About The Artists

2021 marks Jazz at St. James’ 27th year celebrating the finest local Austin and national jazz performers. Over our history, we’ve showcased musicians who have made their creative impression on the music we love. 

This year’s lineup is no different, and we’re excited to have such great artists grace our humble stage and share the passion of jazz.

Andre Hayward

Andre Hayward is a gifted trombonist with the sound and clarity reminiscent of the late J.J. Johnson. Born in Houston in 1973, Hayward’s first exposure to music was through his parents, Melvin and Barbara Hayward. He began playing trombone and tuba at the age of 11. He attended HSPVA, and continued to hone his skills with Houston’s legendary educator Conrad O. Johnson. He has recorded or performed with Betty Carter, Joe Williams, John Lewis, Kirk Whalum, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and many others. Hayward toured as lead trombonist with The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Read more about Andre here.

 

Elias Haslanger

Over the span of his 25-year music career, native Texan and Austin resident Elias Haslanger has carved a unique and distinguished place in jazz history as a saxophonist, composer, and band leader, whose playing and writing has drawn comparisons to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, and Wayne Shorter. He has performed, recorded, and toured with many world-class artists including Ellis Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, Christopher Cross, Asleep at the Wheel, Alejandro Escovedo, Charlie Hunter, Sheryl Crow, Doyle Bramhall II, Grupo Fantasma, The Four Tops, and The Temptations, among many others.

Elias has performed around the United States and Europe at clubs like Snug Harbor in New Orleans, Jazz Alley in Seattle, The Elephant in Austin, and The Blue Note in New York. He has also served as a guest artist/lecturer at universities around the nation. Mentored by the legendary saxophonists Harvey Pittel and Dick Oatts, Elias began to explore the instrument’s vast potential by studying saxophone at the University of Texas and then at the Manhattan School of Music. His interest in writing music culminated in a Master’s Degree in Composition at Texas State University (TSU) in San Marcos.

Find out more about Elias here.

Dr. James Polk

Pianist Dr. James Polk’s musical knowledge and worldwide experience spans over more than 50 years. His style, deeply-rooted in the blues, is an example of richness and experience. Polk came up along with a group of incredible Texan musicians; jazz and blues artists like David “Fathead” Newman, Russell Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, Don Wilkerson, and Ornette Coleman, and his sound has that unique Texas flavor. An accomplished musician who has played almost every instrument, Polk was born on September 10, 1940 in Yoakum, and grew up in Corpus Christi, where he initiated his extensive resume. 

In 1959, Polk moved to Austin, where he eventually formed his own band, James Polk & the Brothers, which became one of the first integrated bands in a still largely segregated town. Featuring some of the finest musicians around Austin (Martin Banks, W.C. Clark, Matthew Robinson and Angela Strehli), James Polk & the Brothers also became a “Blakey’s Messengers” type music academy for playing blues, funk, and jazz. 

Once invited by Lionel Hampton to tour Europe, Polk is best-known for his work with Ray Charles. From 1978 to 1985, he toured and worked as an organist, pianist, writer, arranger and conductor. He was featured on several of Charles’ records, including Ain’t It So (Concord, 1979), Brother Ray Is At It Again (Crossover/Atlantic, 1980), Wish You Were Here Tonight (Concord, 1983), and The Spirit of Christmas (Concord, 1985), and was nominated for two Grammy Awards. 

Polk’s determination, and his great work with Charles, led to touring all over the world and appearing on many television specials. Furthermore, Polk has been involved in different projects, becoming the pianist/arranger/conductor for artists including Hank Crawford, Zola Taylor and The Platters, and leading several bands such as James Polk & Company and JAMAD Sextet, where he played and recorded with fellow Austin-based musicians. 

Polk’s regular performances continue today in Austin, the town transformed by his music. This jazz piano master, who has certainly become a leading figure in the Austin’s history and music scene, currently performs as a leader, pianist and occasional singer with his trio, and the Centerpeace jazz Band, with whom he is working on a new album. 

Find out more about Dr. Polk here and here.

Mitch Watkins

Mitch Watkins discovered the guitar at age 13. Only months later, he was gigging with a surf band in McAllen, Texas. He hasn’t stopped since. His musical journey has taken him down many stylistic pathways, and to the far corners of the globe. He is most grateful for his talents and successes, and humbled by how much more there is to learn.

A man for all musical seasons.
– Jazz Times

Find out more about Mitch here.

Masumi Jones

Masumi Jones’ trajectory from hopeful adolescent to drumming virtuoso is a colorful one. She spent her teenage years in a medley of Japanese punk and pop-rock cover bands and under the musical tutelage of a drummer who introduced her to jazz. From the moment she heard Count Basie, she was hooked.

From there, it was Waseda University in Tokyo and an all-female big band, followed by Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Masumi formed a Japanese female trio, Groovin’ Girls. In 2008, she moved from Japan to Austin, where she is the drummer for psycho swingadelic jazz band the Jitterbug Vipers.

Learn more about Masumi here.