Local Culture Proves Ideal for Saxophonist Charles McPherson

Renowned Sax Player Moved to San Diego, Found Inspiration

Charles McPherson
Artist Charles McPherson blowin’ sax.

In 1978 jazz saxophonist Charles McPherson lived in New York where he played as a band member with the highly influential American jazz artist Charles Mingus. McPherson’s passionate music and intricate patterns of improvisation were well known on the New York jazz scene, but that year he planned a two month trip, and as is the case for most visitors, San Diego became his home.

Initially, he intended to visit his seventy-year-old mother who resided in San Diego to get away from what he called, the “New York rat race.” Expecting to take only a brief hiatus from the intensity of his life as a successful New York musician, Charles McPherson instead found a haven of freedom and relaxation in the San Diego community and decided to make it his home.

In a recent interview, McPherson explained that getting away from the riffraff of New York allowed him to refocus on the direction he wanted to take his music.

“Being in San Diego gave me chances that New York couldn’t provide,” said McPherson. “The relaxed pace of San Diego gave me the chance to get in touch with my inner self; it allowed me to contemplate and conceptualize and compose.”

He emphasized the importance of learning to use his environment to create and perform his music. In moving to San Diego, McPherson learned to combine the vigor and popularity of New York and San Francisco jazz, which sparked a traveling musicianship for the sax-player. This bi-coastal career proved to be beneficial in his work, landing him gigs in many different countries.

The San Diego environment allows McPherson to “chill out and conceive things.” When asked how the city is conducive for his creative process, he explained:

“Music is a medium that you use as a language to convey emotionality. Music is metaphoric. The human being is the main event and there’s music that goes with all the gradations of emotions that humans are capable of feeling—sadness, out-and-out ecstasy, joy, contemplativeness, sensuality, and everything in between. When I write music, the first thing I think about is ‘What is the emotionality of this whole piece? What do I want? What am I trying to convey with this tune?’”

He is able to ask himself these questions and find their musical response in the peaceful quiet of his home. After composing his works of art, he then travels to play concerts and teach clinics throughout the world and across the country. By traveling between the hustle and bustle of jazz towns to quiet suburbs, McPherson has attained a rare balance that few true artists attain.

Although jazz venues are few in San Diego, McPherson shares his musicality and talent with the community in a number of ways. Among others, he has played shows featured at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Old Globe, Humphrey’s, and every year he teaches at the USD Jazz Camp.