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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on Chicago City Limits and other "mini-successes" of the day...

A few little “mini-successes” today. Finished my article on Bosendorfer’s Ceuss piano for the Sept./07 Downbeat coming out mid-August (more on this in my latest Living Jazz Podcast #21), and just got back from a particularly successful night of Chicago City Limits. For those not aware, CCL is New York’s longest running comedy revue, but it goes well beyond that into the very daring world of theatrical improv. I’ve written about this before in my Downbeat magazine Living Jazz columns, but suffice to say that what has always appealed to me about this world are the remarkable parallels between what they do on the stage as improvising actors and what I try to do as a pianist. I remember back as a student at Indiana University watching an ad-hoc improv group playing a game called “Freeze”, where they would unfurl endless scenes made up on the spot; someone would yell “freeze”, enter the scene and take over from a now-frozen peer, and then the scene would continue, often in outlandishly different directions, a thorough exploration of the mind and of imagination. I remember being fascinated, and wishing that I could participate – who would have thought I could be involved in a profession, ultimately, that actually helps make people laugh? (on purpose, that is :-)…)

I first began doing CCL when my BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop writing partner Carl Kissin. (a longtime CCL veteran, now “retired” from active duty there but still going strong in the world of improv, having recently won the Monologue Slam this week here in NY) recommended me. At first I was a shy sub, but I eventually assumed the mantle of “Music Director” for the mainstage company here in town and now perform quite regularly (Thurs-Sat. at 8 pm, a 2nd show Sat. at 10 pm) when I’m not on the road. 

The main stage cast has gone through changes these past few months but now consists of Annie Figenshu, Rob Schiffman, Stefan Schick, and Joe DeGise II. One of CCL founders, Paul Zuckerman, once said that the beauty of the show to an audience can often be that by everyone in the company bringing their own, individual talents to the table, the illusion is created for the audience that we know a little bit about every conceivable subject the audience might yell out over the course of a show, and this idea, I think, was no more evident that today’s show, as we went through our various improv forms that form the backbone of a CCL performance (a storytelling form called Byrone, improvised Jeapardy, a fully improvised musical based around the events of someone in the audience’s day, etc., etc.)…

In the end, it’s really hard to explain what makes a great show. Certainly, it was in front a smallest, but highly enthused, uninhibited and warm audience, and this fact can help, as the show is very much about feeding off of the wavelengths shooting back at us from the crowd. I think, ultimately, it’s something about chemistry – something about the fact that the cast truly likes and respects each other, and each really DOES have something to contribute, from Annie’s penchant towards musical hooks and characters always so grounded in reality, to Rob’s incredible musical chops mixed with a brilliant and quick mind, to Stefan’s ability to play “manic” with such controlled, gradually unfurling chaos, to Joe’s seasoned mastery of his characters (today assuming, in one scene, a particularly exaggeratedly-accented Scot), and often assuming the “straight man” to the mania that surrounds him. I don’t know what, exactly it is, but somehow today everything just clicked, and one leaves feeling that what we are doing really is enjoyable – and special.

My final “mini-success story” of the day was a copy of a recital program my brother Shaw just sent me of a former student of his named Vincent. In the program’s bio, it describes how hearing me play for Shaw’s class back when he was 7 years old inspired him to become a pianist, and he’s since gone on to win all sorts of awards and enter many competitions (some quite familiar to me as I also did such “rounds” when I was his age). It’s an amazing feeling to know that you can inspire someone so much.