Born in Fairborn, Ohio in 1965, Turner grew up in Southern California where his parents exposed him to a fertile mix of jazz, R&B, and gospel. Starting out on clarinet in elementary school, he quickly gravitated to the saxophone, inspired in part by the fact that his father, who died when Turner was not yet two, had played the instrument. While music was a driving passion, he initially studied design and illustration at California State University, Long Beach and played in various jazz ensembles before transferring to Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music. During these years, he studied his idols, dissecting the solos of artists like John Coltrane, Lester Young, Joe Henderson, Warne Marsh, and others. Graduating in 1990, he moved to New York City, where he quickly found himself an in-demand performer, playing live and recording with Leon Parker, Ryan Kisor, and Jimmy Smith. He also began leading his groups, and by the early '90s, had begun developing his own distinctive approach to jazz, playing highly intellectual, probing solos rife with nuanced harmonies and motivic development. It was a sound he displayed on his 1995 Criss Cross debut, Yam Yam, playing alongside the similarly thoughtful talents of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jorge Rossy.