Jazz Profile: Jesse Earl Junior

Catch Jesse Earl Junior live on Friday, January 17, 2014 at the White Horse Black Mountain.  Photo: Frank Zipperer
Catch Jesse Earl Junior live on Friday, January 17, 2014 at the White Horse Black Mountain. Photo: Frank Zipperer

by Eddie LeShure

“Jesse has a real feeling for every song he sings and what a great instrument he has to deliver them with. While he can be compared with Johnny Hartman and other great baritones for his sound, the way he puts it across is all his own. Finding your own voice, which he has, is the ultimate goal a jazz singer can aspire to.” ~ Vocalist Harry Schulz

A Milwaukee native, NYC expatriate, and now self-described “Asheville Jazzvillian”, singer Jesse Earl Junior is steeped in the Original American Art Form. From his introduction to the genre by his brother, artist and musician Alvin Junior, to mentoring by jazz icon Barry Harris, jazz has been a major part of and influence on all aspects of his musical journey.

“Ironically my first awareness of music was polka, growing up in Wisconsin with a large polish community at the time. My father being a pastor in the African American Church, gospel music became a major part of my musical journey. But I think the transformative moment for me was the night that I first heard the Miles Davis album Porgy and Bess. It was literally my musical epiphany.”

Jesse was a fixture on the New York jazz scene, singing at various clubs and jazz jams during his time there, along with Cobi Norita’s Universal Jazz Coalition and Voices Inc. Barry Harris’s Jazz Cultural Theater was also a major influence in his musical growth, as it allowed singers to showcase and perform in front of live audiences in the 80’s and 90’s.

“I love most musical genres: jazz, classical, gospel, R&B, and I also have a warm spot for Latin rhythms. But I always come back to Miles, Monk, Duke, Billy Strayhorn, Coltrane and Billie Holiday. These are the musical voices that influence me and move me to sing.

“My favorite jazz story was meeting Miles at the Village Vanguard and accusing him of not bringing his “A Game” to his performance. I sat with him for ten minutes as he explained that he was having some throat issues. I think it was actually a beautiful lady in the audience that had him distracted, but it didn’t matter. I still love him. He and Billie are my major musical influences, along with Johnny Hartman and Joe Williams.”

“Of all the vocalists in WNC, Jesse Earl Junior is my favorite. He’s nothing but class. Jesse’s vocal delivery and that rich bass/baritone voice are a wonderful reminder of the great singers from the 40’s & 50’s, such as Johnny Hartman, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Bob Eberly and Dick Haymes. He sings to his audience like he’s singing to you and only you.” ~ Vocalist/drummer Russ Wilson

Since coming to Asheville, Jesse has hosted two jazz radio shows: “The Jazz Caravan” on Main FM 103.7; and presently “Straight No Chaser” on Internet radio station “Asheville FM”. He has performed at well-reviewed shows in numerous venues in WNC, including Isis Restaurant and Music Hall, White Horse Black Mountain and Lord Auditorium. Jesse will headline a Cabaret Jazz performance at the White Horse Black Mountain on Friday, January 17. That, and upcoming shows in Waynesville, will keep Jesse ensconced in the music he loves.

“Coming full circle here in Asheville with its laid back atmosphere and eclectic music scene, I’ve found a place that fits. The bourgeoning jazz scene here, having my own jazz radio show, a warm and welcoming jazz community…it’s an embarrassment of riches!”

“I first heard Jesse sing at Tressa’s some years ago. His delivery, style, and grace were outstanding, and I immediately followed him everywhere he appeared. Every time he sings, people stop talking, turn around, and say, “Who IS that singing?!!!” We love the deep rich sound and the sweet smile that goes with it.” ~ Vocalist Heather Masterton