Music » Critic's Choice

Houston Person & Etta James




In a radio interview several years ago, 64-year-old tenor saxist Houston Person and 70-year-old vocalist Etta Jones called their musical partnership a marriage, one that's even earned the blessings and respect of both artists' real spouses. Their union dates back to the mid-70s--thereby outlasting the average conventional marriage--and the compatibilities that brought them together have shaped their music ever since. Person has produced every one of Jones's recordings and played on most of them; go back to Jones's 1977 date My Mother's Eyes (reissued last year on 32 Jazz) and you hear a more boisterous singer, less exacting about intonation than she is today, but her phrasing, rooted in 60s R & B, already meshed with Person's hip, bluesy style. And two decades later, on The Melody Lingers On (Highnote), her voice and Person's sax, both deepened by the patina of age, still converse like soul mates. In 1962 Jones foreshadowed the mutual admiration society she'd form with Person, collaborating with Gene Ammons, the soul of Chicago tenor saxophony; it's no coincidence that now she sings with the saxist who comes closest to Ammons's mix of hard-bop precision and R & B fire. Person's molasses tone, effortless melismata, and solos punctuated by short, dramatic "shouts" impress with or without Jones: the saxist's latest recording under his own name, last year's Person-ified (Highnote), testifies beautifully to his mature command of the idiom Ammons bequeathed him. But Jones and Person magnify each other's talents, and hearing them together at the helm of a quintet, as they'll perform here, is the way to go. Thursday, November 26, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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