Three-time GRAMMY nominated saxophonist JAMES “SAXSMO” GATES, JR. is a man of fate and favor. His fate was sealed as the son of the late James Bryant “Boo” Gates, Sr. who played saxophone for Della Reese’s band, and Lula a dancer at the world-famous Cotton Club in New York City. The sights and sounds of acclaimed musicians visiting his home as a child resonated, and he too embraced a love for music. And he embraced it in a big way, imbibing the language, rhythms, and measures of jazz – a most complicated musical genre – and surrendering fully to the thing that would change his life.
While a student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Gates learned that Ella Fitzgerald would be performing in the Boston Symphony Hall. Unable to purchase a ticket, Gates dressed in his best waited until the end of Fitzgerald’s performance, in the pouring rain, just to get a chance to speak with her. His tenacity was rewarded. Fitzgerald was exiting the hall and about to enter her limousine when she noticed Gates, who introduced himself. Impressed, Fitzgerald serenaded him with the song Singin’ in the Rain.
She also left him with this advice, “Young man, make sure that you continue to get good grades, keep the music alive. We need young lions like yourself to preserve the music.”
Gates is a native son of Richmond, Virginia who has traveled extensively around the globe. He has performed with such notables as American jazz violinist and educator Joe Kennedy, Jr., Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Walter Davis, Jr., Walter Bishop, Jr., Alan Dawson, The Temptations, Dianne Reeves, Jimmy Cobb, Hod O’Brien, Larry Willis, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Larry Carlton, Jeff Lorber, Cyrus Chestnut, Chris Botti, Billy Kilson, Terrance Blanchard, Alex Bugnon, Delfeayo Marsalis, and The Main Ingredient.
Over the years he has assembled musicians who are colleagues, classmates, students, and personal friends for his various performance and recording projects. Berklee professor and saxophonist Walter Beasley, educator and musician Branford Marsalis, the incomparable Fred Wesley of James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic fame, an elite group of North Carolina Central University and Virginia State University faculty combined with Richmond’s stellar list of artists that make up the 804 Jazz Allstars have all been his partners in the creation of musical art.
In the spirit of Miss Fitzgerald’s advice, James Gates, Jr. is the director and coordinator of the Dr. Billy Taylor Jazz Studies Program at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia, where he preserves the music through a talented array of young musicians making their own marks. He is also a proud member of the Cannonball Instruments family of Saxophone Artists and Educators.