|Nowhere in the universe has the old adage "those who can do, those who can't teach" been more resoundingly refuted than in the world of jazz. For more than a generation great musicians like Bill Barron, Kenny Barron, Cecil Bridgewater, Billy Hart, Rufus Reid, and Reggie Workman (to name more than just a few) have proven the falsity of that truism by taking their places in the hallowed halls of academia as leaders in the field of jazz education while remaining key players in the development of the music as regularly performing purveyors of the artform. While the true merit of this relatively new association between jazz and the academy remains debatable, the number of excellent musicians that have come out of the system is undeniable.
Keith Javors is both a part of this system and a product of it -- a (doctoral) graduate of one the country's oldest and most prestigious jazz programs and a highly acclaimed educator at he University of North Florida, where he has taught for the past three years in the jazz program headed by legendary alto saxophonist Bunky Green. All the while, he has remained a constantly developing player who on this, his third record as a leader of a small group, demonstrates his considerable talents as a potent pianist, a creative composer and an inspired improvisor, in addition to the leadership ability he clearly displays as the person in charge of this fiery, hard hitting ensemble.
Javors was born in Carbondale, Illinois on October 15, 1971 and started playing music when he was only three years old, picking out familiar themes from radio television programs on his family's defunct player piano. He began formal studies at the age of eight, but his introduction to jazz didn't come until several years later when as a teenager he heard John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and Dave Brubeck's Plays Cole Porter. He recalls becoming immediately hooked on the freedom the music allowed; its earthiness and "feeling." On the recommendation of a teacher, Javors moved to Denton, Texas in 1989 to pursue his interest in jazz at the University of North Texas, where he matriculated for 7 years while on a scholarship and teaching fellowship and received Bachelors and Masters degrees in Jazz Piano Performance. While there he got his major "tutelage" freelancing professionally in the Dallas/Ft. Worth region, working regularly as a member of the Dallas Jazz Orchestra and the Brad Turner Quartet, as well as playing in the University's famed One O'clock Lab Band.
In 1996 Javors relocated to pursue his doctorate in Music Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which he earned while working in Chicago, doing clinics and gigs there and beyond. It was there that he first met alto saxophonist Dane Bays, who would introduce him to Alex Brooks and Lou Smoltz. The three, who Javors calls "wonderful 'streetsmart' musicians from Detroit," joined the pianist for his impressive second recording The From Here To The Street. The group was together on and off for four years, until Javors moved to Florida to take his teaching position at UNF.
Bays has remained Keith's closest musical associate, a strong melodic voice in his compositions, with "surprisingly similar musical and aesthetic tastes," according to the pianist. The altoist is a protégé of veteran Detroit saxophonist Larry Smith, who also mentored Kenny Garrett; which explains the striking similarity in their searing sound and Tranish approach. Bays was Javors' symbiotic second on his debut recording, the duo outing, Mantra. Chicago trumpeter Ray Callender was another member of Javors' group in Urbana, joining the band at the impressively early age of seventeen. While this young man's primary influence on his horn is clearly Freddie Hubbard, there are also discernible stylistic resemblances to Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard, giving him a well rounded approach that is both spirited and intelligent. Callender has been involved in Betty Carter's young musician's project and the Steans Institute at the Rivinia Jazz Festival. Tenor saxophonist Juan Carlos Rollan, a Florida native, was formerly one of Javors' standout students at UNF. He's a passionate player who exhibits a broad range of favorites (from Trane to Turrentine to Brecker) and a taste for soul and R & B, making him a good match for Bays. As Keith notes, "They have a lot of similar qualities which brings a cohesion to the group that I like."
|Javors is joined by two more Floridians in the rhythm section. Bassist Ricky Ravelo is a colleague of Keith's at UNF and the oldest member of the group. "I met Ricky when I got to Florida," the pianist remembers, "He was on one of the first gigs I played when I got there, in Hilton Head, SC. His musical and personal spirit enhances any situation." Ravelo has recorded previously with Marcus Printup on the trumpeter's Nocturnal Traces album for Blue Note. Drummer John Davis is a current student of Javors. The proud teacher boasts, "It's hard to believe he's a student. He brings a real sense of creativity to the group, and provides a nice groove and foundation for straight ahead through soul. I feel he's a tremendous talent on the drum set. When he finishes his degree, I can see him doing some great stuff out there."
Mo' City Jungle effectively exhibits Javors' distinctive writing style in a variety of moods which display his diverse taste. He elucidates saying, "I like to try and write songs that are highly accessible from an audience's perspective, yet challenging from the musician's standpoint." The title track is a double minor blues reminiscent of Kenny Garrett's "Tacit Dance" from the Black Hope album. The composer notes, "It is open ended in working as either or both an Afro-Cuban and straight ahead feel, and is stylistically typical of the fire and soul in Detroit." The next two tunes are familial dedications by the leader. "My nephew Zach's first birthday present was a tune I recorded previously on FHTTS," he notes. "Then came another nephew and niece, so I had to write songs for them, too. Here's installment two and three of the "suite", Sierra Nicole's Bossa and Ian Keith. Hopefully the listener hears a simple beauty and purity in all three of the tunes." Javors says, "In a way, Symbiotic Interlude is the oldest composition on the record. Dane and I began playing together in the duo format from the beginning in 96' (Mantra) and the trading you hear on the end of the cut is a vibe we've been trying to refine for years. In Essence is a mellow Messengerish theme reminiscent of certain Wayne Shorter-Bobby Watson compositions. Keith wrote Afternoon in Roatan after repeated trips to Honduras He explains, "I continue to be amazed by people who have so much less than what we as Americans do, and yet retain such a positive, giving, and unassuming quality. I hope there's a certain soulfulness to the tune that reflects that feeling." The music's poignant beauty does just that. Conclusion of the Matter is a sextet arrangement by Javors based on a defining verse in Ecclesiastes. Its close, dense horn voicings, extended form, and rhythm section drive and interaction give it an anthemic quality that hearkens to Walter Davis Jr.'s work with Art Blakey. Keith describes The High Road as "an extended and reflective piano piece which culminates in an unexpected all-out soul groove with Dane and the rhythm section and remarks, "This is the feeling I get in overcoming obstacles on the way to self-betterment."
Keith Javors is clearly destined to achieve self-betterment. His exemplary work as a musician and educator is defined by a philosophy with humanity at its center. Unlike those teachers the old adage claims "can't," he is one who certainly can and does, traveling a high road that steers clear of the Ivory Towers and chooses instead more interesting places. Like Mo' City Jungle.