Jazz musicians entertain us with their spontaneity and improvisatory prowess. They are highly creative when it comes to improvising a tune, but yet they are extremely disciplined when it comes to their art. Their reverence for music is almost religious. The best of these musicians spend hours listening to music, understanding the intricacies of rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic structure. They know the history of music like the back of their hand, and they feel their place in the lineage of the legendary greats very deeply.
Julian Pressley is such a person. His improvisations on alto sax are inspired and edgy, but behind these imaginative trips into tunes lay the heart of a master musician. The Somerset resident was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Hammonton, NJ. It was the school band that gave him his start on sax – baritone sax. His Dad was a music lover, so there was always a lot of listening happening at home. It started with Count Basie and the other big bands, and progressed to Be-Bop. His Dad followed all the bands, even dressed like a jazz musician, and soon Julian was hooked on the music too.
Julian earned himself a scholarship to Florida A&M University. This is the place where he learned about discipline and “getting your act together.” The band was rehearsing eight hours a day. And it wasn’t unusual to see the percussion section out on the field at 2:00 A.M. Julian said this discipline prepared him for life on the road. He also switched from baritone to alto sax.
He set out for life as a jazz musician, and while working, he learned from those around him. Julian was fortunate to come up at a time when learning jazz was less of an academic pursuit and more of “on-the-job” training. “Music is all about traps – the people I worked with took the time to give me advice.” He made his way onto the Philadelphia scene, playing with the Edgar Bateman band, and quickly made a name for himself. Julian has toured and recorded with many jazz musicians, such as Lionel Hampton and Freddie Hubbard and has also backed such artists as the Four Tops and Temptations.
The advice he gives to younger players point to the reverence for music that he has. “They should learn the history of the instrument, the role that instrument plays in the band. They should take the time to learn the Great American Songbook, and really learn the music.” Good advice from one of the current jazz masters.
For a taste of Julian’s improvisations, see the video below: