Willis “Gator” Jackson was an American saxophonist known for his energetic and soulful playing style. Born on April 25, 1932, in Miami, Florida, Jackson grew up in a musical family and started playing the saxophone at a young age.
In the 1950s, Jackson began playing with R&B and soul bands, including those led by Cootie Williams and Bill Doggett. He quickly gained a reputation for his powerful and expressive playing, and his work with Doggett’s band helped popularize the “honking” saxophone sound that became a hallmark of early rock and roll.
Throughout his career, Jackson recorded over 60 albums as a bandleader and sideman, collaborating with a wide range of musicians across different genres. He was particularly known for his work in the soul jazz genre, blending R&B and jazz influences to create a unique and dynamic sound.
Some of Jackson’s most popular albums include “Gator’s Groove” (1961), “The Gator Horn” (1962), and “Gravy” (1964). He also recorded several albums with jazz organist Jack McDuff, including the acclaimed “Brother Jack Meets the Boss” (1962).
Jackson’s playing style was characterized by its raw energy and soulful intensity. He had a distinctive, gritty tone and a powerful sense of swing that made him a sought-after collaborator and session musician. His music continues to influence musicians in a variety of genres to this day.
Jackson passed away on October 25, 1987, but his legacy lives on through his recordings and the musicians he influenced. In recognition of his contributions to music, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993. Jackson’s dedication to his craft and his unique sound make him a true icon of the saxophone and a beloved figure in the jazz and R&B communities.
Page last updated 3/26/2023.