Excited that the 8th annual Hunter Pop Combos is now up - you can listen to it here on Soundcloud. It features the Pop Combos class I coached from this past December, and includes 2 originals developed by the students in class.
I had the pleasure today of performing in the first of a series of concerts organized by Michael Vander Does featuring an all-star lineup of Kidd Jordan, Hamiet Bluiett, Marlon Jordan, Oliver Lake, plus some accomplished Columbus musicians. We began the process of doing a really free form collective improv to Michael and Oliver's poetry. There was tremendous, cacophonous energy in the room, but also a tendency a bit more towards the tried and true than might usually be the case with this particular combination of musicians. Bluiett definitely sensed something was going on – at one point he even came and sat right beside me on my piano stool, and practically tried to " will me" to play more "out" and and with more energy. After the break, he then proceeded to conduct which can only be considered a true master class in embracing the moment, and playing "truly" free. After graciously been given permission by Michael, he essentially took over and proceeded in the second set to really break down and then build back up the entire group, piece by piece . First, he began with having me play a solo, instructing me to segue into Don Pullen's beautiful tune "Ode to Life", and then asked me, as I played, to "take it out" – deconstruct it, and push boundaries, which I proceeded to attempt to do, ending in a climactic coming back to tonality towards the end. After my "feature", he similarly had just Oliver Lake, and then the bassist, guitarist, drummer, and Kidd Jordan all take turns playing, with the focus again very much on embracing the moment, and on the individuality of each of the player's voices. Collectively towards the end, the degree of heightened awareness and interaction among the band members was palpable - a true master class in deconstructing and building back up, always embracing the moment, listening, and generally going with the flow, by the master himself, Hamiet Bluiett. The lesson continued at Michael's place until 2:30 in the morning afterwards as we jammed in Michael's living room, with Bluiett leading/cajoling/conducting. Good times.
What an honor and privilege to play with the great Hamiet Bluiett again this past Saturday at the Vision Festival, as well as with Hamid Drake on drums/percussion and Bob Stewart on tuba. Bluiett is truly one of the most fearless jazz musician I know, a living breathing monument to embracing the moment and to breaking down all musical barriers (beyond all this, it was also just hugely playful, subversive fun :-))...(thanks also to Joyce Jones for the photo forward!)
I'm admittedly enjoying my "walk down memory lane" as I update my new website. The latest page addition features some excerpts from my jazz opera "Quebecite", which originally premiered several years ago at the Guelph Jazz Festival, and was subsequently broadcast across Canada on CBC Radio. Included is an early demo; a version of one of my pieces by the great Dean Bowman, a couple of tracks from my CD "Serenity Song", and an excerpt from the opera's premiere.
I had a week of rare "down time" so finally got around to the task of consolidating my two previous websites - for Composing for Media and my longstanding Artistshare site for jazz - into a single, new website at http://ddjackson.com. I hope you'll check it out! Through the sleek magic of Squarespace, I'm excited to be able to include under one roof all sorts of fun archival material, from videos, to audio, to my complete Living Jazz Podcasts, some of my Downbeat Living Jazz columns and other writings, and more...It's at: http://ddjackson.com with more material to be added regularly.
Here's the Hunter College Popular Music Combos 2015-16 CD (directed/produced/mixed by myself, with guest director Nick Didkovsky doing the same for 2 of the tunes). The CD features 3 student originals out of the 8 total tunes, plus arrangements of pop music ranging from Seal, Amy Winehouse, to Lissie and Fetty Wap. It was done "guerrilla style" with each group allowed 1 hour in the studio (with "guerrilla mixing" done later in my and Nick's home studios :-)):
Excited and honored to have just won the Hunter College 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching (part-time). Among those pictured in this photo from tonight's reception: to my left is Annette Insdorf (whose family generously sponsors the award in memory of her mother, Cecile Insdorf), plus Hunter's President Jennifer Raab. There but not pictured: my beautiful wife Elizabeth Jackson, who attended with me :-)).
