[5/11/17] "Frustrated by Trump, D.D. Jackson rekindles his passion for jazz" by Peter Hum
The Kanata-raised, New Jersey-based pianist D.D. Jackson can blame his resurgent interest in jazz on two people — an old colleague and a new president.
The Juno-winning recording artist is also an Emmy-winning composer who has crafted music for the children’s TV shows Peg + Cat and The Wonder Pets, among other projects. “After settling down and raising our two kids, I found myself wanting to be more in one place and to challenge myself in new creative directions, and writing for t.v. and media has filled the role perfectly for the past several years,” says Jackson, 50. As well, he has been teaching jazz history and coaching student ensembles at New York’s Hunter College for the last seven years.
However, Jackson recently moved jazz back to the front burner. One reason is the return to New York, after two decades in Paris, of tenor saxophonist David Murray, with whom Jackson began playing in the early 1990s.
Last week, Jackson played in Murray’s band at New York’s legendary Village Vanguard jazz club, and critic Fred Kaplan wrote of Jackson at stereophile.com: “He’s lost none of his brilliance, whether mad-dashing across the keyboard, comping with deep lyricism, or . . . well, anything the occasion demands. I hope Murray’s return means Jackson’s as well.”
Jackson’s other spur for playing jazz is Donald Trump; who has energized the pianist to protest through music.
Jackson, who will return to Ottawa May 18 and 19 for his first hometown performances in nearly 10 years, elaborates below.
Q: Tell me about your connection with David Murray.
A: David was one of my earliest mentors. I was first introduced to him by another great mentor of mine, the former Charles Mingus pianist Don Pullen, for whom I subbed on a crazy all-star tour organized by producer Kip Hanrahan in the early ’90s that included David on sax, as well as Little Jimmy Scott, violinist Billy Bang, and even Jack Bruce from the rock group Cream. Following the tour, David’s group came to play at the Village Vanguard and I could only get the nerve to ask if I could sit in after the last set of the week. He said, “Sure, any time!” and so I ended up having to wait another full year and a half until he came back to finally actually do so.
It thankfully went well, and I ended up playing with him shortly after at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which no doubt helped lead to my signing to Justin Time Records for many years, with David appearing on my first CD for them. I went on to play actively as his pianist in various groups until I started to do more of my own activities as leader. I’ve toured the world with him, and have appeared on four of his CDs and he on three of mine. David even introduced me to Questlove of The Roots for a project a few years ago, and it’s led to my working with them off and on for the past several years on projects big and small, including on their past two CDs.
Q: Will you be playing more with David?
A: That’s my hope. I’m extremely excited that he’s back in town after living in Paris for the past many years, so we’ll see where things go.
Q: How has Donald Trump’s election prompted an artistic response from you?
A: Trump’s election has unleashed in me such a sense of frustration, anger, opposition, and just a general wash of emotion, that it’s also awakened in me an increasing need to express myself artistically as directly and meaningfully as I can, as a sort of catharsis.
So it was really the combination of David Murray calling and my frustrations with Trump that inspired me creatively to sit down and write a series of new tunes that will form the basis of a new CD I have planned. One of them is entitled D.F.T. I’ll let you figure out what that stands for! But others are more melodious, and all of them are coming out of a desire to generally express myself as directly and immediately as possible, to try and connect with people in these trying times.
Q: Do the other jazz musicians and creative people feel as you do about Trump?
A: Trump is positively loathed by the entire musical community, as far as I am aware — certainly among the jazz musicians I know. Hillary wasn’t the perfect candidate, and I originally supported Bernie Sanders until Hillary was the winner of the Democratic nomination, but Trump is an existential threat to the very idea of America.
Q: Have you given any thought to moving back to Canada?
A: Yes, I’ve definitely occasionally flirted with the idea of returning, should the right opportunity arise — in fact, probably most intensely right after Trump’s election. It’s challenging, though, having settled in the New York City region with my family, and considering the various ties I’ve acquired in this area over time, including to the jazz community. Having said that, one can never say never, and Trudeau is looking pretty good comparatively as a leader. I actually wrote an opera with George Elliott Clarke about his dad [Pierre Trudeau] a few years ago.
Q: You’ll be playing next Thursday as the special guest of the Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival Highlights Concert. How significant is that for you?
When asked to participate, I leapt at the chance. I have so many fond memories of playing in the festival back when it was called the Ottawa Music Festival. It’s truly where I first got my start as a performer, from an extremely young age into high school. It’s satisfying to see the festival continue to thrive, and I’ll be excited to premiere some new material I’ve been working on.