- D.D. Jackson - pianist/composer/arranger/conductor/producer
- Dafnis Prieto - drums, percussion
- Ugonna Okegwo - acoustic bass
- Christian Howes - electric & acoustic violins, bass violin
- Peggy Lee - cello
- Brad Turner - trumpet
- James Spaulding - alto sax/flute
- Tom Walsh - trombone
- David Mott - baritone saxophone
- David Gonzalez - poetry [track 2]
Written, arranged, produced and conducted by D.D. Jackson.
Thank-you's and Dedication
I want to first thank the musicians on this album for their tremendous contributions. I am particularly proud of my fellow Canadian compatriots Peggy, Brad, Tom, and Dave, who added immeasurably to this project's success. Special thanks to Christian Howes for his musicianship and virtuosic handling of multiple string parts. Thanks also to David Gonzalez for the wonderful poem, which truly sums up the rhythms of "The City", and t my trio mates Dafnis and Ugonna for their steady foundation. And finally, very warm thanks to the great James Spaulding, whom I was pleased to finally record on one of my own projects after desiring this for so many years!
Additional thanks to Rachel Chanoff, Jack Walsh, and Celebrate Brooklyn!; the original performers of “A Canadian in New York”; the Canadian Consulate in NYC; Billy for his understanding and professionalism in the studio; Justin for his amazing facility with Protools; Alan Silverman for his perfectionism and spectacular mastering; Jim West, JP, Jadro, Arlene, and everyone else at Justin Time for their support of this project; Diana Nazareth and DLMedia; and my agent Jenny Barriol. A final thanks to my family – as always my late mother and brother Chris for their life inspiration, my father Richard, brothers Shaw and Charley, sister-in-law Janine and niece Elayna-Mei; and particularly to Elizabeth Moglia, for her loving support.
This album is dedicated respectfully to the memory of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, to their families, and to the "eight million dreamers" of my beautiful adoptive home of New York City.
- D.D. Jackson
Liner Notes Excerpt (by Howard Mandel):
"Suite for New York, composer-pianist D.D. Jackson's 11th and most grandly eloquent album to date, claims proud place with classic tributes to Gotham of decades past. With bold themes, orchestral sweep, pulsing rhythms, and structures designed to promote heartfelt expression, regardless of genre distinctions, Jackson's Suite joins a distinguished line of Century 20/21 compositions -- among them, Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square," George Russell's "New York, New York," Gunther Schuller and Joe Lovano's "Rush Hour," Duke Ellington's "Tone Poem to Harlem" and George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" -- that grapple with the great modern metropolis, capture dimensions of a thriving societal organism, depict the fount of urbane civilization which draws hopeful, ambitious, accomplished people as to a dream, a goal, a home.
Ironically, Jackson's Suite is in part inspired by the most vicious attacks on the city in history: the terrorist actions against the United States now commonly referred to as "events of 9/11," especially the destruction of the World Trade Center -- a knife in the commercial heart of Manhattan – but which also included the suicide crash of an airliner into the Pentagon and a related efforts that were defeated. It is in no way opportunistic of Jackson to make music as a response to such occurrences. By their scope and impact, historical events virtually demand that artists come to grips with them. Indeed, 9/11 has had the unintended but serendipitous consequence of a renewal of creative thought about what this country is to those who live in it, natives and newcomers alike.
Jackson himself, born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, and a native New Yorker since 1989, is not the stereotypical pilgrim hitting the docks wet from Ellis Island, via the Statue of Liberty. He claims New York by conscious decision and force of talent. Holding dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship through his father, a now-retired college professor of Spanish literature (a man, incidentally of African-American heritage), D.D. (in Chinese, an affectionate term for "little brother" -- his mother, who died in 1995, was Chinese) is an utter cosmopolite. He earned degrees in music from Indiana University and Manhattan School of Music, enjoyed real world tutelage from the late jazz pianists Jaki Byard and Don Pullen, scored collaborative triumphs with saxophonists David Murray, James Carter, and Hamiet Bluiett, percussionists Kahil El'Zabar and Mor Thiam, among many others. He writes a column for Down Beat, too, and has followed up on his Suite by composing the music for a Canadian-themed jazz opera entitled Québécité.
Though his aspirations are as big as the Ritz, the pianist begins Suite for New York alone, introducing through his warmth of touch and phrasing the threads of tenderness, hope, ache and resolution that are echoed by every other soloist during their spontaneous "Invocations," and which suffuse Jackson's through-composed ensemble passages, too. Allowing free improvisations their passage through and between notated incidents, Jackson arrives at his own solutions to problems addressed by some of the most daring proponents of new jazz, classical and rock fusions.
"I gave myself my own course in recent hybrid musical works while I was researching this Suite," Jackson says, "not to emulate but so I could know what had been done already and depart from it not arbitrarily but consciously. Besides the obvious choices, I listened to Zappa, Zorn, Ellington's later suites and 'Sacred Concerts,' Mingus's 'Epitaph,' Butch Morris's conductions, especially those of David Murray's big band pieces, Hannibal Marvin Peterson's 'African Portraits,' Gil Evans's and Miles Davis's collaborations. I was also recording 'Rhapsody in Blue' with the Pro Musica Orchestra for Summit Records around the same time.
"I meant the 'Invocations' to be personal solo or duo meditations, and in 'Towers of Light' a collective group meditation, on the events on 9/11," he continues. "I meant to commemorate the lives of those who died, and pay tribute to New Yorkers' heroism and spirit of resilience."
To do so, poet David Gonzalez advises that we "Listen to the talk of the city. . . the sounds of eight million dreamers dreaming . . . How do you say 'Sit with me under the New York sky' in the 146 dialects of the city?" The wordsmith's recitation conveys both the intimacy and the grandeur of his topic, but there can be only one answer to his question, and that answer is music.
