Taking the stage at Columbia’s Main Street Public House in late September, a little more than a month before his 79th birthday, Skipp Pearson appeared as vital as ever.
Backed by a group of polished younger players key to the current live jazz scene here in the Midlands — bassist Reggie Sullivan, keyboardist Nick Brewer, trumpeter Mark Rapp, drummer Chris Church — the renowned Columbia saxophonist blew with colorful determination, displaying energy and dexterity that belied both his age and visible frailty, beaming out at the audience after each tune.
“Skipp kinda brings out the best in everybody,” Rapp says. “I get around him and I just get so inspired. I get centered. All the crazy thoughts in my head disappear, and I find myself truly in the moment. When you listen to Skipp play, he plays so melodically and soulfully. You stop trying to be this complicated, technical, heady intellectual jazzer and you just find yourself in a place where all you’re trying to do is play beautiful, soulful melodies.”
With his signature black fedora planted on his head, Pearson chortled and chatted in the break between sets, greeting familiar friends and fresh faces, putting a gracious face on the music he loves. He’s been at this for a long time, and on this particular night, his experience showed through with potency, an artist and ambassador in firm command of his talents.
“I like to share. I have to share. I get to share,” offers Pearson, affectionately known as Pops, during an hour-long sit down in October at Le Cafe Jazz, the club at the top of Finlay Park that he’s presided over since 2011, playing there most weeks. “This has been my thing. And I’m still at it. And I love it when the young guys come and play. Some young wizards coming up.”
His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. He’s played with such greats as Otis Redding, Wynton Marsalis and Sam Cooke across his five-decade career, and the South Carolina Senate appointed him as the state’s official ambassador of jazz.
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