With Person — who presents his warm, interpretive ballad artistry at the Litchfield Jazz Festival (LJF) Aug. 2 — it's been more like having a love affair with the songbook, literally an unending romance for five decades.
Although he's an instrumentalist, Person knows and loves the lyrics to the songs and has a deep feeling for the range of emotions that they're meant to convey.
His keen "singer's consciousness" was, no doubt, heightened by his close collaboration with the great vocalist Etta Jones, which flourished for more than three decades until her death in 2001.
Person's ability to phrase like a singer brings the expressiveness and vulnerability of the human voice to his solos on the tenor saxophone.
Because he's not an innovator, however, Person's traditional skills as a ballad player often fall under the radar of critics who value only what they perceive as the latest "new thing" or the next avatars of enlightenment and millennial change.
Nonetheless, Person prevails.
A longtime favorite in Hartford — whose countless gigs here range from jam sessions at the legendary 880 Club to performances with Jones for the Hartford Jazz Society — Person has been busy.
In a fine homage to Person's artistry — particularly his warm balladry and subtly sizzling mid-tempo or slightly up-tempo portraits — HighNote Records has issued "The Art & Soul of Houston Person," a three-CD compendium of his most expressions in recent years.
All 30 tracks, including four newly recorded selections, feature the master of melody and mood exploring the compositions of great popular composers in small group settings, with help from distinguished friends.
His collaborators include Bill Charlap, Richard Wyands, Russell Malone, Ron Carter, Ray Drummond, Grady Tate and Peter Washington. And the HighNote tri-pack's big, thick bouquet of evergreens range from Cole Porter's "You Do Something to Me," the opening track on Disc One, to Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You," the compilation's grand finale on Disc Three.
Marking his premiere appearance at the Litchfield festival, Person will be accompanied by pianist Stan Hope, bassist Jon Burr and drummer Chip White.
The festival, which runs July 31-Aug. 2 on the campus of Kent School in Kent, presents diverse fare ranging from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band. Information: www.litchfieldjazzfest.com and 860-567-4162.
The Hartford Courant
July 23, 2009
by Owen McNally
Photo by Steven Sussman