Saxist Ian Hendrickson-Smith and trumpeter Dave Guy (horn section from The Roots) jamming and playing killer horns with my students (pictured: vocalist Sarina Mordukhayeva and Alfredo Hernandez on bass) during the Final Concert (Spring semester) of the Hunter Pop Combos class I direct, this past Tuesday :-):
RIP fellow Canadian pianist Paul Bley, whom I'll have the pleasure of again exposing to my Hunter College History of Jazz students next week in the intensive Winter Session class I'm currently teaching (for the 7th consecutive year). Paul was a great inspiration (we both also recorded for Justin Time Records out of Montreal) and I will always remember introducing myself to him in the early 90s when his trio (with Swallow and Guiffre) were about to perform for a week at Sweet Basil, down from my old studio apartment on Leroy and 7th Ave in the Village. When he found out I lived so close and that I was about to leave town on tour for a week -and especially when I inquired about lessons with him - he offered to give me them in exchange for my letting him stay in my place while I was away. When I returned, my tiny apartment had been transformed beyond the point of possible recognition - incredibly cleaned, organized - he had even bought a nice rice jar that I still use and have to this day (!) And while I never got the promised lessons, I consider it a fair trade and will always remember my unusual encounter with this truly original (and wonderfully subversive and quirky) musician (and personality :-))...RIP, Paul.
Really delighted to be spending a few days at Virginia Tech near my former teacher Don Pullen's home town of Roanoke, Virginia, and to be taking part in a fascinating Don Pullen project. Jason Crafton, a professor here and the director of their Jazz Ensembles, has actually commissioned several people to do big band arrangements of several of Don's pieces, including "Big Alice", "Saturday Night in the Cosmos", "Resting on the Road", "1529 Gunn Street", and a solo piano version I'll be doing of his beautiful composition "Ode to Life". Not only will we be performing the material live tonight (with myself sitting in on piano) at the Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg, but I also participated in an actual CD recording of this and other Don Pullen material he's putting together with his students - truly a labor of love, but also something that I think will ultimately cause Don's incredible compositional abilities to come to the attention of more and more people, which is always a good thing :)...
I also got a chance to look at a portion of the documentary "Jazz Dancing" (some of which they'll be playing tonight), which covers that whole tumultuous period when Don was working on his last, great project - Earth Eagle First Circle (a collaboration between his African Brazilian Connection, the Chief Cliff Singers, and the Garth Fagan Dance Company). It was like looking into a time capsule, seeing so many familiar faces on film from the 90's (since I was brought in towards the end to sub for him when he was too sick to perform)...
Just got back from Philly and a "concert for the ages" - a tribute to the late, brilliant Roots manager/producer Richard Nichols featuring Questlove, Black Thought, David Murray, Jeremy Ellis, Emily Wells, "Captain Kirk" Douglas, Rahzel, Bilal, Kenny Muhammad, Vernon Reid, Raymond Angry, Mark Kelley, Craig Harris, Reverence Vince, the Metropolis Ensemble directed by Andrew Cyr, plus myself on piano and as one of the arrangers (along with Anthony Tidd). Far from a traditional memorial service, it was a send-off in true Richard fashion, modeled after the several similarly-styled concerts we've put on at BAM, Philly's Kimmel Center, the Public Theater, and most recently at Radio City Music Hall, featuring often violently juxtaposing styles that reflected Richard's remarkably eclectic - yet somehow strangely logical and highly curated - tastes. Several people close to him - both family and friends - also spoke movingly about the Richard they new, giving me even more insight into this great man. The first half ended with my arrangement of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain", and after Kirk KILLED on guitar and Questlove took things to the stratosphere at the end, I already felt a sense of catharsis and could have gone home satisfied. But there was still a 2nd half to come, and Questlove's choice for us to play Tony Williams' "There Comes a Time" at the Memorial's end (to which I added a string arrangement), featuring solos by David Murray, Vernon Reid, and a cacaphonic collective solo involving myself as well as Ray Angry on keys, and ending with the words "I love you more when it's over" and with the music abruptly stopping - was the perfect evening closer. Afterwards, I truly didn't want to leave the stage - afraid that Richard's spirit would somehow be left behind with it. But I now realize that this is impossible - his ability to challenge, to push me into areas that he saw me capable of doing with such quiet, casual confidence that it literally re-programmed my brain into being able to just DO it - this will stay with me forever.
In memory of today’s 9th anniversary of 9/11, here’s a piece I composed entitled “Final Invocation (Towers of Light)” from my 2003 Justin Time Records CD “Suite for New York”. The CD itself was both a celebration of the spirit of New York as well as a meditation on the events of 9/11. Throughout the album were interspersed various “Invocations”, which were personal meditations on that fateful day played by my group’s individual members, and based upon a “rising/falling” melody I sketched for them. The “Final Invocation” presented here is the final track on the CD; a sort of collective improv for full ensemble, with the different sections conducted by myself in response to the emotions being created by the players at the moment.
