Danny Janklow takes the lead among young L.A. jazz musicians.
When one considers the outstanding young jazz musicians in Los Angeles who are most likely to move the music forward, alto saxophonist Danny Janklow is in the front of the pack. His animated solo spots at the recent Playboy Jazz Festival with John Beasley’s MONK’estra were among the highlights of the weekend at the Hollywood Bowl.
A year ago, the 27-year-old Janklow was thrown into the musical deep end at the L.A. Jazz Institute’s biannual big band festival. In an improvised concert that recalled the famous Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, there was Danny — going toe-to-toe with battle-hardened veterans like tenor saxophonist Doug Webb and trombonist Erik Hughes. But Janklow also collaborates with cutting-edge pop music makers like rapper Kendrick Lamar, Aloe Blacc and Sam Barsh.
At last week’s free, outdoor Music on the Main series at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge, Janklow led his Elevation Band. He will be back onstage with his band on Friday, July 1, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “What I like about the people in my group,” says Janklow, “is that they always bring it and they’re ready to take it to a higher level.” The second Janklow CD, with Elevation, will be released soon.
He was extremely precocious, not only studying the alto at 13, but also beginning serious exploration of past masters like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Janklow was born in Tarzana in 1989, and he now lives in Montecito. A recent return to his alma mater Agoura High School saw Janklow rhapsodizing gracefully over the string arrangements that Parker played on during his Bird With Strings phase. Janklow managed to pay a knowing homage while exerting his own identity.
A full scholarship to Temple University connected Janklow to his two prime mentors: altoist Dick Oatts and trumpeter Terrell Stafford. “Dick wanted me to succeed him as lead alto in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra,” Janklow says. His tone grows serious as he adds: “I was very torn about leaving New York, but I had to step back from the scene. He always stood by me, whatever my decision was; I honor Dick for that.”
Playing with a Philadelphia R&B band, gospel musicians and a ska-jazz big band opened his eyes to the possibilities in pop music. Back in SoCal, Janklow met producer/keyboardist Barsh at a studio date. “Jazz players can make the sound of hip-hop a little more musical,” Barsh says from his Glendale home. The Chicago native admits he likes his jazz with a harder East Coast edge. “Danny has that in his sound,” Barsh continues. “More importantly, he sees the greater possibilities for jazz and music in general. He sees a more evolved way of playing and connecting with audiences. That’s uncommon in the jazz world.”
Martial arts intensified Janklow’s focus. “Success doesn’t happen by accident,” Janklow says. “You have to be disciplined, devoted and committed, and that’s what I stress to my students. Karate is a big grounding in who I am and what I’ve achieved. It’s about being centered and controlling what you can control.”
Jazz pianist Eric Reed recently returned to L.A. from a lengthy New York residence. “We met at a jam session,” Reed says, “I was impressed with Danny’s adaptability: He could play in any key, at any tempo, any time signature, and he had the sound and feeling on his instrument. If I call him about a new arrangement, the next day he’s got it all down. He prepares and shows up on time. That’s a rare combination of attributes.”
“My goal,” Janklow reveals, “is to be so connected to the music that the instrument is secondary. It’s not about me so much as it is a deeper artistic vision and the ability to communicate with audiences.”
What: Danny Janklow’s Elevation
Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
When: Friday, July 1, 6 p.m.
Tickets: Free admission.
More info: (323) 857-6010; www.lacma.org/event/danny-janklow
KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.