Joplin’s Charles McPherson, Still Jammin’

At 82, Charles McPherson is as young at heart and creative as he ever has been at any point in six decades-long career. At this point, you would think that he would have run out of ideas or new ways to express himself through alto sax, but that is hardly the case.

Charles McPherson

Many years ago, he permanently relocated from New York to San Diego to be near his ailing mother. He never left; instead, trading the harsh winters of the east coast for the Pacific Ocean and its year-round Mediterranean climate. While he may have been born in Joplin, Missouri, in the summer of 1939, today, he’s a San Diego music icon, which includes writing music for the San Diego Ballet.

“I got involved because my daughter is one of the parental dancers with the ballet company. And, you know, she was very much interested in dance at a very early age, maybe four years, three or four years old. And she has continued her interest in, you know, all the way until now.”

Charles passed down some of his performing and music genius to his daughter, Camille, now 30 years old. The two have come together, Charles, writing and performing and Camille dancing for the San Diego Ballet for a handful of years now. They are so close that Charles wrote a suite of music titled “Jazz Dance Partners” for the ballet to perform. Composing for the ballet was a first for Charles. Jazz, known and loved for its improvisational ways, comes together with ballet, its strict form, and its structure.

Charles McPherson

“Yeah, that is one of the things that I learned. I mean, how to navigate difficultly, you know, improvisation is such an integral part of jazz. However, the ballet dancers are not improvising. They’re dancing, two things that are pretty much set in concrete.”

That’s what keeps Charles young, still working all of these years later and loving to work at his craft with which he continues to open doors.

“So I had to learn, I had to balance how to keep the aspect of empire, the improvisation involved, and also have very concrete things happen for the dances so that I’m sitting on the fence, straddling the artistic, musical fence there between improv and very structured nuances.”

In the age of ‘I have an app for that’, and the future of artificial intelligence and robots, Charles McPherson is still finding the heights of his creativity and taking new listeners and audiences to sonic places he’s been both making and recreating for years. As a musician, husband, father, he continues to tap into the wealth of knowledge and curiosity to write music that defies limits.

Charles McPherson

“My comfort zone is writing for instruments and, you know, dealing with written music for sure. And certainly improvisation, but never really dance, this is the first time. And yeah, it’s interesting. And it brings to mind, basically. You know, Charlie Parker the great Alto saxophone player said this many years ago that there’s no boundary line to art and really what he meant.

And what he has expressed before is that all of the arts are really connected. And that’s really true as for the artists to understand that the mediums through which you are expressing yourself. Historically, whether it be music, painting, writing, it’s all art, it’s all expression of the human condition of the human mind and the human soul.”

Alto sax player and composer Charles McPherson is still searching and loving it.

Joplin native Charles McPherson and his band will perform two concerts as part of Connect2Culture’s Curtain’s Up Series. Friday, February 18 and Saturday, February 19, click this link for more information.

McPherson’s Journey and Au Privave are heard under the audio feature


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