Willis “Gator” Jackson originally established himself as a honking R&B tenor saxophonist before modifying his style and becoming a success in hard bop/soul-jazz.
Jackson was born in Florida, where he played as a teen- ager with the celebrated trumpeter Fats Navarro and other future jazz stars. He turned down offers of employment from Lionel Hampton and Andy Kirk in order to complete a college education at Florida A&M. Jackson initially played locally until he got his big break and joined Cootie Williams in 1948.
Jackson was showcased honking and screaming throughout the two-sided recording “Gator Tail” which earned him the nickname of “Gator” and led to him making his first records as a leader in 1950.