami, where it’s normally hosted. So we got to have them there through Zoom. One of the other great aspects is that we have on our database on our computers thousands of recordings that we’re able to go right to, and we’re able to give students some quick perspective on what we might be thinking about regarding historical examples of the music we’re working on. And the other thing that was interesting was to watch the students and how quickly they are able to navigate virtually and how they were able to adapt very easily, the way that we were recorded.

And obviously, there were challenges, too. We couldn’t allow them to perform or record and see each other in real-time but we could replicate the real world process of one instrument, usually the bass, as the foundation and then layering other instruments on top of it. I thought that was a fine opportunity for them to get experience of that early, and something that they’ll look back to. And in this way, they made history because this is the first shot at doing something like this. I think the virtual experience for the audience will be great, too. There’s great opportunities the way it’s set up, believe it or not. I think the performance experiences will be great. When we got a chance at the introductory dinner or meeting for National YoungArts Week+ the students got to come in and the faculty got to come in, and we all sat at particular virtual tables with individuals, and afterwards, we had conversation. So that was cute how they worked that out.

I was allowed to make the introductory remarks, and appreciated to make, along with other chairs, for the upcoming performance. This again provides a way for us to document these times. It is not a great situation and to make the best of that is always rewarding because I find that in tough times, we are able to work together and make things work.

So I just appreciate National YoungArts Foundation and I’m hopeful that more and more, it can be made public, and young students in high school grades 10-12 or at age 15-18 see the value of the organization and apply. It’s always been a large pool to select from and I hope that pool becomes even stronger. I think there’s no downside to auditioning and putting your hat in for opportunities because there’s such a learning curve to be found from just auditioning and the more you play, always playing, always trying to perform, always trying to refine, and refine, and refine. I think that’s something that should never be taken lightly and should never be undervalued.


Next Generation of Artists to Share their work with the Public Streaming Every Night January 25–30 at 8 PM ET on


The 142 artists showcased throughout the week are all 2021 YoungArts award winners at the Finalist level, the organization’s highest honor, and were selected for their caliber of artistic achievement by esteemed-discipline specific panels of artists through a rigorous blind adjudication process. From January 3–9, the artists participated in an intensive program of online classes and workshops with internationally recognized leaders in their fields, during which they recorded and developed their work for National YoungArts Week +. For a complete list of YoungArts Finalists, please contact Heike Dempster, or Sara Ory,


National YoungArts Week + Virtual Public Performance Presentations

January 25–January 30, 2021

All events will stream from RSVP here.

Monday, January 25, 2021
8:00 PM ET
National YoungArts Week + Celebration hosted by Josh Groban, Voice Performance and the premiere of Together, a short film

Tuesday, January 26, 2021
8:00 PM ET
Jazz Concert and Theater Performance**

Wednesday, January 27, 2021
8:00 PM ET
Dance Performance and Film Screenings**

Thursday, January 28, 2021
8:00 PM ET
Classical Music Performance

Friday, January 29, 2021
8:00 PM ET
Design, Photography and Visual Arts Exhibition Opening curated by Jasmine Wahi**

Saturday, January 30, 2021
8:00 PM ET
Writers’ Readings**

**All ages are welcome to YoungArts performances and exhibitions, but please be aware that performances may include adult language and topics.


Produced by National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts), all public programs are part of National YoungArts Week +, the organization’s signature program offering the most accomplished 15–18-year-old (or in grades 10–12) artists the opportunity to participate in a week long virtual program of workshops and panels, opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, project-based assignments and classes with renown guest artists in their fields who will provide insight, coaching and mentorship throughout the week. Guest artists for National YoungArts Week + include acclaimed visual artists Zoë BuckmanTitus Kaphar and Hank Willis Thomas; Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction recipient and bestselling author Edwidge Danticat; Grammy Award-winning vocalist and songwriter Lisa Fischer;Grammy and Tony Award nominee and Broadway actor Michael McElroy*; principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Anthony McGill; editor at large for special projects at TIME and photographer Paul Moakley; Grammy Award-winning film composer Nora Kroll Rosenbaum*; influential graphic designer Paula Scher; and Emmy and Grammy award-winning audio engineer Patrick SmithClick here for the full list of guest artist bios. 

Typically, an all-expenses paid in-person program, National YoungArts Week + has transitioned to be virtual and YoungArts has worked to ensure there are no barriers to participation during the week.

Following the weeklong intensive program, audiences across the country will have the opportunity to meet the next generation of artists beginning Monday, January 25 at 8 PM ET through six nights of free virtual public performances, writers’ readings and an exhibition, and through a digital anthology and catalogue available on 

Support for the 2020–21 YoungArts season is provided by Together campaign supporters, including Campaign Chairs Sarah Arison and Thomas Wilhelm, Jay Franke and David Herro, and Michi and Charles Jigarjian and Lead Sponsors Sandra and Tony Tamer. Additional support for National YoungArts Foundation programs is provided by 7G Foundation; Aon; Madeleine and Micky Arison; Batchelor Foundation; David Dechman and Michel Mercure; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; Final Draft; Funding Arts Network; the City of Miami Beach, Cultural Affairs Program, and the Cultural Arts Council; Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; Northern Trust; The Related Group; Dr. Sidney Stern in loving memory of Florence Stern; Bruce and Ellie Taub; Trace 3; and Wells Fargo.

Finalists in Jazz participating in 2021 National YoungArts Week +: 

  • Kai Burns, Guitar, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Los Angeles, CA 
  • Seth Finch, Piano, Baton Rouge Magnet High School, Baton Rouge, LA
  • Anton Edward Kot, Percussion, Jonathan Law High School, Milford, CT 
  • Ian Muñoz, Saxophone/Alto, New World School of the Arts, Miami, FL
  • John Murray, Double Bass, San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, San Diego, CA
  • Gianna Pedregon, Violin, Orange County School of the Arts, Santa Ana, CA
  • Andre Perlman, Trombone, New World School of the Arts, Miami, FL
  • Jack Towse, Trumpet, Friends Academy, Locust Valley, NY
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