The Jazz Passengers were founded in 1987 by Saxophonist Roy Nathanson and Trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. The two musicians met in the band of the Big Apple Circus and toured extensively together in John Lurie's seminal band The Lounge Lizards. They found strong affinity in their Brooklyn roots, their affection for hard bop, comedy and eccentric currents in modern American music. In l989 Bob Blumenthal wrote in the Boston Globe, "The seven piece Passengers often suggest a perverse mainstrean band, a hard-bop group as imagined by Frank Zappa." This is an apt description of the two leaders intention in forming the band.
Besides Nathanson and Fowlkes the original band members included Bill Ware on vibes, E. J. Rodriguez on percussion, Brad Jones on bass, Jim Nolet on violin and Marc Ribot on guitar. It is now a six piece band without guitar and with Sam Bardfeld on violin. Recently the Passengers have recorded infrequently as a full ensemble, though the individual bandmembers' recent side projects tend to feature many fellow Passengers, as well as a similarly skewed musical sensibility.