Jessy J, known to Hemet locals as Jessica Arellano, turned her passion for music into a lucrative career
■ Matt McPherson / Contributed
Larry Mattox, who recently passed away, pioneered the Hemet Unified School District’s (HUSD) instrumental jazz department in the 1960’s. He implemented the program and continued to nurture and mentor student musicians at the elementary, middle and high school level. One such student was Jessica Arellano, who paid attention to her music teachers and developed into the world famous saxophonist Jessy J.
Jessica began learning piano at the age of four when she lived in Oregon; her family later moved to Hemet at the age of seven during the mid-1980s. She continued her piano instruction under Michi Swanson, where she studied music theory and participated in such classical competitions as The Bach Festival and Bartok Festival. Jessica reminisced about the very busy weekends of advanced piano tests and honor recitals.
Already well-versed in music, Jessica honed her skills in the HUSD music program, which dominated national and worldwide music competitions for three decades, especially the jazz program. Starting at the elementary level, Jessica began playing saxophone under the direction of Larry Mattox, then continued at Acacia Middle School with Ken Biskie. She then enhanced her methods at Hemet High School with music director Jeff Tower, who in 2012 was inducted into the California Alliance for Jazz Hall of Fame.
“I was saddened to hear about the passing of Mr. Maddox,” said Jessy. “He was a brilliant man and a wonderful teacher who always had a smile on his face. He will be missed.”
In high school she excelled in the jazz program, studying under saxophone teachers Charlie Richard from Riverside City College in addition to Gordon Brisker, both well-recognized local musicians and educators. Jessica graduated from Hemet High in 1997 and continued to cultivate her passion for the arts at USC, where she earned a degree in Jazz Studies. When getting ready to attend college, Jessica approached Hemet High School director Jeff Tower and asked him what instrument would be the best choice. Tower’s excellent advice encouraged Jessica to pursue a saxophone major rather than a piano major because the saxophone would open up more doors and offer an abundance of opportunities throughout different genres.
“My best advice to students starting out in the Hemet Music program,” said Jessy, “is to reach for the stars because anything is possible!” said Jessy. And she would know.
Jessy has performed on many hit television shows including “The Voice,” “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars.”
After performing on “American Idol,” judge Steven Tyler was so inspired by her talents that in 2012 he invited Jessy to play with Aerosmith on their album “Music From Another Dimension” and subsequently in 2015 she played with Taylor Swift. Later she went on “The Voice,” where she performed with Usher in addition to numerous other famous acts.
Some other notable musicians she’s performed with are Michael Bolton, Seal, Jessica Simpson and Michael Buble, Latin pop stars Gloria Trevi and Christian Castro, and jazz musicians Joe Sample, Harvey Mason, Ray Parker Jr., Gerald Albright and Norman Brown. Jessy has performed throughout the world and says her favorite destinations so far were Dubai, Nigeria, and Cuba.
One of Jessy’s musical idols growing up was George Gershwin, who played both classical and jazz music –genres that Jessy enjoys equally. Canon Ball Adderley’s music is another of her favorites.
“His music always made me feel happy,” said Jessy. “The R&B sound, but he also did a lot of music with Sergio Mendez, so I like his Brazilian influence in the jazz world as well and that is something I emulated.”
In college she began to follow artist Ricky Martin and his crossover sound of “La Vida Loca,” where he sang in both English and Spanish and made a huge international impact. This technique set the stage for the global style of jazz Jessy would go on to perform across the world in Portuguese, Spanish, English and jazz, which Jessy says is an international language in the form of music.
“I wanted to play something that people could understand all over the world.”
On the horizon, Jessy has several national and international gigs scheduled. In fact, on Saturday she’s playing at The Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival. Below is a link for those who wish to attend and support a local superstar. Recently, Jessy J has done clinics with universities and colleges, which concludes with a concert. Her albums include “My One and Only One,” “Second Chances,” “Tequila Moon,” “True Love” and “Hot Sauce.” Her most recent release was “California Christmas.”
She will be releasing another album of jazz standards in the coming year. Jessy J’s eclectic Latin style of jazz and mastery of multiple routines has allowed her to dominate the music scene for 10 years. Both of Jessica’s parents, Isabel and Elia Arellano, are retired and continue to live in Hemet, where she visits them frequently.
You can inquire about future performances and buy tickets on her website JessyJ.com.
Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival http://palmspringswomensjazzfestival.org/