When you hear the term "Texas Tenors" you might think of the classical crossover singing group recently popularized in PBS pledge specials. But the original usage refers to a unique sound developed by jazz musicians – Texas tenor saxophone players – in the 1940s. The most famous and influential of these players grew up in Third Ward, Houston, Texas: Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb originated the raw, big sound and influenced generations of players.
The Houston Jazz Collective is helping to keep the legacy of the Texas Tenors alive. Playing for the collective in this edition of Skyline Sessions are some of the top jazz musicians in Texas today:
Saxophonist Shelley Carrol hails from a family of Houston gospel singers and musicians. He studied with Texas Tenor greats Arnett Cobb and Don Wilkerson. Carrol attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) and was a standout in the city's Summer Jazz Workshop Program. He has been a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and has toured the U.S. and over 30 foreign countries. He has performed or recorded with Sheryl Crow, Maureen McGovern, Tony Bennet, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Roger Waters and a host of others. Carrol just completed a tour of Asia and the US with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, culminating in a week-long engagement at the Blue Note in New York City. He currently tours with Kool and the Gang.
Andre Hayward is a gifted trombonist with the sound and clarity reminiscent of the late J.J. Johnson. Born in Houston in 1973, Hayward's first exposure to music was through his parents, Melvin and Barbara Hayward. He began playing trombone and tuba at the age of 11. He attended HSPVA, and continued to hone his skills with Houston's legendary educator Conrad O. Johnson. He has recorded or performed with Betty Carter, Joe Williams, John Lewis, Kirk Whalum, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and many others. In 2003 he received first place and a $20,000 scholarship at the International Thelonious Monk Trombone Competition in Washington, DC. Hayward is also an educator and has served as jazz trombone professor at NYU, New England Conservatory, Michigan State University, TSU, The University of Texas and The University of North Texas. Hayward toured as lead trombonist with The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Bobby Sparks was born in 1973 in Corsicana, Texas. A child prodigy, he began playing the organ when he was three years old. After high school, Sparks moved to Mesquite, Tx. to study music at Eastfield College. There he met Kirk Franklin. Sparks served as Franklin's music director from 1992-2005, traveling all over America and to many foreign countries, playing for millions of people. A versatile player of keyboards, bass guitar and drums, Sparks plays all kinds of music. In addition to Kirk Franklin, Sparks has worked with musical giants of all genres including Prince, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Tower of Power, Marcus Miller, Ray Charles, George Benson, Lalah Hathaway, Al Jarreau, St. Vincent, CeCe Winans, Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar, and many more. Sparks also writes and produces for radio, TV and film, and when he's not on tour, he serves as organist for Pathway of Life Church in Dallas.
Mark Simmons is a Houston native, HSPVA graduate, and a 17-year touring veteran with Al Jarreau. He is sought out as a first-on-call recording and touring drummer, having appeared on over 20 albums featuring David Sanborn, Bob James, Marcus Miller, Will Downing, Dave Koz and many others. Simmons has toured with George Benson, Diane Reeves, George Duke, Kenny Garret and Chris Walker.
The Houston Jazz Collective celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Arnett Cobb's birth with a special, free concert and celebration at the Eldorado Ballroom on Friday August 10th.