As one of the head bottle-washers and resident nudge for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, It is my job to hector the membership about the composition of the bands various sections. When one of the regulars can't be there, his substitute has to be the right person to maintain the high level performance and therefore the happiness of those regulars who are in attendance. The importance of happiness being inversely proportional to financial gain means we re looking for a lot of happiness. We usually get it to since in front of us sits the greatest big band book of the last forty years, written primarily by Thad Jones, with major contributions by Bob Brookmeyer and now Jim McNeely. The high happiness quotient means a low turnover rate but inevitably life and career choices lead to people leaving town and a resulting vacancy. These rare permanent positions occasion even more concern than the sub choices for in addition to the all important performance criteria, we’ll be traveling and living together and enduring the assorted travails of road life. (i.e. will the rooms ever be ready before we arrive?) Of course anyone who has been blooded by Illinois Jacquet and ray Charles as Jason Jackson has can certainly be considered road wise. Also, as we get longer in the tooth, new hires may be the ones to keep it going when we re gone, as we’ve had to after Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, and, the opening being in my section (trombones), all my criticisms of others choices will be returned with interest should things not work out.
Happily, things are working out great, with accolades from the members coming in the form of merciless teasing, and questions to me asking... does Jason have a solo this set? Solos in any big band are scarce. It s a writers medium and even featured soloists spend more than ninety percent of their time on stage devoted to ensemble playing. So it is with considerable eagerness that I drop the needle - oops - shine the laser on this addition to Jason s portfolio - a small group set of tunes written and arranged by him.
The opener, RJ is reminiscent of Horace Silver and amply demonstrates in his big sound and well designed lines Jason s grasp of the dictionary of modern jazz trombone known as J.J. Johnson with whom he studied at Oberlin (lucky devil). Guitarist Bob Boss contributes a beautiful relaxed solo here as well as excellent supporting comping throughout, the rhythm section jelling immediately and setting up great expectations for the rest of the side.
The waltz, Three s Company hits another good groove and hey, I don t think these guys were first introduced at the recording studio. After Jason s statement we hear from Daniel Jackson and Marshall Hawkins. Their solos are not only strong individual statements, but really fit and compliment what is around them. That kind of radar usually indicates a working band, and indeed the quartet with Jason on this cut has recently recorded under drummer Chuck McPhrerson s name. McPherson who would come to New York once a year with his father alto titan Charles has a lengthy resume that includes working with Freddie Hubbard and Tommy Flanagan. Daniel Jackson and bob Boss also California natives have contributed the high qualities heard here to the bands of Wes Montgomery, Art Farmer, Eddie Harris and Red Rodney to name a few. Jason was introduced to this heavy company by his high school teacher and mentor Marshall Hawkins. I've always had a special admiration for those who can play at this level, (Hawkins worked with Miles Davis and Shirley Horn) yet tough it out every day in primary or secondary school systems. The rewards must be great though when one of your seeds blossoms as this one obviously has.
We met Jason s only contemporary, alto saxophonist Matthew Zebly, on I Thought I Could. In this, the most ambitious composition of the set, Jason manages to combine several disparate elements into a cohesive whole. The chorale opening which could have had a life all its own reveals itself to be a statement of the theme which then develops through shifts in meter and across the bar line phrasing into solos, an out chorus and a surprise coda. All this forms three intervals and it holds together by design and the glue of McPhersons drumming with that wonderful snare drum sound. Zebly s pungent alto is a perfect addition to the mix as the opening soloist and in the ensemble blend.
The lone Ballad, D3 is essentially a piano trombone duet with minimal but crucial drum and bass support. The tune achieves a long graceful arc of the kind that teachers tell their students to strive for. One component is pianists Daniel Jackson s (yes he s working as a pianist with a steady solo gig, no less) wonderfully restrained solo that resists the temptations of pianistic bombast a piece this open risks. Jason takes over and continues up and up some more and then seamlessly into the home theme. His use of different registers, timbres and articulations (especially the legato) remind the listener why the trombone is considered the closest instrument to the human voice.
The band is ready to let its hair down at this point and does on #64, a saxophone-trombone unison that brings to ear the Jazz Crusaders of the late 60 s. Jason takes a nice hand off from Daniel and brings the rhythm section up for him with a little grease. You expect to hear club noises and applause during this one.
PiX starts off in the same vein, down and funky but on the bridge Jason, with his phrasing and vibrato, shifts into a smooth elegant cruise which is picked up by lead -off soloist Boss. Jason follows with two choruses that beautifully reconcile the opposing forces in the tune. Finely wrought harmonic lines bounce off rhythmic figures that get the expected reply from the drums. In other words - communication. Marshall Hawkins wisely lets the gun smoke clear and then works his way into a solo by just expanding on the great time he s already got going. As the solo develops, he still takes care of the beat, keeping things firmly on track for the trip home.
Just about any three horn band with trombone owes something to Art Blakey, which debt Jason elects to acknowledge directly with the closer BU (short for Abdulla Ibn Buhaina, the name Art took while in Africa.) The warm voicing of the theme and Jason’s big sound (suggesting Curtis Fuller) would be giveaways to any fan. McPherson's propulsion and the solo coda complete a worthy tribute.
Going home and Going Home have clearly been good for Jason and for those of us listening to the fruits of the journey. It should be a continuing source of inspiration (and mom s gnocchi) but selfishly, I hope he doesn't go too often because when he does we have to find subs.
Jason Jackson lives in New York City where his career as a jazz musician is continually flourishing. Jackson has most recently become a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Subsequent to his position in the VJO, Jason has worked with the Illinois Jacquet Big Band, Slide Hampton's Jazz Masters, and the Ray Charles Orchestra. Jason has also played with the McCoy Tyner Big Band, the Charles Mingus Big Band, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra directed by Wynton Marsalis.
Mr. Jackson completed his Masters Degree in Jazz and Commercial Music at the Manhattan School of Music studying with Steve Turre in 1995. In 1993, he received his Bachelor of Music degree from Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he studied with J.J. Johnson. Jason has just released his first recording of all original compositions called "Going Home" (Jacemus Records.) Jason is also featured on the following recordings: "Thad Jones Legacy" Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (New World Records), "Can I Persuade You" Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (New World Records), "Slick" Fabio Morgera Sextet (Red Records), the "Karem Gorsev Sextet" (Polygram), "Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines" (Sea Hawk Music), and "Blue Suite" Gary Smulyan and Brass (Criss Cross).