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Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement

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One day this past year, our jazz history class was studying Horace Silver, one of the great jazz pianists and composers. Our guest lecturer laid out about what you’d expect from a good, informative lecture, and then he began recalling things he learned when he played with Horace…

With the faculty appointment of saxophonist Jimmy Greene, the Jazz Studies Program at the U of M has landed a top performer, composer, and educator. Greene is no stranger to Winnipeg, having spent nine weeks here over the past year as an Artist in Residence. Throughout that time, he taught lessons and classes and coached ensembles, leaving no doubt in the students’ minds that this man can teach. The fact that he is also a world-class saxophone player and an award-winning composer makes it just that much better for the students at his new school.

Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, Greene started on alto saxophone when he was six years old, later moving to tenor. Through his high school years, he was invited to play in many all-state jazz ensembles and symphonic bands, including the 1993 Grammy All-American High School Jazz Band, conducted by Branford Marsalis. While still in high school, Greene was introduced to legendary alto saxophonist, Jackie McLean. McLean was intrigued by his eager student and went on to teach him through his years at the Hartt School (University of Hartford). Greene was named runner-up in the 1996 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Jazz Saxophone Competition.

After graduating from the Hartt School, Greene moved to New York and joined the Horace Silver Quintet. He was soon hailed by Downbeat as one of “25 Young Rising Stars in Jazz” (1999), and began to work and record with many artists like Avishai Cohen, Harry Connick Jr., and Chick Corea. Besides recording as a sideman on over 50 albums, Greene has recorded eight albums of his own, including Mission Statement, released this past April (Razdaz Recordz).

Mission Statement features top musicians on mostly original compositions by Greene himself. His quartet with Xavier Davis (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Eric Harland (drums) is joined by newcomer Lage Lund on guitar, and a favourite of Winnipeg audiences, Stefon Harris, on vibraphone for one track. You can really hear who has influenced Greene’s approach to the saxophone, from the rhythmic intensity of Sonny Rollins to the harmonic language of John Coltrane. But no matter who came before him, he still has a clear intent for the music he puts forth. In his liner notes, he speaks of how it “represents my story, as it can be told today. The music is, if nothing else, extremely personal. It deals with the most precious things in my life: love, faith, family, relationships, childhood and dreams.”

The appointment of Jimmy Greene is something special for the university and for the Winnipeg music scene as a whole. With the addition of Terreon Gully a year ago, Winnipeggers were exposed to a musician of unparalleled skill, experience, and knowledge of the music and the industry. Adding Jimmy to the mix will push that transformation even further. He brings a plethora of experience on the bandstand and a comfort and ease in the classroom that is rare to find in such a high calibre performer.

If you haven’t yet encountered his fluent and inventive playing and infectious warmth, he’s one of this year’s U of M Jazz Camp faculty, and will be warming up the stage at the Summer Night Jazz Fest. After that, watch for him at the Cool Monday Night Hang, and on stages and clubs around the city. Take a moment to say hello and welcome him to his new home…

Shannon Kristjanson studies saxophone, flute, and voice in the Jazz Studies program, and will play with the Street Corner Symphony this summer.

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