Jessy J will perform with her band at Loews Ventana Canyon on Sunday. She headlines the Tucson Jazz Society's annual Primavera concert celebrating women in jazz.

Contemporary jazz saxophonist Jessy J is a fresh new face with a knack for recording CDs that zip up the music charts. Making up songs comes easy, she says, and she loves the speed of improvising on stage.

But she's also a creative person who believes in the power of positive planning.

"It is a little bit of a chess game," Jessy J said on the phone from her California home, talking about the career moves that propelled her to the top of the smooth-jazz charts in just a couple of years.

In 2008 she wrote and recorded the No. 1 hit "Tequila Moon," then followed up last year with the album "True Love," which has also enjoyed a long run on the smooth-jazz charts.

Now Jessy brings her band to Loews Ventana Canyon on Sunday to headline the Tucson Jazz Society's annual Primavera concert to celebrate women in jazz. Jessy J comes directly from the newest generation of these focused females.

"Having a solo career has always been my goal since I started in this business as a side person," said the young artist. "Every action has a reaction. So I spend a lot of time planning that."

Born in Portland, Ore., but raised in Hemet, Calif., this 28-year-old with a Mexican father and American mom from Texas has always made music her life. She started piano lessons at the impressionable age of 4.

Soon they were calling Jessy a child prodigy. Her student piano recitals attracted capacity audiences. At 15 she won the California state piano championship in that year's Béla Bartók Festival.

Being a born multi-tasker as well, she started playing saxophone and flute in her grade school band. A self-labeled "music nerd" in high school, she continued playing piano while studying jazz saxophone at the University of Southern California.

Upon graduation she promptly became an on-call studio musician in the highly competitive Los Angeles recording scene. Legend has it she struck up a conversation with guitarist/producer Paul Brown at an airport terminal one day, they became friends and a professional relationship followed.

In 2005 Brown suggested that Jessy create a smooth-jazz stage persona that Brown would produce and promote. They settled on Jessy J because Jessy was her real name (she was born Jessica Arellano) and J stood for "jazz."

And because, as she told the Saxophone Journal, "it's easy to remember and easy to Google." Yes, indeed . . . Jessy J does pay attention to details.

Having that successful follow-up album to "Tequila Moon" has kept this rising star in the smooth-jazz spotlight. She has been touring "True Love" since last August, evolving out of her past life playing on lots of recordings by other solo artists.

Now the challenge for Jessy J is to keep writing more hit songs and recording exciting instrumentals. Anticipating the changing face of contemporary jazz is all about appreciating the details, the blend of sounds, the inflection of rhythms.

"Jazz is always changing to whatever is in fashion," she said, confident it won't be changing without her. "When I'm writing a song I'm thinking, 'How will this sound 10 years from now?' "

As always, the creative part comes easy for Jessy. Almost every morning, she says, she wakes up with a new song in her head. Then, while she's taking a shower, brushing her teeth or fixing breakfast, she'll be singing along to that song, working out the harmony, hearing different phrasing.

By mid-afternoon or so, she'll have recorded all the notes. Her morning song is saved like a sketch in an artist's notebook.

Jessy says, "I'm writing almost every day."

Somehow, when she says it, the words don't sound like work.

Opening for Jessy J and her band is one of Tucson's rising jazz stars, pianist ArcoIris Sandoval with her trio.


Jessy J and her band, with ArcoIris Sandoval and her trio opening

• When: 7 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Kiva Ballroom at Loews Ventana Canyon, 7000 N. Resort Road.

• Tickets: $35 general admission, $25 Tucson Jazz Society members and active-duty military with ID.

• Reservations/information: or 903-1265.

Chuck Graham has written about the Tucson arts scene for 35 years. Read more of his arts coverage at Let the Show Begin at