Awakening. The rustlings of strings, a stirring of horns, the dawning of rhythm, increasing cacophony of collective - for not always complementary, for sometimes downright conflictual - purposes. These forces collude, however, in that miraculous synchronization we citizens effect, without knowing exactly how, so each one of us can break out of the funky rut (no matter how plush) to follow our natural destinies ...
For instance, trombonist Tom Walsh elbows to the front of the ensemble to have his say. By no coincidence, Walsh is Canadian, from Montreal. D.D. chose him, same as Vancouver trumpeter player Brad Turner (who also plays keyboards in the jam band Metalwood) and cellist Peggy Lee, and Toronto's David Mott - “one of Canada's premier players on the baritone sax” - to demonstrate the cream-of-the- crop talents of his nation of origin. Walsh grooves with Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto and Nigerian/German bassist Ugonna Okegwo, D.D.'s longtime trio mates; he gets down with the horns and strings, and having been heard, returns to their fold. Then the inimitable post-bop saxophonist James Spaulding - a New York jazz stal- wart, veteran of Sun Ra’s orchestra, at least a dozen classic ’60s Blue Note dates, and the David Murray Octet of the ’90s, where D.D. met him - slips front and center with righteousness, nobility and resolve.
The scramble of such rugged individuals at city center, D.D. demonstrates, is both near and far from the promenades and rambles of New York's pastoral garden, Central Park. In his first extended solo of the album, the pianist fairly ambles with a Fred Astaire grace that seems more than a couple of miles removed from Times Square, though it’s really just a shout to that skyscraper thicket. As close as jazz is to, say, the neighborhood of serious contemporary music. These genres are no further apart than a hop, skip and jump - well within D.D. Jackson’s stride, which he later proves by modulating into two-fisted intensity in “Conclusion,” setting loose his ensemble, then commanding it to heel.
“Besides depicting the city, I wanted to merge my backgrounds in jazz and classical music,” Jackson mentions, “and I hoped to achieve seamless transitions between notated and improvised sections.”
On “Second Invocation,” trumpeter Turner etches a melody like an Ivesian tone row with rare feeling, and Jackson traces his progress. This leads smoothly to “Hopes and Dreams,” part three of the Suite, a cinema-worthy ballad. This song is, in satisfying sequence, embodied by Spaulding's alto sax and laid bare by Jackson, who becomes enfolded in the ensemble arrangement, before it comes to brief pause as a wistful daydream. Then it re-emerges, seared by Spaulding's streetwise critique, comforted by D.D.'s gentle assurances, and crystallized in an ardent tutti section.
During “Main Section,” the melody attains exuber- ance in Jackson's splashy take off on it at the helm of his kicking “core unit” trio - its “Conclusion” returns to unguarded inno- cence - which is dashed almost immediately by “BQE,” named after the infamous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. “I tried to capture its sound,” says Jackson, and again he succeeds. Turner and Spaulding turn the pressure of the car chase/rat race into a good thing in their trading of fours (“One of the pleasures of producing is the chance to bring together such unlikely pairings,” D.D. smiles), though competition can lead to flat- out road rage.
Spaulding’s extemporaneous “Third Invocation” differs from his other Suite features - here he lifts into his horn’s upper reaches, soars for a while, and calmly recedes into the melody's far reaches. “Brooklyn Lullaby,” which follows, celebrates (in Jackson's words) “the residential, peaceful and tranquil, sunlit and family-oriented atmosphere of the borough in which I made my home for six years,” and the pianist spins out these comforts as if storytelling, while Okegwo's woody bass tone lends the tale an African air, and violinist Howes (born in Columbus, Ohio) helps the melody weep and gleam.
“El Barrio” celebrates what Jackson calls “the great Latino musical and cultural contributions to the city.” He’s obviously steeped in their irresistible elements - his theme and his pianism both exude the feisty romanti- cism of Afro-Caribbean virtuosity. Cuban-born drummer Prieto drives D.D.'s montuno interpretation, Brad Turner’s salsa-hot trumpet, and Howe’s de- and reconstruction of the courtly Euro-Yoruban dance, charanga.
“‘Final Invocation’ is the only ensemble track without any additional string overdubs by Chris and Peggy; paradoxically, the last chord of this final movement is probably the most orchestral-sounding moment on the whole album,” Jackson says. “It really evokes for me the sense of souls ascending to the heavens.”
The listener is set up for this transcendence by the very last solo on “Towers of Light,” Peggy Lee's nuanced balance of articulation and soulfulness. Then Jackson shoulders the task of illuminating the unimaginable. His “Final Invocation (Towers of Light)” is almost programmatic, and for anyone who was in close proximity to the World Trade Towers when they fell, or simply moved by 9/11, it is deeply affecting. Jackson is aware there are pitfalls in wearing one’s commitment to New York so obviously on one’s sleeve. “It’s a delicate time,” he muses. “Perhaps the world does not share my same degree of obsession with New York. But I hope people will be able to find something universal in the Suite, something which reflects on the human aspects of what happened here. We’re celebrating the city in a way which I think is therapeutic,” he believes, “apart from politics, which have little to do with the realm of human emotions.”
D.D. Jackson is, after all, a celebrant as well as a citizen of the world represented by New York. As a composer-pianist-bandleader- educator-artist, he hears the best in the city’s vast possibilities, and hears its inherent con- tradictions, too. He is unequivocal, in his Suite For New York, that life in Metropolis can be fast, hard, and dissonant as well as calm, stately, and thrilling. Life here is complex, but beautiful. And very much worth living.
- Howard Mandel (Future Jazz, Oxford University Press)