D.D. Jackson

I am an Emmy Award-winning composer and Juno Award-winning jazz pianist who specializes in writing, arranging, and producing memorable, custom-made music for t.v., film & other media. I consider myself an "artistic problem solver": I strive to get to the essential conceptual truth of what the client is looking for - and to express it in a creative and supportive way.

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Musician-in-Residence, St. John's College

Just got back from an exhilarating and exhaustive 10 day visit to St. John’s College at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver where I was serving as a designated “Musician-in-Residence” (from what I understand, their very first). St. John’s College has it’s origins in Shanghai, China where it was founded in 1879 by the Episcopal Church of America and existed there until 1952. It’s various chapters since then always dreamed of keeping it’s vision alive and so they helped found St. John’s at UBC in the late 1990’s. It’s new Principal, Tim Brook, actually emailed me up out of the blue (underscoring as always the benefit of maintaining an accessible and up-to-date website!) and asked me if I’d liked to do it, describing himself as an admirer of my music, etc. I was thrilled at the opportunity – this was precisely the sort of creative outlet and opportunity to share my ideas that I have been increasingly seeking of late, and so I enthusiastically said “yes” almost immediately (possibly to his slight surprise? :-))…

My stay was organized such that there was some sort of event in which I was to take part pretty much every evening, but Tim thoughtfully left the days for me to do as I wished. After a long flight and slightly disorienting arrival on Feb. 5th, I awoke Feb. 6th in the living quarters I had been assigned. St. John’s is essentially a graduate student residence hall on the edge of UBC’s campus, just steps from the Pacific Ocean (though the actual view of the water is shielded by some dense forest vegetation obscuring a long hill drop to the water below, accessible by various paths). The Principal, his wife and son as well as all the students live all at the hall and also routinely eat together in the dining room – all residents are, in fact, required to participate in the meal program as the administration rightly concluded that this was the ideal way for residents to get to know one another. My room, I soon realized, was generously-sized, with bed, desk, bath, comfortable chairs, tables, etc. But most striking were the two walls worth of windows with office blinds, which, when opened revealed the outdoors, and created an inviting atmosphere in which to work:

My first day’s activity was a duo/trio concert with trumpeter Brad Turner and cellist Peggy Lee, two of my musical colleagues who were involved both in my Suite for NY recording and my jazz opera Quebecite (which received it’s Vancouver premiere in Oct./03 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre)…Their background (most notably Peggy’s) was coming out of the characteristic freer jazz scene that I’ve come to associate with Vancouver’s more experimental sound, and my goal was to try as hard as possible to make this concert a meeting of the minds, vs. merely dictating my own approach as might be the case with a more typical leader-sideman relationship. Each of them contributed original musical material upon my request, and I tried hard not to step on their conceptual toes during the performance. Sure enough, the performance ended up being essentially a combination of their freer, more open approach with my often more manic approach (!), with the two combining perhaps most effectively with an old composition of mine called “For Monk-Sake” (written, I revealed to the audience, 10 years ago, meaning I was officially now “old” :-))… It was well attended and the crowd was thankfully quite enthusiastic….

The next day I was invited to dinner at the residence of Principal Tim Brook and his delightful wife Fay and their son; he had also invited some other interested St. John residence music students for the occasion and it was an enjoyable way to take the pulse of the community there. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal and I met a host of quirky and fascinating personalities, including majors in cello, piano, choral singing and composition, as well as a broadcaster involved in a local multi-cultural t.v. channel…

Afterwards, St. John’s had arranged for me to do a master class with UBC music students. UBC doesn’t have a jazz degree program per se, but their jazz head, Fred Stride, is enthusiastic and obviously doing a terrific job with the resources available to him. Some of the students who attended actually were not music majors at all, but the level of competency was quite high. I spent the first part of the class talking about my own history and my own conceptual ideas, and then I brought up two separate groups of students to play and coach, focusing on some of the tricks of the trade from the NY scene, particularly with its emphasis on rhythmic precision between the piano/bass/drums section, interaction and supporting of soloists. We also experimented with some Don Pullen-esque freeing techniques. It was thankfully very well received and a promising start to the upcoming week.

On Tues. was my big solo piano concert at the Music Building’s Recital Hall, and I was pleased that there was a large Bosendorfer piano for me to play for the occasion. The concert gave me the chance to practice what I preached, in a sense, and served perhaps as a useful introduction to where I really was coming from musically. Although the attendance was relatively spotty, the audience was again quite enthusiastic; it certainly seemed like much of St. John’s artistic community was in attendance and it fueled many further mealtime discussions in the ensuing days…

On Wed. I was invited by the Principal of the seemingly “rival” college nearby, Green College, to do a brief lecture/demonstration. Green had a kind of formal, “old English” air, with beautiful building architecture and a smaller student body. They, too, remarkably had a Bosendorfer piano at hand, though in this case it was unfortunately an older instrument, and I managed after piece #3 to actually break off it’s sustain pedal, thus putting a prompt end to the performing portion of my presentation. (I later found out that the pedal mechanism had actually been put together literally with fishing wire and chewing gum, so I suppose I can’t add this instrument to my list of past “abuses” at least officially :-)…) I told them that it was interesting that the latest column I recently submitted for Down Beat is called “When Things Go Wrong”, and covers just these sorts of predicaments that have arisen in my career over the years…Despite the sudden cut-off, I took many interesting questions and had a very pleasant discussion with some keen graduate students, most notably a classical piano major whose curiosity I suspect I particularly peeked…

