Jason Jackson has been one of the busiest and most respected trombone players in New York City since settling there 21 years ago. In addition to the two years he spent touring the world with Ray Charles not long after his arrival, he has been the lead trombonist in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band for the past decade and also currently plays that part in orchestras led by Roy Hargrove and Charles Tolliver. And on Mondays, his off-nights from playing in the pit bands of such Tony Award-winning Broadway productions as The Color Purple, Wonderful Town, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Motown the Musical, he has been a member for the past 10 years of the Grammy Award-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Village Vanguard. He also teaches part-time at City College of New York, performs about once per month in a group he co-leads with his wife, vocalist Rosena Hill Jackson, and even finds time to occasionally sit in at jam sessions.
With the release of Inspiration, Jackson finally steps out of the background to present himself as a trombone soloist, arranger, composer, and bandleader of the first order. Recorded over a ten-year period at the legendary Capitol Studio A in Hollywood and at two studios in New York—but mostly at his and his wife’s Jack&Hill Recording Studio in their South Orange, New Jersey, home, with Jackson himself serving as recording engineer—the CD features Jackson at the helm of full orchestras made up of rhythm, horn, and string sections.
Among the many world-class musicians heard on the disc are trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Terell Stafford, trombonist Slide Hampton, clarinetist Evan Christopher, saxophonists Pete Christlieb, Dick Oatts, Rich Perry, and Steve Wilson, pianists Roger Jones II and Michael Melvoin, bassist Rufus Reid, drummers John Guerin and Dennis Mackrel, and percussionist Roger Squitero. Of the ten selections on the CD, six of the arrangements were written by Jackson, one by his friend and former teacher Slide Hampton, one by Christopher, and two by the prolific motion picture composer Eddie Karam.
Jason Jackson was born in San Bernardino, California, to an Italian-American mother and an African-American father, both of whom were jazz fans. While growing up in nearby Yucaipa, he picked up a trombone that belonged to his uncle and blew into it. “They were so amazed that I got a sound out of it, they gave it to me,” he says of his family.
He played the instrument in the jazz band at Yucaipa Intermediate School. “I knew within my first year that this was what I wanted to do,” he remembers. “I wanted to play trombone in space.”
In 1989, after graduating from Idyllwild preparatory school, he enrolled at Oberlin in Ohio, where for one semester his instructor was modern jazz trombone pioneer J.J. Johnson. “I couldn’t believe I was sitting next to my idol,” Jackson recalls. “He was such a force in my life and trombone playing for so many years. He was such a humble man. It made me realize that we’re all human. He didn’t have an air about himself at all.”
Jackson received a Bachelor of Music Degree from Oberlin in 1993 before relocating to New York to study privately with Slide Hampton on an NEA grant and to work on a Master’s Degree in Jazz and Commercial Music at the Manhattan School of Music, where his trombone instructors included Steve Turre and Jack Gale.
In addition to the aforementioned work with Charles, Hargrove, Tolliver, the Gillespie band, the Vanguard orchestra, and numerous Broadway shows, Jackson’s extensive New York credits include engagements with Ron Carter, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Illinois Jacquet, Maria Schneider, McCoy Tyner, and the Mingus Big Band. He also performs with his talented wife, whom he met in 2007 when both were working on Broadway in The Color Purple, about once per month. Jackson recorded an album of original music for sextet titled Going Home in 2001 and contributed to her 2008 album If You Believe. His discography also includes recordings with Carter, Heath, Tolliver, and the Gillespie and Vanguard bands. And, in addition to teaching at City College New York, he has conducted clinics in Italy, Japan, and throughout the United States.
“I needed to go ahead and go for it, instead of just doing sideman gigs,” he says of his reason for making Inspiration.
With the release of the second CD to appear under his name, Jason Jackson emerges from the shadows to make his mark a jazz master whose gifts as a composer and arranger match his virtuosity as a trombonist. His inspired combination of horns, strings, and rhythm is quite unlike anything else being recorded these days. Jackson has drawn on jazz traditions to create a variety of vibrant and refreshing new sounds that seem certain to place his name among those of the most creative forces in jazz today.