Fall arts 2019 | Music: Jazz legend Charles McPherson eager to keep growing
The sax great, who turned 80 in July, is busier than ever with tours, new albums and more
Jazz saxophone great Charles McPherson credits his wife and social media for keeping him very busy, at the age of 80, as both a touring and recording artist.
“I’m actually working more than ever and a lot of it is due to Lynn,” McPherson said of his wife, whom he met after moving to San Diego in the late 1970s. “She’s become quite media-savvy and uses all the tools of the internet and social media to let people know what I’m doing when and where. Lynn is really the engine behind a lot of it. She’s been doing this the last few years, and it’s really started to snowball.”
Recently returned from his most extensive tour of Spain to date, McPherson will again perform in Europe this fall, after concerts this month in San Diego and Santa Monica.
The internationally acclaimed alto saxophonist was in New York in April for two 80th birthday year concerts at Rose Hall. He shared the stage with piano legend McCoy Tyner and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis.
“Charles is the very definition of excellence in our music,” said Marsalis, a longtime admirer. “He’s the definitive master on his instrument. He plays with exceptional harmonic accuracy and sophistication. He performs free-flowing, melodic and thematically developed solos with unbelievable fire and an unparalleled depth of soul.”
In addition to celebrating his actual 80th birthday on July 24, McPherson is this year celebrating his 60th anniversary as a professional jazz artist.
The Missouri-born musician rose to prominence in the early 1960s during his 12-year tenure in the band of jazz bass giant Charles Mingus, with whom he made more than two dozen albums. McPherson’s first solo album, “Bebop Revisited,” came out in 1964. His reputation as an unusually eloquent and adroit musician has long been a matter of record. Ditto his ability to invest each note he performs with a singular combination of carefully calibrated consideration and freewheeling spirit.
“I’m still passionate about playing and I’m having fun, maybe more fun than I’ve ever had,” McPherson said. “Through the accumulation of life, you have more to say, to write about, and to play about — not only because of your world view, but your sense of life, who you are and the art you are involved with.
“I’ve become more of an experienced person and maybe have a deeper understanding of things. That’s one reason it’s more fun for me, because I understand more. You spend a lot of your early life dealing with craft and mastering the medium you are working through — in my case, music and the sax. After that, it’s more about content and what is it you’re saying with your music. This is where you understand not only what the note is, but why that note now, as opposed to another note at another time.”
McPherson prefers to look forward rather than back. Later this month, he will do both simultaneously, in a manner.
On Sept. 28, he will perform a fund-raising concert at San Diego City College’s Saville Theater for award-winning radio station KSDS Jazz 88.3. Billed as “Charles McPherson plays ‘Charlie Parker with Strings’,” the concert comes 14 years after his superb album, “A Tribute to Charlie Parker,” which McPherson recorded live with his quartet and the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra.
He is so adept at playing the music of bebop sax pioneer Parker, a key early inspiration, that he was prominently featured on the soundtrack to “Bird,” film director Clint Eastwood’s 1988 biopic about Parker.
“I think Charlie Parker is a legend, as opposed to myself,” McPherson said. “I shy away from that designation. Because, when you think of a legend, you think of age being a part of what a legend is. Maybe it’s because I’m 80, but I don’t even like to think I can be constrained by my age, even though I know I am. It’s not like I can run up and down the street, like when I was 17!
“I consider myself a work in progress. I’m in a state of becoming, not only as a musician and artist, but as a being.”
Future legend, as chosen by Charles McPherson
Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, the artistic director of the Young Lions Jazz Conservatory and curator of the San Diego Symphony’s Jazz at the Jacobs concert series
“Gilbert is an excellent musician. He’s such a catalyst for innovating and creating circumstances for young players to perform in town, and for opening up different clubs and venues. He’s all over the place — he could be the mayor! He’s a wonderful musician, a real go-getter and a good businessman. A lot of times, people don’t do all of those things well. But Gilbert does.”
Jazz trumpet player Gilbert Castellanos
Charles McPherson plays “Charlie Parker with Strings,” a fund-raising concert for radio station KSDS FM Jazz 88.3
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28
Where: Saville Theater, 1450 C Street, San Diego City College
Tickets: $88.30 for each pair of tickets bought by new or existing KSDS members; no single ticket sales
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