Jason Robinson

Jason Robinson, an American saxophonist who is also a scholar, was raised in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California. His childhood was spent riding his bike past Folsom Prison. This property is immortalized in Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison blues.” Robinson grew up in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California. Robinson was unsuccessful in his attempt to learn classical saxophone technique. His initial musical inspiration came after a mix of influences: Louis Jordan’s infectious mixtures of jump blues, bebop and Jimmy Hendrix’s wild experimentalism, Charlie Parker’s virtuosic interpretation of the alto and jazz languages, and the Beatle’s late-period psychoedelia. Robinson started hanging out on the Sacramento jazz scene as a high school student. Sac-town was home to a number of local venues that supported a vibrant community of talented musicians in the mid-80s. This was a diverse scene–straight-ahead, fusion, experimental jazz–that witnessed, among other things, a regular Tuesday series by the legendary saxophonist John Tchicai. Robinson’s growth was influenced greatly by this eclecticism. Robinson spent a year at University of Southern California, Los Angeles, which is ironically at the edge of South Central. He then settled in Sonoma County to pursue music (Jazz Studies), and philosophy studies at Sonoma State University. The SSU jazz program was a gem in the rough. It had a challenging curriculum in theory, composition, and improvisation. It was also near to San Francisco Bay Area’s varied jazz and popular scenes, which was one of the main reasons Robinson chose to move to the region. Robinson made many important musical and philosophical connections in Sonoma County. He co-founded the group Cannonball (combining cutting edge jazz and rap), was the first saxophonist in the influential roots reggae group Groundation (combining jazz and roots reggae), collaborated with a huge variety of Bay Area jazz musicians, founded Circumvention Music, and released his first album, From the Sun (1998/Circumvention). The Bay Area offered a wide range of musical possibilities that crossed stylistic lines and intersected with social and political contexts. Robinson performed with the San Francisco-based New Pickle Circus. This European-style circus was founded in 1974 and is strongly against the use animals. Robinson also performed with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, an acclaimed commedia dell’arte political theater troupe that confronts some the most difficult social and political issues in American culture. Robinson appeared on two seasons: Damaged Care, and City For Sale. Robinson arrived in San Diego in 1998 to start graduate studies in Critical Studies and Experimental Practices Program at the University of California. Robinson studied with George E. Lewis, a trombonist and scholar, and Anthony Davis, a pianist and composer. Robinson’s scholarship shifted to cultural studies. He began to study improvised and experimental music within the contexts of cultural and social formations. He spent a lot of time in San Diego with his trio, the Jason Robinson Trio. This group included Rob Thorsen (a virtuosic bassist) and Brett Sanders (a drummer). Robinson started to tour with various jazz, reggae, and jam band groups during this time. He continued to nurture his Bay Area roots by performing with Groundation and Cannonball as well as other musicians based in San Francisco. He also performed with Wise Monkey Orchestra, Damn Dirty Apes and other San Diego-based jam bands. He then began working with many Southern California reggae artists. Robinson became interested in reggae in the late 1990s through his friendship with Groundation, who have enjoyed international success for their mix of roots reggae and dub experimentalism. Robinson recorded with Reggae icons Don Carlos, Ras Michael and Marcia Higgs. Robinson joined the bilingual (Spanish/English) group Elijah Emanuel after moving to San Diego. Robinson has performed with Eek, Eek-a Mouse, Leroy “Horsemouth”, Wallace and many other local reggae bands. Toots and the Maytals’ Grammy-nominated 2007 album Light Your Light, Fantasy (Fantasy) featured him. You can hear him on a track that features Toots and Bonnie Raitt in duo. Robinson was also a pioneer in the development of long-term collaboration groups in the late 1990s. He co-founded Cosmologic in 1999 with Scott Walton (bassist), Nathan Hubbard (percussionist), and trombonist Michael Dessen (trombone). After several months of weekly performances at the Galoka Jazz Scene (a vegetarian Indian restaurant/jazz club) in La Jolla (an area of San Diego), Cosmologic recorded their first live album, Staring at the Sun (2000/Circumvention). Some ten years and three releases later, Cosmologic continues to thrive as an experimental quartet-cum-composers collective. They have played at many festivals and other prominent venues in the United States, Mexico and Canada as well as Europe. Cuneiform Records released their fourth album, Eyes in the back of My Head in May 2008. Robinson founded the