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Photography by Jimmy Katz
The deluge of political divisiveness, horrific violence and hateful rhetoric that seem to have polluted our lives on a daily basis over the last few years have left many people across the country and around the world feeling angry, frustrated and hopeless. It would be more than understandable if that feeling was even more intense for Jimmy Greene, for whom the flood of outrageous headlines and social media missives play out against the backdrop of personal tragedy.
Greene refuses to succumb to the negativity, however. On his heartfelt new album, While Looking Up, the saxophonist was guided by the inspirational words of his pastor: “If I’m not able to find strength or peace by looking inward,” he said, “or if I’m not able to do it by looking outward to my immediate surroundings, I have to look upward.”
Having released two acclaimed volumes celebrating his daughter Ana’s life and spirit – the GRAMMY®-nominated Beautiful Life (Mack Avenue Records, 2014) and Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (Mack Avenue Records, 2017) – Greene sought a change of pace, recalling his landmark 2009 release, Mission Statement. “That album was a turning point for me,” he recalled. “It was the first time that I really felt like all of the material was exactly what I wanted it to be. I wanted to have a group that could deliver something similar and was also reminded of a lot of musicians who I’ve played with over the years but haven’t recorded with in some time.”
From Mission Statement, Greene reunited with guitarist Lage Lund, bassist Reuben Rogers and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. For the remainder of the ensemble he reached back even further: drummer Kendrick Scott last joined the saxophonist on 2008’s The Overcomer’s Suite, while pianist Aaron Goldberg returns after appearing on Greene’s debut album more than 20 years ago.
A native of Connecticut, Greene is considered one of the most respected saxophonists of his generation. His previous solo releases, Flowers: Beautiful Life Vol. 2 (Mack Avenue), the GRAMMY®-nominated Beautiful Life (Mack Avenue), Live at Smalls (SmallsLive), Mission Statement (RazDaz/Sunnyside), The Overcomers Suite (NuJazz), Gifts and Givers (Criss Cross), True Life Stories (Criss Cross), Forever (Criss Cross), Brand New World (RCA Victor) and Introducing Jimmy Greene (Criss Cross) have been met with much critical acclaim. In fact, Tony Hall of Jazzwise Magazine (UK) calls Greene “ . . . . without doubt one of the most striking young tenors of recent years.”
Greene and his groups perform regularly in jazz venues, festivals and clubs worldwide, including Jazz Standard (New York), Newport Jazz Festival (Rhode Island), Detroit Jazz Festival (Michigan), TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival (Canada), Le Club (Moscow), Casa del Jazz (Rome), Sunside Jazz Club (Paris), Red Sea Jazz Festival (Israel), Lapataia Jazz Festival (Uruguay) and Amazonas Jazz Festival (Brazil). In one such appearance, Jim Macnie of the Village Voice said,"[Greene] is good for a couple of body chills every time you see him. He's got a big barrelhouse sound, and a way of negotiating changes that make academic moves seem natural." Greene's television performances in support of his recordings have included spots on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC-TV), CBS This Morning and The Meredith Vieira Show (Nationally Syndicated). Greene has also performed and presented in churches, faith-based conferences, mental health conferences and arts symposiums throughout the United States and Canada.
In addition to his recordings and appearances as a leader, Greene appears on over 75 albums as a sideman, and has toured and/or recorded with Horace Silver, Ron Carter, Tom Harrell, Freddie Hubbard, Harry Connick, Jr., Avishai Cohen, Kenny Barron, Lewis Nash, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the New Jazz Composers Octet and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, among many others.
Down Beat Magazine named Greene the Winner of the Rising Star - Soprano Saxophone category in its 66th Annual Critics' Poll
Greene was awarded the prestigious Benny Golson Jazz Master Award at Howard University, the ASCAP / IAJE Commission in Jazz Composition in honor of Ornette Coleman, the State of Connecticut Governor's Arts Award in Music, as well as the City of Hartford's Innovator Award in Music. Greene was named a Winner of Chamber Music America's New Works: Creation and Presentation grant for jazz composition, awarded an Artist Fellowship in Music Composition by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Greater Hartford Arts Council. Sixty of Greene's original compositions have been recorded on the Mack Avenue, RCA Victor, SmallsLive, Criss Cross, NuJazz and RazDaz / Sunnyside labels. In addition, Greene's performance of his composition "Mr. McLean" was aired throughout the US and Canada on ABC-TV during a NASCAR pre-race broadcast in September 2007.
Greene is Co-Coordinator of Jazz Studies and Associate Professor of Music at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT.
Greene is Associate Professor of Music and Co-Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT. Previously, he served as Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the University of Manitoba, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Purchase College (State University of New York), as Lecturer at the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School (University of Hartford) and as an Instructor at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. Greene has given clinics and masterclasses throughout the United States, Canada, Brazil, Israel and Russia. Two of his former students were named semi-finalists in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition and 18 student musicians and small ensembles under Greene's direction won DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards.
Jimmy was named First Runner-Up in the 1996 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, and was named one of the "25 Young Rising Stars in Jazz" by DownBeat Magazine in 1999. Greene earned a doctorate in music from the Manhattan School of Music and was presented the Helen Cohn Award at MSM for his outstanding doctoral work. Greene holds a M.Mus in Music Education from Boston University and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.Mus in Jazz Studies from the Hartt School. Greene attended Bloomfield (CT) Public Schools and studied music at The Artists Collective and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts as a youth. His mentors over the years have included Jackie McLean, Jim McNeely, Justin DiCioccio, David Liebman, Phil Markowitz, Garry Dial, Dave Santoro, Kris Jensen, Steve Davis, Ken Radnofsky and Janet Arms.
Jimmy Greene is a clinician for Borgani Saxophones and Vandoren Mouthpieces, Reeds and Ligatures and uses their products exclusively.