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Jerron Paxton

Jerron Paxton was born in 1989 in South Central Los Angeles and grew up surrounded by his Louisiana emigré family: four generations on a single block. He lived with his mother, a set of grandparents, an uncle, and an aunt. His great-grandmother, born in 1906, lived across the street. He first tried to learn fiddle at 12, taking lessons at school on Saturdays, but soon switched to banjo, guitar, and piano. While he claims to not have come from a musical family, he admits that his father was a session drummer who "played with some big people before they were big, then they got big and left him." Local radio station KLON (now KKJZ) played jazz and blues, which informed Jerron's musical preferences, as did 1970s pop and soul hits and classical music programs he'd see on public television.

Among all the older generations that surrounded him, he shared the tightest bond with his mother's mother, Toretear (pronounced TORE-ee-uh-tur) Reed. Jerron found her entertaining, and the two would spend hours talking about, listening and dancing to blues, ragtime, and jazz records. Ultimately, Jerron was most drawn to country blues and the intimacy of men with guitars singing narratives: Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and Bukka White. According to his mother, Jerron "always had at least two instruments with him everywhere he'd go."

When he was 16, he played his first official concert, earning $100 in South Central's West Adams neighborhood, playing songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightnin' Hopkins. It was also at about this time that Jerron's eyesight began to fail him, and at 17, he was diagnosed with congenital retinal deterioration and cone dystrophy; he was legally blind.

In 2007, while teaching himself to play piano, Jerron began spending time with jazz and ragtime pianist Brad Kay, who'd been performing around L.A. since the mid-1960s. They would listen to Kay's huge record collection, talk about music, and play, with Kay giving Jerron pointers.

Jerron would be the first in his family to go to college, attending Marist College near Poughkeepsie, New York. He studied philosophy and history, but would often cut classes to spend time in the music room in order to practice piano. Whenever he could, he went to New York City to explore the folk scene. He discovered The Jalopy in Brooklyn, where he met the Wileys; Feral Foster (who hosted the "Roots and Ruckus" hootenannies on Wednesday nights); Eli Smith (Down Hill Strugglers, host of the online Down Home Radio Show, co-founder of the Brooklyn Folk Festival); and banjo player Hubby Jenkins (now a member of the old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops).

In 2010 he transferred to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Greenwich Village and began sitting in with his roommate's jazz band, the Bill Murray Experience, playing banjo and piano. After two semesters he dropped out of the New School to pursue music full-time. This year Paxton will serve as artistic director of the Port Townsend festival, where he'll play and teach in late July and August.