There are a couple of remarkable solos in the piece – the first by legendary “Night of the Cookers” alto saxophonist James Spaulding; the 2nd by Vancouver-based cellist Peggy Lee, with further “commentary” by myself, trumpeter Brad Turner, and violinist Christian Howes. At the end, there is a feeling of at least some sense of “closure”, evoking (to me) the same sense of spirits ascending to the heavens that the actual “Towers of Light” memorial inspired in me and which compelled me to write this piece in the first place.
Personnel: myself (pianist/composer/conductor); Brad Turner – trumpet; Peggy Lee – cello; David Mott – baritone sax; James Spaulding – alto sax; Christian Howes – violin; Dafnis Prieto – drums, and Ugonna Okegwo – acoustic bass.
I recently found out that violinist Billy Bang has died, and it's heartbreaking - it was just this past December that I participated in one of his last American performances - a concert at Sista's Place in Brooklyn, as part of a new version of "The Group". My thoughts can't help but turn to the liner notes I wrote about Billy for my duo CD's, "Paired Down, Vol.'s I & II (on which he also appeared), so I've included some of them here:
"In the early 90's, a "conservative New York-based jazz writer" prominent at the time walked into the club where I had just finished the final set with violinist Billy Bang’s Quartet, and the first words out of his mouth were: "Hey, Billy - still playing out of tune?" If he had arrived ten minutes earlier, he would have heard one of the most brilliant music makers on the planet at the top of his creative game. In an entirely ad-libbed, "free association" solo, Billy proceeded to call upon all manners of tradition, experience, and just plain "craziness". He evoked the blues. He emitted squeaks and cries and squawks from his instrument one would never have thought possible. And at one particularly inspired moment, he went about the room, using the various "room props" at his disposal - the bar stool, the picture frame, the table - as sound inspiration for his at-the-moment evocation.
So here it was, ten minutes later, and now all this critic could think to ask was a question regarding Billy’s tuning? The only response I could think of was "well, when Billy was tapping the picture frame he might have been a little flat". Clearly someone who had missed the point of Billy’s playing, which wasn’t about technical perfection (though he certainly achieved this, in his own way), or playing "correctly" or "swinging" (though he did those things, and then some, in his own way, as well) according to some stuffy textbook definition of what jazz is and isn’t supposed to be. Billy’s playing was about the spirit of giving your all; the ability to play consistently on the edge, ever-taking chances, dealing with the pain and joy of his own life experience in an often achingly beautiful, or achingly painful way. It was about true inspiration, forged with awareness of tradition and his own past. And in doing all of these things, it was about playing a music that goes beyond simple categorization, playing a music that can only best be described as "Bang Music"."
Now, of course, Billy and his "Bang Music" - that remarkable universe of musical expression that he created, is gone. May we keep the spirit of his music alive forever.
It's been a busy and hectic year thus far. In addition to my activities as jazz pianist/composer (including being a part-time faculty member at Hunter College, teaching courses in Popular Music and Jazz History), I have been enjoyably making a transition from constant live performance towards a more manageable schedule involving composing for film and t.v. My most recent projects have included writing for the Nickelodeon show "The Wonder Pets" (which recently received it's second Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition), another charming children's show entitled "3rd & Bird" (which will make it's Disney Channel debut in 2011 and has been showing in over 15 markets around the world including Canada and the BBC), and writing and performing the complete underscore for the Sinking Ship Productions children's "reality show" "The Ocean Room" (currently showing in Canada). A composition of mine, "Lushly", was also recently licensed for a fascinating National Film Board of Canada documentary "Professor Norman Cornett", concerning an against-the-grain professor at McGill who was ultimately unceremoniously dismissed, and his unorthodox - but affecting - teaching methods. I am also currently in the process of revamping my website to better reflect my interest in writing for children's television and my other projects (so check back soon).
On the jazz front, I'm looking forward to the upcoming theatrical premiere of my jazz-influenced opera: "Trudeau: Long March/Shining Path" (written with librettist George Elliott Clarke), which will receive a week-long run in Halifax, Canada, this June (produced by Vocalypse Productions). And I recently was called by none other than Bill Cosby to be a member of his "Cos of Good Music" band at the upcoming Playboy Jazz Festival in Hollywood, California (he apparently heard me performing on the radio on James Carter's last CD for Universal and tracked me down).
Finally, I am as always enjoying settling down a bit more as father of 3-year old Jarrett and now 15 month old Aria :-)...
