[10/31/2002] - "Improvisational Pianist Among World's Best"
D.D. Jackson has never been one for typecasting. Beginning in the classical realm, earning a bachelor of music degree with high distinction in classical piano from the prestigious University of Indiana in 1989, Jackson found himself gravitating toward jazz as he finished his degree.
"The studio I was in was anti-jazz and I found it quite oppressive. I felt that I was chased into jazz in a way. I grew up doing mostly classical, but found that improvisation was more of an outlet for me."
Being familiar with the art of improvisation, the transition from classical to jazz was easier than one might think.
"It’s a matter of finding the medium that you can best express yourself (with). I don’t even consider myself a pianist anymore. I like to consider myself more of a conceptualist – someone who has his fingers in many different areas of musical expression and who approaches his work with an open, creative mind."
This attitude has led him on quite an adventure. Since finishing his master's degree in jazz in 1991 at the Manhattan School of Music – where he studied with Jaki Byard and Don Pullen – Jackson has travelled the world. His work has ranged from solo concerts in Berlin, Tel Aviv, Prague and Italy to trio work in Portugal, Macedonia and Hong Kong. Besides touring, he has also spent considerable time in the recording studio, releasing eight cds on Justin Time records and two on the RCA Victor label, including the solo CD so far..., which won him a Juno award for best contemporary jazz album.
Jackson's latest project, a jazz-opera with Nova Scotian librettist George Elliot Clarke, will première at the 2003 Guelph Jazz Festival. Jackson says that the piece is about interactions between two interracial couples – one featuring a Chinese girl and an African-Canadian man and the other an Indian woman and a Creole man.
"It’s partially inspired by my mother’s life story," he says. "I passed it onto Clarke and he created the libretto for it. He considers himself an Afro-Scotian, so the whole project has a very cultural quality to it."
This cultural perspective has worked well for Jackson, who has acted like a musical sponge, absorbing the cultures around him and expressing their fusion through his music.
"I think it’s a responsibility to keep it vibrant and current. It’s important to not just do what was done before but to find new forms of music. The realm of jazz and classical as a hybrid has been left virtually unexplored. Music can stay relevant when there are open minds and a desire to explore."
- Kenna Burima, Fast Forward (Calgary)