Saxophonist Art Sherrod Jr. loves to make music — and people love to hear it. It’s the kind of music that sets a mood and communicates with the soul.
The mellow sounds of his horn play confidently yet softly, filling the air like a flower’s sweet fragrance and blending with other instruments and voices. The music seems to rise from his gentle soul and bloom from his spirit.
Sherrod creates his own music frequently and plays it confidently and freely.
He also believes in sharing his talents with others. He’s masterful enough to play with the best in the business yet humble enough to perform for a church fundraiser or speak with students at his hometown high school.
Even as his top instrumental tunes — "Rhythm of Life,” “Smooth Groove,” and “Seasons” — trend on Sirius XM radio’s Watercolors channel all over the planet he continues performing in Texas and many other venues across the country both large and small.
The humble child who grew up in Palestine, Texas, has played with rhythm and blues greats like Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan, and Cuba Gooding Sr. He plays on stage with CeCe Peniston twice a year. She’s the R&B artist famous for the 1990s hit single “Finally.”
With five albums, several trending hits, and three decades of hard work behind him Sherrod, now 48, has reached a level that many jazz musicians strive for but rarely achieve.
“Sometimes I’m called to be the guest on shows, and sometimes I play with other performers,” Sherrod says. “I perform with a group from the UK called Loose Ends. They’re one of the biggest groups in the business.”
Sherrod says his life as a performing artist is challenging yet rewarding.
“Jazz is a beautiful genre of music. It’s very expressive and emotional,” he says. “As an artist, I just want people to know that the music I’m putting out is lively, it’s emotional [and] a lot of it comes from Palestine, Texas. I have elements of gospel, R&B, jazz — it’s all of those things.”
Sherrod’s latest album Art of Love came out in February. The album is a collection of romantic tunes performed as instrumental arrangements.
Michael Jackson’s “Lady in My Life,” Heatwave’s “Always and Forever,” Mint Condition’s “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” The Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets,” Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” are equally enjoyable in Sherrod’s adaptations.
Arrangements of Janet Jackson’s “I Get Lonely,” and Patti Labelle’s “If Only You Knew” also feature saxophone solos but include vocals throughout.
Sherrod’s previous albums include All 4 Love, Seasons, Intervention, and Back 2 Business. Intervention focuses on gospel music and features collaborations with other artists though most of his albums feature R&B and jazz tunes.
Lately Sherrod has set his sights on winning a Grammy with his own music but knows he’s already influencing his industry as a seven-year member of the Recording Academy.
He’s on the panel of judges that determines Grammy nominees in three of the 80-plus musical categories. He takes his role as a voting member seriously.
“I end up spending hours on end listening to tons of music because I want to give everyone their fair share,” he says. “It is very exciting because you’re really making a difference and influencing the industry.”
Sherrod chose the Washington, DC, area as his new home after moving there to attend the Naval Academy after graduating in 1991.
“I love it because I live three hours from New York, two from Philadelphia. I’m in an area where I’m right in the middle of everything.”
He rides the train to East Coast venues but flies to perform in cities in Texas and California.
Regardless of where he performs, Sherrod knows he’s come a long way since his birth and school years in Palestine — though he’s never left his early experiences completely behind. Both parents heavily influenced his creative side by singing gospel music at church in his early years. His mother also played the organ.
Sherrod’s parents also influenced his decision to play the saxophone. He originally wanted to play drums but couldn’t because his mother worked the night shift at the post office and slept during the day and his dad woke up early to work on the railroad.
Trumpet was his second choice but an aunt educated in music told him that playing it would push in his teeth. Sherrod says he chose the saxophone because that’s what the girls liked — which was important to him at age 13.
“Really, it was the saxophone that chose me,” he says, chuckling. “I played that saxophone for hours on end. I was naturally drawn to it.”
Nothing came easy though. Success in music always took hard work — including earning enough money to buy his own instrument.
“I was cutting lawns, washing cars….I was doing everything I could to earn enough money to buy my first saxophone,” he says. “I was always self-motivated, even when I was a little kid.”
While growing up in Palestine he listened to a variety of musical genres — Rap, Country and Western, Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Hip-Hop, Gospel, and Jazz — which still influence his creative process.
Performing in front of others was another struggle in his school years. If band director Jimmy Shelton asked him to play in front of the band Sherrod asked if he could turn the other way while performing.
“When I was in school I was super shy about playing in front of people,” Sherrod says, admitting that he still hasn’t overcome stage fright.
“Every time I get on stage I’m always nervous, which is one of those things people don’t know about me,” he says.
Upon graduation Sherrod considered studying music in college but didn’t have the money for it and he couldn’t picture himself becoming a musician. His image of a musician was someone who played on street corners for donations.
“Society had painted a very poor picture of what a musician’s life was like,” Sherrod says. “I think if I had someone that came by and mentored us I might have gone a different direction.”
