Since Toussaint left Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid eighties, he hasn’t looked back. Nor has he spent a career trying to repeat the past. The experiences gained in that world-class hothouse have enabled him to push forward and embrace challenging, and often high profile, musical collaborations in many different jazz styles. Today he works out of London, England as a composer, tenor/soprano saxophonist, bandleader and highly regarded jazz educator.
Born in the Caribbean, Toussaint grew up in St Thomas USVI and started playing the saxophone at the Charlotte Amalie High School under the musical tutelage of Charles Cox, who took a special interest in the talented youngster, offering guidance and extra tuition. After high school, Toussaint attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston along with future jazz stars Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby, Kevin Eubanks, Jeff Watts, Victor Bailey, Cindy Blackman, Donald Harrison and many others. While at Berklee, Toussaint studied with and was mentored by the great saxophonist/educator Billy Pierce.
It was Pierce who recommended Toussaint to replace him in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Relocating to New York, he joined in 1982 and toured and recorded with the band for four years alongside pianists Johnny Oneal, Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown, trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Wallace Roney, alto saxophonists Donald Harrison and Kenny Garrett, trombonist Tim Williams and bassists Charles Fambrough, Lonnie Plaxico and Peter Washington.
With Art Blakey, these young men found themselves in a uniquely enviable position as the band travelled the world playing all the major festivals, clubs and concert halls. While residing in New York and when not on the road with the messengers Toussaint, regularly led the jam sessions at the famous Blue Note Jazz club and, would visit other New York clubs sitting in with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard etc.
Invited to teach for three months at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD), by pianist/educator Lionel Grigson, Toussaint came to London in 1987 and still uses the capital as his base. In addition to his work at the GSMD and private one to one teaching, for which he has many students, Toussaint is also a member of the teaching staff at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and occasionally the Royal Academy of Music. The bulk of Toussaint’s work is as a performer.
Since moving to London he has, led his own bands and various projects, released ten CDs as a leader and guested on many more. Collaborations with musicians based in the UK have included Bheki Mseleku, Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Cleveland Watkiss and others. Toussaint is also often invited to join tours with US musicians visiting Europe and most recently was on tour with pianist Cedar Walton and Donald Brown, trumpeter Eddie Henderson and an extensive tour of Europe, the Middle East and New York with the great Jeff Watts.
The last few years he has played the North Sea Jazz festival Holland, Montreux Jazz festival Switzerland, Clemont-Ferrand, Vienne, Toulouse and Paris Jazz festivals France, Bologna Jazz festival Italy, San Sebastian Jazz festival Spain, Berlin Jazz festival Germany, Cork, Dublin and Sligo Jazz festivals Ireland, London and several other jazz festivals around England and Scotland and jazz clubs and concerts halls all over Europe.
Toussaint’s most recent CD is entitled “Live in Paris and London”, and upon it’s release, garnered four-star reviews from John Fordham at the Guardian newspaper and Selwyn Harris at Jazzwise magazine. At the present moment Toussaint has recorded a new studio CD with his long standing quartet which is coming out on the Lyte Records Label on Monday the 24 of February 2014. The CD is entitled “Tate Song” and the personnel along with Toussaint is pianist Andrew McCormack, drummer/producer Troy Miller and bassist Larry Bartley.
To commemorate, the twenty-fifth year of, the passing of the great Art Blakey in 2015 Toussaint is busy organising a project which (borrowed from the Messengers Blue Note record of the same name) he calls “Roots and Herbs/The Blakey Project” which, in the spirit of Art Blakey, will introduce a band of young lions to the music of the Jazz Messengers with a rotating drum chair covered by the best newcomers and established drummers in the UK and Europe. There will be three phases to this project.
Phase one (Roots and Herbs/The Blakey Project) “Young Lions” will be a core group of young lions. They will learn about 50 of the arrangements from the Messengers repertoire. Some of the personnel already decided upon is, young (current TCM) trumpeter Mark Kavuma, young (recent GSMD graduate) trombonist Nathaniel Cross, young (recent Birmingham Conservatoire graduate) bassist Daniel Casimir and young (current TCM) piano wis kid Ruben James. Holding down the drum chair for this phase will be a selection of the freshest newcomers making a name on the scene. Names like Moses Boyd, Chris Drapper, Ben Brown and Dave Hamblet.
Phase two (Roots and herbs/The BlakeyProject) “All-Stars” will be selected from the more established players on the London and international jazz scene. Names like trumpeters Byron Wallen, Steve Fishwick, Gerrad Presencer and France’s Stephane Belmondo. trombonist Denis Rollins, Winston Rollins, Tom Dunnett, and Trevor Larry Bartley, Alex Davis, Alec Dankworth, Arnie Somogyi and Mark Hodgson. Pianist Jason Rebello, Trevor Watkis, Julian Joseph, and Ruben James. Holding down the drum chair will be names like Clark Tracy, Gene Caldorazzo, Mark Modesir, Winston Clifford, Troy Miller and Shane Forbes.
Phases three will be totally subject to budget because it will consist solely of former Jazz Messengers. To be decided upon at a later date.
Associate Diploma (Berklee College of Music)
Jean Toussaint has worked with:
Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Max Roach, Roy Ayers, Mulgrew Miller, Horace Silver, Gary Bartz, Donald Brown, McCoy Tyner, Kirk Lightsey, Donald Harrison, Gil Evans, Doug Hammond, David Murray, Cedar Walton, Lennie White, Julian Joseph, Abdullah Ibrahim, Terence Blanchard, The Jazz Crusaders, Eddie Henderson, Jeff “Tian Watts, Jason Rebello.
(and many others)
Here’s a small sample of what the press is saying:
“…class material, matured over the years and now bursting out of the cask. Single malt with a vengence…” Jazz Express
“…Toussaint displays a beautiful, incisive tone that you can only compare to liquid crystal…” Time Out
“…Toussaint has…found a language that gracefully spans the gap between jazz and funk – it makes for some of his best playing…” The Guardian
“…his evolution from hard bopper to a player of considerable breadth and warmth has been an engaging exercise to witness…” The Guardian
“…This record…contains brilliance, wit verve and memorable, elegant sax lines…” The Times
“…The pleasures of this substantial LP are too numerous to absorb at first hearing: recommendation enough to buy a copy…” The London Standard
“…a formidable amalgam of an album…to reflect Toussaint’s hugh and broadly based creative talent…” Morning Star
“…Explosive and ruminative…” The Toronto Star