On Thurs. it was time for me to do a similar, informal lecture-demonstration for St. John’s students. I had earlier over breakfast asked in passing a Tibetan student and musician to sit in with me for an informal jam session after the lecture that evening. When night rolled around I was feeling a bit fatigued and it took a while to warm up into my presentation and performance; I also had frankly forgot about my offer of playing with him, but was happy when he insisted after my talk. We all ended up lingering until late in the evening, hours after my one-hour presentation had ended, playing music together, and just talking. It was quite evocative of those rare days back in music school when time seemed irrelevant and the focus was entirely on expanding one’s mind through interaction with others…

Friday I had “off”, and was delighted to be able to shut out the outside world and focus on my preparation for my lecture the next night organized by the Vancouver Institute.. My days in general were a delight – despite being lent a cell phone, I had taken to keeping it off, and had the freedom of being able to explore the “inner self” through reading and study, no doubt well beyond what might even have been needed for the actual lecture. It was very meaningful to me just to have this license, and it made me reflect on how little one makes the time for such things when the “real world” returns. Tim was so respectful of my privacy that he on two occasions secretly dropped off bags of groceries with “supplies” that greeted me upon my return to my room after a walk; again, a wonderful license just to study and explore…

The lecture at the Vancouver Institute (a prestigious organization that has featured a number of highly varied speakers for over 45 years) took place Saturday, and it was really the event that I was most looking forward to. I had decided to talk about the issue of “Can Jazz Be Classical?”, using Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (which I had recorded and also recently performed with orchestra in Japan) as a jumping off point for discussion. Another “things go wrong” episode occurred initially when my wireless mike refused to go on (some of my musician friends later told me that they could hear the student sound technician cussing quite loudly as he tried to get it to work, I’m sure quite embarrassed!) but I tried to take it in stride, and this predicament, in fact, gave me the opportunity to play the entire Rhapsody in Blue (minus the orchestral sections) upfront, rather than after breaking the piece down into its component parts; this turned out, in fact, to likely have been the better approach to begin with anyway. Afterwards I discussed it’s characteristic use of blue notes (and performed “St. Louis Blues” as well as Gershwin’s Second Prelude to further illustrate my points); I examined certain characteristic rhythms emerging out of stride piano by way of ragtime that made an appearance in the work (performing a bastardized version of “Carolina Shout”); and then talked about how the piece’s supposed “formlessness” was actually more of an “open form” conception common to jazz which was really one of the reasons I think the piece actually worked so successfully. I then took questions and in my answers managed to discuss Wynton Marsalis and the whole Lincoln Center debate centered around neo-classicism, my own groups and my approaches to them, the prospects for combining jazz with classical, and so on, concluding with the performance of some pieces of my own. The whole affair thankfully seemed a resounding success and it was really exhilarating for me to try and share my ideas in this different environment, and also to attempt to speak in terms accessible to the general audience attending the event.

 Sunday was winding-down time; in fact, Tim had announced after my lecture the previous night that it was my last presentation at St. John’s, and consequentially everyone presumed I would be leaving first thing Sunday. In reality, I had one more off campus event to attend to on Monday, but I was able to spend part of Sunday attending the Chinese New Year’s Day parade celebration taking place in Vancouver’s large Chinatown, watching various dragon dances and every conceivable Chinese organization in Vancouver proudly march, and had a pleasant dinner with other faculty connected to Tim’s field of Chinese studies later that day…

Monday was my lecture/demonstration as part of the Kiwanis Festival, for visiting high school students from the area. It was a bit of a challenge to try and connect with the audience with limited time and no possibility of interaction; by the end I tried admittedly to “wow” them over with my “flashy” version of Monk's "I Mean You", and realized after-the-fact that speaking in more black and white vs. subtle terms might have overall served the occasion better. Still, I was immediately approached by a very confident trumpet student who complimented me on the lecture and immediately asked if he could jam with me for a few minutes. We found a side practice room and did an impromptu “I Remember Clifford”…

Another student had been observing my various presentations throughout the week at St. John and had similarly asked for a private lesson, which I granted him Monday evening, and in many ways it was for me the highlight of the week, and underscored just what I find so fascinating about teaching (apart from the obvious opportunity to get others excited about music in general and encourage them). He was a first-year guitar major, and he really wanted to get a sense of where I was coming from conceptually; how I thought about composition, transcribing solos, and on and on. By the end of the lesson, through the process of answering his many probing questions, I had almost learned as much about myself as he perhaps had; teaching certainly forces you to reflect on your own approach since you’re obligated to understand it enough to be able to describe it in words to others. It was all in all a pleasant end to a truly enjoyable stay.