Just finished a low-key but strangely energizing gig with vocalist Dean Bowman at a small club in Brooklyn called "Puppet's". It's a club that's been around for over a year and which was started by Jaime Aff, himself an accomplished drummer in his own right (and who, in fact, sat in with us that day). The bass player was the inimitable Rael Wesley Grant, a virtuoso on the six-string bass. The "strange" part of the occasion occured during our first night there a week earlier, in which the audience consisted of a few stragglers off of the street and, in particular, an unusually and robustly drunk-out-of-his-gourd patron who at a particularly amusing point proceeded to provide us with an interpretive dance of our musical proceedings as we played, before ultimately having a "freak out" episode at his table during the break.
Most recently, the "energizing" part of the occasion occurred at some magical point during the second set. Gigs like this often feel like "dues-payers", but the real impetus for doing them at all certainly isn't financial, but for moments like these, when things just start musically clicking, and you're reminded of the company you're keeping and the high level of musicianship that is on display. Dean is a truly historic vocalist - currently he's touring with John Scofield's Tribute to Ray Charles project and with another project of Don Byron's, and actually also embodied the role of my father in my previous opera, "Quebecite". But, as is typical in New York, he could be found at this out-of-the-way place practicing his craft, incubating his conception for that time in the near-future when we can hit the road and play at other venues around the country and the world.
At a particular moment during this set, that strange synergy emerged, in which you feel as if you've taken a relaxing step backwards and are listening, with the audience, to the proceedings rather than playing; and in which a strange conversation occurs, energy-wise, between you and the audience. Dean rides this sort of energy as well as anyone, and I went along, playing my trusty Roland VK-7 organ and the Casio keyboard that the club provided upon my arrival.
Afterwards I called my wife to express my near-surprise with this re-discovery - a true summary of why I became a musician in the first place.
Dean has a tour planned in April, so if all goes well we'll bring his music to Paris and then across the U.S. at that time. Until then, there'll likely be a few more smaller gigs around town as we continue to hone our craft and seek those surprising musical moments.
It was a busy day of schmoozing as part of the Manhattan Producers Alliance. Manhatpro is an organization of high-end engineers, composers and producers active in the film/t.v. worlds. I've been part of this world now for over a year and a half and have been having a blast. Almost immediately from joining, I got a gig writing music for the Little Airplane children's t.v. show "3rd & Bird!" (BBC Worldwide), and, eventually, also wrote 4 episodes of their recently 2nd-Emmy-award-winning show "The Wonder Pets" (on Nickelodeon). Through a contact I made with the Wonder Pets, I landed a job writing the entire underscore for the 2nd season of a Canadian show called "The Ocean Room". All 3 shows are playing in various markets throughout the world, but I'm particularly excited that all 3 will be running this fall in my native country of Canada on television - if you're there, be on the lookout! At any rate, Manhatpro has set up a booth at the annual Audio Engineering Conference, and so I spent part of the day helping out at the booth, attending the Manhatpro seminar (designed, in part, to recruit new members), and going by their mixer at the Westin hotel, where I met lots of interesting people.
It's been a very enjoyable last few months. Recently got back from a performance of my jazz opera "Quebecite" (pronounced "kay-BEH-see-tay") featuring a fascinatingly diverse assemblage of singers and instrumentalists: vocalists Martin Sola, Meetu Chilana, Yoon Choi and Dean Bowman; cellist Dana Leong, trumpeter Shane Endsley, drummer Reggie Nicholson, bassist Thomas Morgan, and myself as pianist/conductor. The work (written with librettist "Afro-Canadian" librettist George Elliott Clarke), traces the relationship between 2 interracial couples, one (modelled after my own parents), Black and Chinese; the other Indian and Haitian, and was originally premiered in a very ambitious, full-stage production at the 2003 Guelph Jazz Festival. In this instance, we did a much more manageable concert version, which allowed for focus on the music and words and the talents of those involved. I've been asked what a jazz opera really is. There's certainly no formal, defining answer, but I will say that I certainly attempted with the work to write with the specific voices in mind and to allow them to "do their thing", whether it was Yoon Choi's avant-garde vocalisms or Dean Bowman's passionate, soulful singing, or, in this new version's case, Dana Leong's remarkable cello soloing (occasionally - and surprisingly! - doubled with his own whistling!) I have to also add that I really learned something myself with this work after not having performed it in its entirety for a few years; namely, that it is, after all, surprisingly "transportable". In other words, despite originally being written with other voices in mind, I was very impressed with the quite different take on the material Martin Sola and Meetu Chilana brought to their respective roles of Ovide and Laxmi, and it really allowed me to hear - and perhaps appreciate - the work with fresh ears. We'll definitely have to find other avenues for it's performance down the line.
