BRIAN JACKSON, of the power duo Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson, wrote, arranged and produced over 10 albums over an eight-year period. Time and time again that music has found its way onto over 100 cuts like Common's “The People” (from "We Almost Lost Detroit") and Kendrick Lamar's “Poe Mans Dreams” (from "Peace Go With You, Brother").
Almost 40 years later, Brian is still building with artists like M1 (Dead Prez), vocalist Gregory Porter, São Paulo hiphop artist Rodrigo Brandão, young lion jazz violinist Scott Tixier (Kenny Barron, Stevie Wonder) and legendary bassist Charnett Moffett.
Brian looks to both the present and the past for inspiration in order to honor to the ancient tradition of the griot - the African troubadour of truth.
What inspired you to get into music and write/compose your first song?
Writing music was a way to say things that I couldn’t express in words. I was a bit shy as a teenager and it was the best way for me to manage the feelings I had.
Where do you do your best writing?
I have always done my best writing in front of a piano or a Fender Rhodes, but sometimes an idea will come when I’m away from them, so I take out my phone and sing an idea into my phone. Other times when I’d like to hear a mockup of what an idea might sound like, I’ll use a computer and get down in DAW-land
What is one of your fondest music memories?
Most of my fondest memories don’t directly involve making music but rather are about meeting people who have expressed to me after a performance or via email that the music I had a part in creating had a positive effect in their lives.
You’ve collaborated with so many amazing people over your career, including Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, and Earth, Wind & Fire. What was the most influential collaboration for your career or fondest memory you have?
Playing with bassist Ron Carter, drummer Bernard Purdie and flautist Hubert Laws on my first big studio have to be way up on my list. Playing in Roy Ayres’ band was also a great one. Touring as a pianist with Phyllis Hyman, co-producing Will Downing’s first album (which went gold in the UK in 2 months) are others. There are many such moments. By the way, it’s a common myth that I collaborated with EWF and Stevie. We have shared stages but I have never worked on a project with either of them.
Has being a native New Yorker had an effect on your career, and if so, in what ways?
New York is known as being the hub of musical culture and innovation. It certainly is an important cultural center. Because so many great musicians end up living here, it deeply affects one’s career in the sense that you must find a way to stand out among so many brilliant artists. It can create a great deal of tension if you allow it to. In my case, I did most of my most well-known music outside of New York. I came back years later and didn’t have the same sense of urgency to prove myself here. New York wasn’t a place I had to get used to. I grew up here so I never had that feeling that I had to prove something here. I just did what I wanted. We were fortunate to have had things develop for us the way they did, but I’m not sure being from New York had much to do with it.
You participated in several music programs during your youth. How important are these programs for young, inspiring creators?
It is possible to study on one’s own. Instruction is always a plus but much of what I learned I learned on my own. I advise young artists to seek out instruction in every form possible, whether it’s from books, videos, lectures, listening to music, working with or reaching out to your peers and older artists alike.
What advice do you have for new creators just starting out?
Like what you do. Do your art in a way that you can at least tolerate it. You might see all of the flaws and ways you could have make it better, but in the end, if it doesn’t seriously bother you to death it’s probably better than you think. You want to create for yourself but at the same time other people are your mirror. It’s good to use their responses to help you gain perspective. Don’t try to complicate things just for the sake of making them complicated. Complication in and of itself never adds value to art in my opinion; sincerity and honesty do.
What are your goals for the next few years - personal or professional?
I just want to keep creating and growing as a human being. I want to share what I have learned with others. I consider myself part of a tradition and my goal is to keep that tradition alive in any way that I can.
Anything new planned for 2019 - tours, albums, personal achievements?
I’m currently working on an album - I’ve done one already with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad that should be released this summer. I’ll be coming to UK briefly this summer, performing on July 12 at Hoochie Coochie in Newcastle upon Tyne, on July 13 at the Mostly Jazz Funk & Soul Festival in Birmingham, and at Hideaway in London on the 14th.
Lastly - what is your go-to song to listen to right now?
Whatever’s playing inside my head.
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