"All of these art forms represent the fundamental aspect of what the blues is," says Jackson, "and that's the feeling of emotion, generally ascending out of adversity or tribulation in the celebration of life." Blues is at the root of all modern music and Jackson has an interdisciplinary approach: "All the forms and fundamental aspects of jazz music: whether it's grooves like swing or a two-beat groove or a blues form: are different poses and functions of choreography, and the same with poetry or prose. All those forms come together."
Jackson anticipates a hard, swinging look at the function of the beat in contemporary musical culture and how it tangles with the classic traditions of jazz percussion. He's showcasing an evening of original compositions and interpretations of music from iconic composers such as Duke Ellington and others to explore the overlap of tap, poetry and song. "The hip-hop comes out of these true forms," Jackson adds. "A raw version of the elements of blues, tap, modern dance and poetry." Included in the band are Lionel Loueke (guitar), Ben Williams (bass) and Marc Cary (keyboard). The concert will include spoken word artists as well as world-class dancer Hope Boykin and other members of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.
Jackson draws from artistic genius for this show. "From Walt Whitman to all the great poets and writers of American tradition, to the great musicians and artists in the history of jazz music, I've been influenced by all of them. I really try to carry the belief and the meaning of the music in what I do. Drums and dance have always had a relationship."
Jackson will bring a fresh sound to some true classics. "Some music will be arranged to fit new pieces," he says. "So we might play some of Duke's music or a newly commissioned work that is about Duke's music or what that represents. We're going to use all the different forms of jazz music, of prose and of dance. The forms and idioms coming together become a new piece of art."
He says the performance will differ from the beat poets of yesteryear: "It's not just somebody playing a beat behind somebody else doing spoken word. It will be a tapestry of all of the idioms intersecting in a very cohesive way.... When you present something new, it doesn't matter who it's from. That's the beauty of jazz music: something old can be very new. It's just like how hip-hop musicians sample old stuff and then they make it new. In jazz music, a classic piece is classic, it's timeless. It's just the interpretation that makes it new."
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Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.