With the release of his new album, Third Ward Stories, Fort Lauderdale-based saxophonist Jason Hainsworth set out to create a musical biography of his childhood in Houston. But how do you tell a story through instrumental jazz without any lyrics? "Too often I think we take for granted the countless other means of communication — hand gestures, body movements, sounds, ears," Hainsworth says. "Hopefully, by telling the audience a little about the background of the song, they can actually hear something that clicks with their own experiences. That's what great music is all about. Jazz is no different, just fewer words."
Hainsworth grew up in Houston's Third Ward during the 1980s crack epidemic, a neighborhood he compares to Miami's Overtown. "I was fortunate to have family members steer me away from that chaos. So while much of the chaos was taking place outside, I would be inside, listening on the radio to this great music that I fell in love with, hoping to be able to play and write songs like the ones I heard." At the age of 11, he had already fallen in love with his instrument of choice, the saxophone.
After playing his share of gigs in the Southeast, Hainsworth took advantage of a job opening at Broward College to teach saxophone and run the jazz program. He says he has relished the relocation. "Since moving to South Florida, I have been exposed to so many different styles of music and musicians. I've played in reggae bands, salsa bands, Haitian bands, R&B bands — all with not just good but truly great musicians. That is something you can find only in a few cities in the entire world. I try to incorporate these influences into the music that I write."
Hainsworth's new life in South Florida is a busy one. Local public radio station WDNA-FM (88.9) recently asked him to perform at next year's Miami Jazz Festival. But in spite of a busy schedule teaching, rehearsing, and occasionally traveling for gigs, Hainsworth found time to record Third Ward Stories in the hope of channeling his musical heroes. "Texas is known to have a long list of great tenor saxophonists — Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Billy Harper, David Fathead Newman. They all had the gigantic, husky saxophone sounds and could really play the blues. They were huge influences on me as a kid, and that element is found on the album as well."