Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

How Houston Person mastered his sound with bop, blues and ballads

Steve Mynett
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Houston Person performs in 2008 at tVancouver B.C. jazz club The Cellar.

With a big, bluesy sound similar to the Texas Tenors, the deceptively named saxophonist Houston Person was actually born in Florence, South Carolina in 1934.

After high school, Person joined the Air Force and was stationed in Germany where he played with fellow soldiers and future jazz legends Eddie Harris and Cedar Walton.

Other players who directed Person’s path were the R&B honkers like Illinois Jacquet, Gene Ammons and Lockjaw Davis – the music was danceable and full of the blues.

Once home from the service, Person studied at a classical music school in Hartford, Connecticut, but that was simply a training ground for the amazing career in improvisation that would follow.

In 1962, Person joined organist Johnny Hammond’s band, where his robust sound would rise over the volume of amplified organ and guitar plus drums, further developing Person’s power.

Through the '60s, Person played with Hammond’s band, also recording with organists like Don Patterson and Charles Earland. In 1966, Charles Boston was the organ player on Person’s first album as a leader, Underground Soul.

In the '70s Person was mostly leading his own bands, bringing the "Houston Person sound" to the popular music of the time from disco to driving funk.

And in the mid-70s, Houston Person began a series of recordings with a singer he’d met in Johnny Hammond’s band, Etta Jones. Their relationship, though platonic, was very close. Person would, at times, act as her manager, and often produced her albums. In turn, Jones helped develop Person’s style with her melodic and lyrical expertise.

Another frequent musical partner of Person’s was the bass legend Ron Carter. The pair recorded two very successful duet albums at the end of the '80s and have reunited several times since. Their sixth album of duets, Remember Love was released in 2018.

In the '80s and '90s, Houston Person found himself a respected mentor. His recordings with organist Joey DeFrancesco were some of the best soul jazz records of that time.

In his eighth decade, Person continued to collaborate – recording with singer Barbara Morrison, pianist Emmet Cohen, and in 2022, young saxophonist Eric Person — no relation! That same year, just after his 88th birthday, the sax great released Reminiscing at Rudy’s, recorded in a single day at Rudy Van Gelder studios in New Jersey as a tribute to the late producer.

Over 80 remarkably consistent albums of his own and countless recordings as a guest or sideman, Person always said his goal was to find the beauty in music – a big, pretty sound that fills the room. That’s a perfect description of the great Houston Person.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.