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Naming his second solo album “Joys” was a no-brainer way for John “Tbone” Paxton to sum up his feelings about the 11 tracks on it.
“I feel these songs represent little gems of joy for me, and I feel when I perform them for people, they feel that momentary magic of joy, too,” says the trombonist and singer, a Detroit area music veteran who now resides in Royal Oak and performs regularly with Planet D Nonet and the Paxton/Spangler Band. Paxton releases “Joy” on Friday, Jan. 20, and previews the material with a pair of performances this week at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe.
“Joys,” which was recorded at Tempermill studios in Ferndale and co-produced by RJ Spangler and Scott Strawbridge, who passed away during December, certainly digs deep into music that’s integral to Paxton’s makeup. It features his takes on material such as Fats Waller’s “Sweet and Slow,” Percy Mayfield’s “Lost Mind,” John Hendricks’ English language version of “Estate,” Dr. John’s “Junco Partner,” Louis Jordan’s “Push-Ka Pee-Shee Pie” and Grant Green’s “Cease the Bombing,” which was released during December to raise money for Ukrainian relief efforts. And stylistically “Joys” runs a wide stylistic gamut, from bossa nova to blues, crooner ballads to calypso.
“I wanted to present more of the type of diversity of musics than I did on the first one,” explains Paxton, 62, whose first solo album, “Back In Your Own Backyard,” came out during February of 2020. “I’ve had so many musical influences in my life that had a big impact on me. The styles that I do are the direct result of being exposed to so much music, from the time I was born, really, and just wanting to play all of them.”
Music is part of Paxton’s DNA, of course. The youngest of nine children raised on Detroit’s East Side, his father Fred Paxton was a music teacher in Detroit Public Schools as well as an active performing musician whose gigs included nearly 50 years as house pianist at the London Chop House. “Mom and dad had an amazing collection of classic jazz recordings, orchestral recordings, all the great Broadway and opera — I grew up on that stuff,” Paxton recalls. He also heard plenty of the rock music favored by his siblings — two older brothers also became professional musicians — but he “always leaned in to the jazz music” when it came to his own tastes as both a listener and player.
“There’s something about the nature and the swing and the honesty and the purity of that music, and of the lyrical content, and that’s what I really gravitated towards,” Paxton remembers. “Growing up with the Count Basie Orchestra on Decca (Records), Art Tatum, Billie Holiday, early Nat King Cole, Earl Garner…and then hearing my jazz play around the house and going to see his great jazz band, that’s what I connected with.”
Paxton began singing at the age of five, then, after a dalliance with violin, began playing the trombone as a seventh grader after finding a broken instrument in the house. “The first day I picked up trombone I figured out ‘Hello Dolly,’ listening to the Louis Armstrong version, and I was making it work,” Paxton says. “It was like, ‘OK, this is something I can do…’ And then back in the ’60s and early ’70s, every single TV show you saw had a pit orchestra, a band. I saw that, ‘Hey, there’s a career here!’ and never looked back.”
Paxton honed his skills throughout middle and high schools and was gigging with his father as a teenager. He went on to study music education at Wayne State University, where Paxton co-founded the Sun Messengers, the Detroit powerhouse that spent time as the Detroit Pistons House band. His other credits include performing with or supporting Paul Keller, Scott Gwinnell, Mark “Mr. B” Braun, “Eddie Nuccilli, Earl King, Sir Mack Rice, Pinetop Perkins, Eddie Palmieri and Johnny Adams.
“I’m no visionary, cutting-edge changer of the art form,” Paxton notes, “but I love to be in it and to use it to reach people so I can make their spirits feel lighter and bring some emotional and spiritual relief to them. It’s an esoteric art form that can raise people’s consciousness and hopefully lift them to another place.”
“Tbone comes from the heart,” says Spangler, who’s known Paxton since the late ’70s and is releasing “Joys” on his Eastlawn Records label. “His love of music is authentic. I truly feel it is now his time to step up front and do his thing and show the world what we can do — and in my opinion, that’s a lot.”
As “Joys” comes out Paxton plans to maintain his usual busy playing slate alongside his schedule of private lessons. He’s hoping to do some touring outside of the metro area as well, and he’s already hatching ideas for his next album.
“I’m just in the hustle, always looking for opportunities,” says Paxton, who loves the fray even if it’s frustrating at times. “It’s where I’m happy,” he acknowledges. “I think that I connect with people, and I think people connect with my sincerity, my authenticity in what I’m trying to do and give to them. Hopefully it’ll keep going that way.”
John “Tbone” Paxton celebrates his new album, “Joys,” by performing with the Paxton Spangler Band” at 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 18-19, at the Dirty Dog Cafe, 97 Kerceheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms. 313-852-5299 or dirtydogjazz.com.
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