July 8, 2012
Jackson CD Hinges on Kickstarter Campaign
By Jeremy Bonfiglio
DOWAGIAC - When Michelle Jewell, the daughter of late jazz saxophonist Franz Jackson, recorded the three-hour concert at her father's 95th birthday party she never intended to release it.
"I wasn't thinking about turning it into a CD," Jewell says of the Nov. 4, 2007, event that took place at the Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center. "I just recorded it so we would have it."
Six months later, on May 6, 2008, Jackson died, and that recording unwittingly captured what would be his final public performance.
"When I went back and heard the music and all the nuances and how great all those guys sounded that night, especially my dad, I thought, 'What better tribute is there to him?'" Jewell says. "It seemed a shame that no one besides my family would get to hear this."
So on May 26, Jewell set up a donation page on the fan-funded site kickstarter.com to raise $9,000 to finish production of the two-disc recording, "Franz Jackson: Milestone," which she hopes to release in November on what would have been his 100th birthday. As of Friday, $6,050 had been pledged with $2,950 left to make the project a reality. If Jewell doesn't reach her campaign's target, which ends at 3:46 p.m. Tuesday, she says she won't receive any of the money and the CD will be put on hold.
"It's an all-or-nothing project," Jewell says. "I'm a little nervous because there's not a whole lot of time left, but I'm hoping people jump on board at the last minute. He was such a tremendous talent. I don't want people to forget him, not just because he was my dad, but because I think it's important that his name and his music live on."
As a virtuoso saxophonist and clarinetist, Jackson, who moved his family to Dowagiac in 1975, was a mainstay in Chicago jazz clubs dating back to the Roaring '20s.
He was born in 1912, in Rock Island, Ill., and came to Chicago with his mother when he was 13. He began teaching himself to play reed instruments and at 16 was working with pioneer boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons.
By the 1930s, Jackson was playing and writing scores for bandleader-composer Fletcher Henderson - widely considered the architect of big-band swing - and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. He also wrote big band compositions and arrangements for Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway.
In the 1950s, Jackson led his own band, the Original Jass All-Stars, which had a 10-year stint at the Red Arrow nightclub in Stickney, Ill., notably absorbing the bebob innovations that supplanted swing into his sound.
"When you're a kid, they're just musicians, people who work with dad," Jewell says. "But looking back on it I remember my brother and I sitting on stage when my dad was playing with Ella Fitzgerald. I remember meeting Duke Ellington. We saw Dizzy Gillespie frequently. Roy Eldridge. I used to call him Uncle Roy, Roy. These people were so close to my parents they were part of our extended family."
Although Jackson maintained an apartment in Chicago, he called Dowagiac home for nearly 35 years. His mother and stepfather, Arthur and Effee Turner, owned "the round house" on M-51 South. They also owned the lot across the street, and after they built a house on the property, Jackson and his family moved in. Jewell's brother, Robert, now lives at the residence.
"I was 9 when we moved to Michigan," says Jewell, who now lives in Niles, "and that's the house my brother and I grew up in."
Even into his 90s, Jackson remained active in the music scene, appearing regularly at venues and festivals in and around Chicago. He especially stole the show at his own 95th birthday concert by playing with a rotating list of colleagues and the musicians he inspired, including vocalist Judi K; clarinetist Tad Calcara; trumpeters Art Hoyle and George Bean; drummers Hank Tausend and Billy Nicks; and fellow saxophonists Eric Schneider and Yves Francois.
The set list foar that final concert featured classics such as "Bourbon Street Parade," "St. Louis Blues" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," which will all appear on the two-disc set, but the real gem, Jewell says, is a familiar tune that Jackson loved but never recorded.
"One of the highlights is the fact that we recorded 'When The Saints Go Marching In,'" Jewell says. "That may seem insignificant, but my dad being a traditional jazz musician from the start, knew that everybody recorded that song so he made it a point never to put it on any of his previous discs. So this will be the only recording that I know of that has my dad performing 'When The Saints Go Marching In.'"
In addition to pledges, Jewell says she's also received a lot of other support from the jazz community. In fact, she just confirmed last week that jazz greats Ramsey Lewis and Marian McPartland have agreed to contribute quotes about her father's musical impact, which will appear on the CD jacket.
"There were so many musicians who supported bigger names who didn't get famous but were just as talented as the Dukes and the Cabs and the Louies and all those guys who were out front," Jewell says. "My dad's contributions are so extensive, and yet, like many, he is one of a number of under-recognized musicians of that era. My hope is that this CD, along with the rest of his body of work, continues to get him noticed and exposes his music to a new generation."
How to help
To contribute to the "Franz Jackson: Milestone" project, visit www.franzjackson.com or www.kickstarter.com and search for "Franz Jackson." Pledges can be made from $5 and up with incentives ranging from a personal thank you note to copies of the finished CD and more. All funds will be used for finishing production of the CD, promotion and release. Any amount in excess of the goal will be used for the Sixth annual Franz Jackson Jazz Celebration to be held November in Dowagiac.