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Ben Jansson, Ann Arbor, MI

Ben Jansson

Tenor Titan, Native Son

by Piotr Michalowski

From the January, 2010 issue

When one thinks of great Michigan jazz, it is usually Detroit that comes to mind rather than cities like Ann Arbor. But this city has had a rich tradition of high school jazz instruction, perhaps best represented by Mike Grace, who taught for many of years at Community High. A good number of his graduates are now making names for themselves on the national scene; one of these is Ben Jansson.

Jansson began his jazz studies as an alto saxophonist. When he was sixteen, he inherited a classic vintage Selmer tenor saxophone and never looked back, having found his natural musical voice on the bigger horn. He was soon making his mark at performances by various incarnations of the Community High jazz band around town and at jam sessions alongside professional musicians. He continued his education at Humber College in Canada under well-known saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. There he gained experience by playing alongside many of Canada's best jazz musicians; I remember how impressed I was with his progress when I heard him at a jam session in Toronto many years ago.

After six years Jansson returned to Ann Arbor. His imaginative approach to the saxophone and all-around musical skills were quickly recognized, and he soon became a first-call member of the local jazz community. Although he concentrates on the tenor saxophone, he has a command of most of the other instruments required for big band and studio work, including the clarinet and flute. He now plays regularly in Paul Keller's orchestra and is in demand in Detroit as well as in his hometown

LaBarbera is a highly respected teacher, and Jansson undoubtedly matured greatly under his tutelage. Like most of his contemporaries, LaBarbera had been overwhelmed by the influence of John Coltrane. Jansson did not ignore this, but he also sought inspiration from earlier saxophonists, especially in the area of sound production. As a result, he combines a fully modern harmonic sensibility with a warm tonal palette that is particularly impressive on ballads and blues. In this respect he is something of a throwback--in the best sense of the word--to a time when saxophone solos had a more expressive vocal quality and were structured more like conversations than purely abstract excursions. He will demonstrate this well when he plays at Kerrytown Concert House with his old high school friend guitarist Randy Napoleon on Friday, January 8.     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2010.]

 



 
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