Teodross Avery on Defining His Sound

and Interview with Jordan VanHemert


View the full interview here.

Teo's setup

About Teodross Avery

As a musician, Dr. Teodross “Teo” Avery stands as one who defines live music—best experienced front row, and full throttle. His commanding presence, on stage and off, reflects his musical ingenuity and skill. With an outstanding pedigree, both professionally and academically, Teo is a young saxophonist to watch, as evidenced by many of today’s biggest names in music relying on his wide musical reach.

While growing up in Oakland and Vacaville, California, Teo’s parents exposed him to a wide range of musical including traditional African music, Soul, Rock, and Jazz. At ten, his father started him with classical guitar lessons. Jolted by the sound of John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps,’ Teo switched to the saxophone. As a testament to his young promise, the great Wynton Marsalis purchased a saxophone for him. Teo eventually won a full music scholarship at 17 to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

While at Berklee, renowned A&R exec, Carl Griffin of GRP/Impulse Records, heard of Teo’s new cutting edge sound and eventually signed him at 19, stating, “I was so thoroughly impressed with his lyricism and writing talent”. In 1994, Teo launched his first album In Other Words, which was welcomed by critical acclaim, including a five star review in USA Today. Still an undergraduate, Teo was now feverishly in demand by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Ramsey Lewis. He balanced all of these demands and completed college while on the road in 1995.

After graduating, with a wealth of professional experience to add, Teo did what any other talented musician would do – he tackled New York City. He landed a performing role in the successful film Love Jones in 1995. He then launched his second album, My Generation, under the GRP/Impulse label, in 1996. He performed with the likes of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove, Leela James, Roy Ayers, Mos Def, and the late great Betty Carter, among many other great musicians. Lauryn Hill requested him as a member of her sold-out world tour from 1998 to 1999. On the heel of the Lauryn Hill tour, Teo was invited in 2000 to tour with the mega rock group Matchbox Twenty.

As a composer and producer, Teo has amassed a stunning number of credits, which include the feature films Beauty Shop, Brown Sugar, Love Jones, as well as the documentary The N Word(Tivo). He has also written music for Amy Winehouse’s debut album, ‘Frank’ (Island Records) .

His television performances include: Blackish (2015), American Idol, MTV’s TRL, The Ellen Degeneres Show, The CBS Morning Show with Epic Recording Artist, Shakira (2006), VHI, Regis & Kelly with Leela James (2005); The Essence Awards, Soul Train Awards, Source Awards, Saturday Night Live, MTV Awards, Billboard Music Awards with Lauryn Hill (1998-99).

As a session saxophonist, Teo has collaborated with a number of award-winning artists on their productions, including Amy Winehouse – Frank (Island Records) 2004 Gold Record; G-Unit All Stars (Shady/Aftermath Records) 2004 3X Platinum; Joss Stone – Mind, Body, & Soul (EMI)2004 2X Platinum; Talib Kweli – Quality (Rawkus Records) 2002 Gold Record; Talib Kweli – Reflection Eternal (Rawkus Records) 2000 Gold Record; Dee Dee Bridgewater – Dear Ella(Verve Records) 2X Grammy Winner 1997.

Teo holds a Masters degree in Music from the prestigious Steinhardt School of Education at New York University and received a Doctorate in Jazz Studies (DMA) from the University of Southern California. He is also the recipient of multiple awards, including The Sony Innovator Award(1992), The National Foundation for The Advancement in The Arts’ Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship (1992), and The NAACP ACT-SO Award (1991).


About Jordan VanHemert

Dr. Jordan VanHemert is a Michigan-based saxophonist and composer lauded for his skill as a modern jazz improviser. VanHemert’s music—including his new album I AM NOT A VIRUS—is deeply informed by his political consciousness, employing his distinctive compositional voice to address issues of race and social justice.

VanHemert’s works speak directly and intentionally to modern listeners, daring to touch on controversial themes like the Black Lives Matter protests and the Coronavirus pandemic. Critics recognize VanHemert’s music as being profoundly relevant; noted jazz journalist and historian Scott Yanow recently praised VanHemert’s debut release as “quite impressive,” stating that his piece “Autumn Song” “could eventually become a standard.”

VanHemert proudly asserts his Korean-American identity through his music, sometimes reharmonizing traditional Korean melodies into a contemporary jazz idiom. As the world grapples with racism and xenophobia—embodied by the unjust hostility toward Asian-Americans in the midst of a global pandemic—VanHemert fights back with the unflinching musical retort, I am not a virus.

VanHemert serves on the faculty at Hope College as Assistant Professor of Music Instruction in saxophone and jazz studies. He is also the Music Director of the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to jazz advocacy, education, and performance. As an active composer, VanHemert has fulfilled commissions for ensembles across the country, including works for the Zenith Saxophone Quartet, Friends University Vocal Jazz Ensemble, the Bradley University Jazz Ensemble, Greenhill (TX) School Flute Choir, and many others. He holds degrees from Central Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

VanHemert is a Vandoren Artist-Clinician and Selmer Paris Saxophones Performing Artist. He performs exclusively on Vandoren reeds and mouthpieces and Selmer Paris saxophones.

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