Q&A with David Jackson – 2009 NJA Finalist

Miriam Zolin: When did you start playing saxophone and why?  For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

David Jackson: When did you start playing saxophone and why?  For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation? I started playing music at the end of year 7, I guess I was 12 years old. Music hadn’t been a huge part of my household up until this point. My parents played Beatles records when we were growing up and I had bought a couple of Michael Jackson records but we didn’t really do a great deal of talking about music. It was after seeing other students perform at my high school that I thought it might be fun to play so I started hassling my dad, he took a fair bit of convincing but by the Christmas holidays between years 7 and 8 we were hiring a saxophone and it was all very exciting. We bought a book with all the fingerings in it, I learnt most of these before the beginning of year 8 so I could play in the band. Music was just a bit of fun at first but it soon became apparent that I was developing an addiction. By year 10 I was in the music room every lunch time with a few of my mates playing, practicing, writing. We formed a band and did a few function gigs in the local area. I remember one of our first was in a little town of about 300 people called ‘Woodstock’ funnily enough. It was on the platform of a deserted train station, part of a festival that was happening in Cowra, our home town. We were playing a mixture of funk and jazz (or our naïve interpretation of what jazz was) and a big group of drunk people started dancing, half of which were teachers from our school, our principal included, so we thought ‘this whole gig thing is kinda cool’ and looked for more opportunities.

MZ: Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

DJ: I remember one of the first Jazz records I got my hands on was actually a compilation CD that was bought for me. It had tracks by two people who would turn out to be my idols for those early years. Andrew Speight and Tim Hopkins. I then went and bought their records and started listening to them, a lot. It wasn’t long before I was singing all the solos off Tim’s record ‘Upon my camel’, I still love that record. I transcribed Andrew Speight on ‘Night in Tunisia’ and played along with the record, this was all very helpful for me as there wasn’t much jazz around where I grew up and no saxophone teachers. I think the thing that was grabbing me intuitively with both of these guys was their amazing time, and the rhythmic diversity and beautiful lyricism in their improvisation. They were and are very different from one another stylistically but each influenced me for the same reasons. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered Charlie parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Alderley, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Bernie McGann and indeed Radiohead, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The flaming lips, Rachmaninoff, Bach, and many other musicians whom I love and admire. Another sax player who I loved listening to in those early years was Maceo Parker. I got my hands on a record called ‘Live on planet groove’ and listened to it constantly, I think it was his sound that got me as much as anything else.

In later years, it was the clearly evident spirituality of John Coltrane’s music that taught me music could be a lot more than entertainment, indeed it offers as deep and direct an insight into the human condition that can be found anywhere. It was through this discovery and the many doors that it opened that I began to understand just how important an art form Jazz is.

MZ: When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration? For example, do you ever find that other art forms (painting, writing etc.) feed into your own creative process?

DJ: Yeah I guess other art forms do feed their way into my creative process, but so does everything I guess. I don’t think James Nechtwey’s photography influences me any more than a conversation with my brother for example, nor does a film by Jim Jarmusch influence me any more than the sonic collision of birds and traffic. I love the paintings of Salvador Dali, even though he was a money hungry prick, but again, they don’t influence me anymore than political anecdotes in question time. As far as inspiration goes, this changes constantly. When I first started writing music I felt as though composition always needed to be driven by intense surges in emotion and conviction and if these ingredients weren’t in the composition then it was fake, irrelevant, boring. In time I realized that if you want to make a habit of composition then it inevitably becomes a routine based practice.

JA: What are you listening to now?

DJ: Lately I’ve been listening to John Coltrane, particularly the ballads record he did with his quartet. I recently bought the live at half note record that was only released a few years ago. It is amazing, members of this generation can only fantasize about how it would feel to be in the same room as that music, that spirituality, that deep belief in the purpose of ones craft and the precise realisation of intention. I’m always listening to Monk, his compositions are infinitely inventive as is the motivic development in his improvisation. I love Charlie Rouse’s phrasing. I’ve actually been checking out Will vinson’s CD ‘promises’, I didn’t like it at first but its grown on me quite a bit, he manages to be quite lyrical and develop ideas through a maze of extremely restrictive musical parameters.

Go back to the main Q&A page >