All Heart and Soul
Harlan Jefferson has played saxophone from New Orleans to Los Angeles, but he’s most comfortable when he’s home in Rockford. “My family and friends are here,” he says. “I feel the same way Rick Nielsen (of Cheap Trick) does. I like to get out of the area and play, but there’s no place like home.”
Especially these days. Earlier this year, Jefferson suffered a mild heart attack and spent six days in the hospital. The health scare, he says, has made him a changed man. “I’m more humble.”
Jefferson grew up in a musical family. His father, A.Z., taught him how to play saxophone. “When my father wasn’t playing in clubs, he was practicing in the basement,” Jefferson says. “He always had a lot of drive.” By age 10, Jefferson was performing in front of crowds. In junior high, he earned the nickname ‘national anthem player,’ for performing the song at sporting events throughout the Midwest, including Bulls games. While the saxophone is his money maker, Jefferson can play all wood instruments, and dabbles in piano and the drums.
Jefferson once worked for the Rockford Park District, but now devotes his time to the entertainment business. He’s been a deejay and given private lessons, but the saxophone has opened doors. “It was a hobby that turned into my profession.”
So far, Jefferson has recorded three albums and is now working on a Christmas album. His style can best be described as smooth jazz. “I have a soulful manner,” he says. “It’s R&B, jazz and funk without the vocals.”
When he’s not traveling for private functions, Jefferson can be found performing all over Rockford, including Giovanni’s, Franchesco’s, the Sinnissippi Band Shell and Mary’s Place. The venue doesn’t matter. “It’s about the music.”
His set list is expansive – the Eagles, Beatles, Rolling Stones, John Legend and Bruno Mars, among others. His idols include Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, even Beethoven.
“My diversity has kept me alive,” he says. “I live to work for all of God’s children. Music is a universal language. I once worked on a Spanish project. I didn’t understand it, but I felt it.”
As Jefferson recovers from his health issues, his music takes on an even greater importance. “Professionally, I’m further than I’ve ever been,” he says, “but God isn’t done with me yet.”