Cross Border Trio in 2003, which is a transnational collaboration that has performed extensively throughout Mexico. The Cross Border Trio has bi-national members (Mexico, USA) and explores contemporary jazz in the ever more transnational context of experimental music. Their debut album, New Directions (2006/Circumvention), achieved widespread critical acclaim, and they continue thrive in the fertile social and cultural landscapes of the US/Mexico border (frontera) region. Robinson’s second album, Tandem (Accretions), was released in 2002 as a leader. Tandem is a conceptual “duo” album featuring Robinson in various settings, along with an impressive cast of experimentalists, including Anthony Davis, George Lewis, and the late German bassist Peter Kowald. Tandem received much praise and was named JazzTimes Magazine’s “critic’s pick” for 2002. Robinson, who was living in San Diego, was a founding member in Trummerflora. This musician collective is dedicated to supporting the creation of music throughout Southern California. Designed largely after influential African American musicians collectives of the 1960s u0026 70s (the AACM and Black Artists Guild), Trummerflora still produces concert series and an annual festival of creativity (Spring Reverb). It also releases compilation albums featuring members. Robinson’s involvement in Trummerflora reflects his wider interest in presenting experimental music for new listeners and musicians. Robinson believes that the conservatism of the mainstream music business marginalizes music practices that aren’t part of the American music industry. This is true for pop, country, rock and jazz as well as reggae and other genres. These processes and pressures make it difficult to create experimental music in local communities. Trummerflora is dedicated to making local communities more open to new music. Robinson’s activism continues to influence his teaching. He was the Curriculum Director of the UCSD Jazz Camp’s inaugural year in 2003. This unique program, which lasted a week, allowed jazz students to experience a wide range of jazz and improvised music techniques. The camp’s slogan says it all: “From open improvisation to mainstream.” Several years later, Robinson continues to teach composition/arranging, improvisation, and saxophone masterclasses at the thriving camp. Robinson has taught in many contexts, including private instruction in woodwind performance and composition and large enrollment (400) lectures at universities. His teaching and research interests coincide: problematizing the notion of “jazz” to include a broader spectrum of African American experimental music, locating improvised and experimental musical practices within the social contexts from which they emerge, analyzing the continued globalization of popular and improvised/experimental musics, seeking to understand the relationship between music and cultural identity. He has taught courses in jazz and African American music as well as Jamaican and African-diasporic musics. Robinson is the Assistant Professor of Music at Amherst College. He has also taught at several California community colleges and at the University of California in Irvine. Click here for more information about his teaching and scholarship. Robinson’s musical interests are centered on the fertile intersections of improvisation and composition as well as acoustic and electronic music, tradition and experimentalism. Robinson was a post-60s jazz fan and a lover of creative music. His music now incorporates cutting-edge jazz practices and electroacoustic music. Robinson is a highly acclaimed voice in a new generation creative musicians who are in equal dialogue with jazz and popular music. Robinson’s leadership output was at its peak in Fall 2010. Three albums were released concurrently by Robinson, showcasing his wide range of creativity. He is a regular soloist, both with and without electronics, as well as performing in various collaborative settings. He has performed at prominent venues across the United States, Canada and Mexico and has recorded with Peter Kowald and George Lewis. Parran, Dana Reason and David Borgo are among the many performances he has given at festivals and prominent venues in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. He also recorded with John Russell, Roger Turner, Gerry Hemingway, Kei Akagi, Mel Graves, Liberty Ellman, Babatunde Lea, Marco Eneidi, Lisle Ellis, Raphe Malik, Mike Wofford, Philip Gelb, J.D. Robinson’s research focuses on the interplay between popular and improvised musics, experimentalism, cultural identity, and a scholar. His articles and reviews have been published in Jazz Perspectives, Ethnomusicology and Critical Studies in Improvisation/ Etudes critiques En Improvisation. Robinson is Assistant Professor of Music at Amherst College. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California in San Diego. He is a West Coast transplant living in New England and is married to Stephanie Robinson. She is an accomplished performer, composer, musician, and electronic musician. from www.jasonrobinson.com

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