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South Bend Tribune
October 31, 2010

Roti pays tribute to mentor Franz Jackson
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Tribune Staff Writer

Lisa Roti says it's hard to single out one special moment in the friendship she had with Franz Jackson and his family.

When pressed, however, the Chicago-based jazz vocalist comes up with one.

"The moment Franz first called me on stage with him is definitely a cherished moment," Roti writes in an interview conducted via e-mail. "He began to introduce a young lady who had, 'all the right stuff.' "

Roti recalls waiting and wondering with the rest of the audience so she could learn the identity of the artist who had impressed the great tenor saxophonist.

"He looked me straight in the eye, and with a smile ear to ear said, 'Well, come on little mama. Show 'em what you got.' "

Roti counted Jackson as a friend and mentor ever since being introduced to the saxophonist through family friends.

Like most Chicago-area jazz players, she knew of Jackson's legendary status, so being singled out for praise by a man who was a part of the jazz scene from the earliest days stands as one of the highlights of Roti's career.

It's one of the reasons why Roti will honor the memory of her friend by performing at the fourth annual Franz Jackson Celebration on Saturday in Dowagiac.

Jackson died in 2008. He would have turned 98 years old on Nov. 1.

Roti will be backed by the band Kimbrough & Co. Guitarist Brent Kimbrough leads that band, which draws on diverse influences such as rock, R&B and classical.

Roti says the age difference never mattered because she realized that learning from Jackson gave her the opportunity to work with one of the last remaining figures from jazz's first generation.

Jackson knew the history, but he also knew how to play.

"It is one thing to listen to those who came before," Roti says. "Knowing who and what came before is key, but having a friendship or a (mentor relationship) with a veteran is only as valuable as the veteran."

Kimbrough agrees that Jackson was an important figure in the Chicago jazz scene.

"If you are a jazz musician from Chicago, it's hard not to be aware of Franz Jackson," he says.

Kimbrough says Roti and another musician introduced him to Jackson, but Kimbrough says he sometimes caught Jackson's performances at a Chicago area jazz club prior to meeting the saxophonist.

"I really liked that big tenor sound -- that Chicago sound -- that speaks to me as a Chicago native," he says.

Kimbrough says he has great respect for saxophonists such as Gene Ammons and Coleman Hawkins, who both were either born in or spent their formative years in Chicago.

Kimbrough adds that although Hawkins' saxophone performance on the song "Body and Soul" is one of the greatest in jazz history, Jackson's version of the song ranks high as well.

Kimbrough says he made a transcription for guitar of the sheet music of Hawkins' version of "Body and Soul."

"So I have knowledge of the Coleman Hawkins version," Kimbrough says. "Franz's version is right up there with Hawkins'. That's the kind of musician Franz was."

In concert

Lisa Roti and Kimbrough & Co. perform at the fourth annual Franz Jackson Celebration at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Wood Fire Italian Trattoria, 134 S. Front St., Dowagiac. Tickets at $15 for adults and $5 for children between ages 5 and 12. Seating is limited, and reservations can be made by calling the Wood Fire Trattoria at 269-782-0007.

Credit: Tribune Staff Writer

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