At the time Sherrod did not think pursuing a career in music was a good decision. He looked into studying music beyond high school, but instead chose to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he studied general sciences.
Sherrod fell in love with the area and continued living there after leaving the Navy to pursue a career in music. However, the jump from Navy midshipman to professional musician did not happen overnight.
It took a couple years before he was able to support himself as a performing artist. His first gig was as an instrumentalist with Cuba Gooding Sr. and the Main Ingredient who were famous for the hit “Everybody Plays the Fool.”
“I didn’t have anyone giving me the inside information on the things I needed to do,” he says.
“I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
The band gave him a start but success came after he began following his intuition to pursue a career as a solo artist.
“That’s when life really changed for me,” he says. “You call your own shots. It’s a whole different thing and I love it.”
As an independent musician, Sherrod writes and co-writes music with other musicians. He decides where to play and whom to play with and frequently invites guest artists to collaborate on his albums.
He also has the freedom to decide which instrument to perform with. Alto and tenor saxophone are Sherrod’s primary instruments, but he also plays soprano and bass saxophone, flute, percussion, and keyboards. Singing is one of his newest endeavors.
Sherrod’s roots to the region still run deep but people are surprised to hear he’s from the Upper East Side of Texas because he doesn’t have a Texas accent. He humbly appreciates his ties to the region.
He married Texan Georgia Noone Sherrod — after meeting her in the Baltimore area — and remains a loyal Dallas Cowboys fan.
He also maintains connections with friends and family who still live in the area. His father, Art Sherrod Sr., lives in the Dallas area.
Most importantly, Sherrod never forgets the community he grew up in. He is also more humble than many music stars and values sharing his gifts with others. He sometimes returns to Palestine to perform, mentor, and inspire others with his music as a way of giving back.
“It was part of my household when I was growing up,” Sherrod says. “It’s something my mom and dad instilled in me. I was told I should share my gifts, share [my] talent.”
In 2014 Sherrod performed at a Palestine High School band fundraiser that helped purchase a trailer to haul the students’ instruments to football games and marching competitions.
He performed a gospel concert fundraiser for a local church known as By God’s Grace Ministries in 2019. Pastor Lee and Denice Kinder at the church asked him to perform a gospel jazz concert to help the church raise funds.
“It was great because I saw a lot of familiar faces,” Sherrod says.
No program is too big or too small for Sherrod to serve others. He served as an ambassador for the American Heart Association in 2016 and currently serves on a local board of Girl Scouts of America.
He also sometimes mentors for the nonprofit Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas and for a similar organization in Washington, DC’s Shaw District.
“It’s easy to give, especially when you know you’re impacting some people’s lives,” he says.
By visiting with high school students Sherrod says he can help younger people believe in their ability to pursue a career in music.
“When I was a student there I didn’t have anyone who could come back and share what the music industry was like,” Sherrod says. “To have someone mentor me would have been great.”
“I go back from time to time to work with the high school and middle school bands. Ideally, I just want to motivate them in the area of music,” Sherrod says. “I was excited about coming back and spending time with them. They had a lot of really great questions.”
In the years immediately after high school while Sherrod attended the Naval Academy he says he hardly ever played his saxophone.
“For three out of five years I didn’t even pick up my horn,” he says, lowering his voice tone as if admitting a dark secret from his past. “One year I went home and took my horn back with me.”
He tells aspiring musicians that success is about hard work and frequent practice.
“I tell them to establish a work ethic and just stick to it,” he says. “Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone influence you to not play music.”
Palestine High School Band Director Adrian Alonso says Sherrod’s visit in 2019 greatly impressed his band students.
“As an educator, I was impressed with his ability to relate to the kids,” Alonso says. “They wanted to pick up their instruments and start communicating through music like Art did.”
Some of those students are planning to follow music as a career due to Sherrod’s visit.
As an alto sax player Alonso fully appreciates Sherrod’s talent.
“He’s got a monstrous sound,” Alonso says, noting how proud he is that someone of his caliber is from Palestine.”
Higher education is another significant piece of Sherrod’s success. He earned a master’s degree in business because he recognizes the importance of understanding business in the music industry.
“Once you actually get into the music industry, your success isn’t necessarily just wrapped around the music that you play,” he says. “There’s a lot of business involved, and you have to understand.”
He says the business of music involves balance sheets, how to negotiate contracts, and how they monetize. His music business is known as A-Train Enterprises.
Sherrod pursued a general science major while attending the Naval Academy. He later completed a master’s degree in business with the University of Phoenix.
“I didn’t study music in college which required me to work a little harder,” he says.
Now pursuing the career he loves, Sherrod’s hard work in music and business are paying off.
Sherrod describes himself as a quiet, creative person who loves his family and is blessed with the opportunity to pursue music as a career.
“The opportunity to be creative and do something you love isn’t something many people get the chance to do,” he says. “I consider myself a very blessed man.”