Prior to this event, I did a series of workshops and a duo performance with the same Dean Bowman, sponsored by the Guelph Jazz Festival and it's Artistic Director, Ajay Heble. Perhaps the most unusual moment in the week occurred when Dean and I were given the opportunity of coaching students at a Mennonite school outside of Guelph. The Mennonites are a religious group whose past intersects those of the Amish and at least superficially share many of the same traits, from horse-drawn carriages to a general disavowing of modern technology. Of course, we arrived nervously hiding our cameras, only to see that since the actual day of workshops was to take place in a typical Ontario public school, there were not only cameras flashing by some of the students but videotaping as well. Still, it was somewhat surreal to discover that the boys are expected to leave school for good after Grade 10; the girls after Grade 8, so that they can go and work on the farm - quite a different world...
In January (on my birthday, the 25th), I was in Paris to perform with baritone saxist Hamiet Bluiett and an all-star lineup of William Parker on bass, Hamid Drake on drums, Billy Bang on violin, and Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet as part of the Sons D'Hiver Festival. It was my first trip abroad since Obama's victory and I was anxious to see if "anything had changed" :-), but our stay was brief and focused enough that all I can say for certain was that the audiences were passionate and enthusiastic about our free-wheeling performance. Bluiett, in typical fashion at one point during the proceedings picked up his sax stand and positioned himself directly in front of a smiling, wheel-chaired audience member, so he could better enjoy the experience near-hands-on, and he later signalled the other "portable" players in the band to join him. All in all, a fun time....Of course, the most significant event of the past few months was the birth of our 2nd child, Aria Lilly Jackson, on Jan. 6th, 2009. Welcome to the world, Aria!
Recently performed another (now seemingly yearly!) concert at the Barrie Jazz Festival, trying out my "Canadian Inspirations". The concept was simple: particularly in light of the recent passing of Canadian giant Oscar Peterson, I wanted to present something that would reflect the inspiration he and many other great Canadians have brought to my playing. Consequently, I ended up playing a version of his "Hymn to Freedom". I also, though, recently performed some Alanis Morissette tunes as part of a tribute to this more contemporary Canadian inspiration for the CBC and so the program ended up including pieces by her, as well as a solo piano rendition of Neil Young's "Ohio". I ended the program with a tribute to Glenn Gould, via my own take on his famous "Goldberg Variations" by Bach. You can hear 4 pieces from the concert by going here ("D.D. Jackson Radio"). Enjoy!
Last month I participated in a unique concert put together by renowned CBC radio producer Alan Neal in honour of Ottawa-born pop megastar Alanis Morissette, in celebration of her induction into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. The concept was simple: Alan brought together six different Canadian artists and had us each do our own, personal spin on Alanis tunes of our choice. For my performance, I decided to do an intentionally propulsive version of "Hand in My Pocket" and a more whimsical version of "Head Over Feet". Most compelling for me was the presence of Alanis's very down-to-earth, humble, and entirely "normal" parents, whom I had the pleasure to acknowledge after our grand finale version of her very first hit "Too Hot." [Go here to access the entire show on demand or click the individual song links above.]
Oscar Peterson died Sunday. Peterson was really the reason I became a jazz pianist, and was the first jazz pianist I probably was ever exposed to, his recording of "Night Train" the first jazz album I ever owned, the first jazz pianist I ever heard live (back in Ottawa, in an event that also featured Claude Bolling and Michel Legrand in a memorable three piano, round-robin "duel" and for which I sat in the front row of the National Arts Centre opera house), and his "Hymn to Freedom" one of the first jazz pieces I ever played. His impeccable sense of swing and the blues tinge he brought to everything he did, combined with his flawless and elegant piano technique are probably among the key qualities that will forever come to mind when I think of his impact on me personally (as well as, I'm sure, many others) as pianist and musician. But he was also Canada's musical ambassador to the world, and the fact that such a figure was also African-Canadian was even more inspiring to me as a someone with African/Chinese background myself. I am thankful that I finally had the opportunity to briefly shake his hand a few years ago at a National Jazz Awards event in Toronto, but in the end how can you ever really thank such a great Canadian and artist such as this for everything he achieved and represented to us all? R.I.P., Oscar Peterson.