[6/24/2002] - "Jackson in Action: New York based pianist protects his sound by going with a small label"
In one way, pianist D.D. Jackson has come home. No, he hasn't moved back to Ottawa from New York, although Jackson maintains that will happen some day.
He has returned to Canadian label Justin Time, which launched the 35-year-old dynamo's career more than a decade ago. His latest release, Sigame, was released by Justin Time after Jackson put out two recordings with major label RCA/BMG. The big-label experience was not the most fruitful, although Jackson does not regret making a stab at it.
"It was a very good learning experience," says Jackson, on the phone from his home in New York. He says if he hadn't tried life with a big label, he'd be wondering 'What if?' all the time.
"People come to the big city, New York, with that sort of goal lingering in the back of their mind. There's a naive presumption that the major-label route leads to greater career success and notoriety. What I realized was that it really wasn't that different, and there was much, much less focus on me as a musician, an individual artist. There was much more focus on the music as a marketable quality, which jazz often is not unless you make serious compromises."
Jackson says that BMG did not interfere on the two albums he made with them -- the solo-piano disc . . . so far and a group disc, Anthem -- but when it came time to do a third record, he was being told what to do and who to do it with.
"They were making so many changes and trying to steer me in so many directions that really had nothing to do with what I wanted to do, I was finding it immensely frustrating."
Add to that the fact that the BMG staff had almost completely turned over from the time he was signed, and Jackson deduced it was time to go.
His experience shattered the myths musicians have about big labels: that signing leads to instant success, and that the labels will fund tours. On the latter point, Jackson says: "Any tour support is just being deducted from any future artist's royalties should you be able to pay off the cost of the album and start making artist royalties."
He's happy to be back with Justin Time, whose president, Jim West, supported his decision to go with RCA, but who wanted him back.
"[Justin Time represents] a world where they actually care about what you're doing as an artist. Jim's a very astute businessman, but he's driven by a passion for jazz, which isn't the most commercial music in the world.
"I've found a good home here."
One of four boys born of an African-Canadian father and a Chinese-Canadian mother, Jackson grew up in Kanata, just outside Ottawa. Schooled at an early age at classical piano, Jackson at first pursued his parents' dream of being a classical concert pianist -- he attended Indiana University, majoring in classical piano -- but he quit when he realized his heart wasn't in it. Shortly after returning to Ottawa, he heard jazz pianist Don Pullen in concert, met him, and became a Pullen disciple of sorts. In almost every Jackson recording, you can hear the Pullen influence of percussive keyboarding and dense clusters of chords.
Jackson speaks reverently of Pullen, though feels he's getting away from the late pianist's sound.
"Even when I was very directly associated with him stylistically, I never attempted to sound like him." says Jackson. "I haven't listened to a Don Pullen album in years for that very reason, that I didn't want to be overly influenced by my mentor. And he didn't want that either."
In some ways, Jackson has come full circle, returning to his classical roots. He recently recorded Rhapsody in Blue with a chamber orchestra, has done some symphonic commissions and is currently at work on an opera, to be premiered in 2003.
Jackson, who moved to New York in 1989, retains his Canadian citizenship.
"I consider myself a Canadian, much to the annoyance of all my friends here. My family's there, and I anticipate moving back eventually.
- Marke Andrews, the Vancouver Sun, June 24th, 2002