Featuring Jackson with pianist Bruce Barth, alto saxophonist Joe Ford, bassist John Benitez, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and drummer Clarence Penn
One of the best young jazz singers Iíve heard in over a decade." --George Kanzler, Newark Star-Ledger
Laird Jackson is arguably the best of the many singers that have had their debut in recent years." --Swing Journal
Consolidation Artists Productions (CAP) announces the October 1, 2002 release of Laird Jacksonís Touched, the New York-based jazz singerís first album since 1994. While Jacksonís 1994 debut, Quiet Flame, emphasized popular standards of the 1930s and 1940s, Touched has a more contemporary outlook. Jackson is still an improvising jazz vocalist, but this time, she turns her attention to six original songs as well as material by Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Bill Withers and Donovan. The only song on the CD that goes back to popís pre-rock era is the haunting Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes classic Lonely House."
For Jackson, finding the jazz potential in songs by Wonder, Mitchell, Withers and Donovan is as natural as performing a jazz version of a George Gershwin or Cole Porter standard. There seems to be this school of thought that says that if something wasnít written before 1950, it couldnít possibly be done in a jazz way," explains Jackson, who grew up in Michigan but has lived in New York since 1985. To me, thatís ridiculous. It isnít the song itself that determines whether or not youíre singing jazz--itís what you do with it. I love those old standards, but thereís a lot more out there."
Indeed, Jacksonís dreamy, Brazilian-influenced interpretations of Wonderís Visions" (which opens Touched) and Withersí I Want to Spend the Night" demonstrate that 1970s soul-pop classics can easily be relevant to jazz singing. And she also brings an improvising jazz mentality to folk-rocker Donovanís 1960s hit Catch the Wind" (which becomes a mellow, laid-back jazz ballad) and Joni Mitchellís Tin Angel" (which she changes from folk-pop to folk-tinged jazz).
When the time came for Jackson to record Touched, it was important to find musicians and producers who understood where she was coming from musically--and the singer has sympathetic company in two different producers: James Browne (not to be confused with the Godfather of Soul) and pianist/keyboardist Aaron Graves. Jackson, who serves as executive producer, is joined by a long list of New York-based improvisers who include, among others, pianist Bruce Barth, alto saxophonist Joe Ford, bassist John Benitez, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and drummer Clarence Penn.
Although Jackson is jazz-oriented, she is quick to point out that she is far from a jazz snob. Abbey Lincoln, Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson are influences, but there are also R&B overtones in her singing. Jackson stresses: My tastes are very wide. I donít listen to jazz exclusively--I also listen to everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Curtis Mayfield to the Rev. James Cleveland. I love gospel; I love Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music."
In fact, the singerís appreciation of Latin music asserts itself more than once on Touched. Jacksonís interpretations of I Want to Spend the Night" and Visions" both have a Brazilian feel, while her sensuous Consuela Mi" recalls the Afro-Cuban boleros of the 1940s and 1950s. Other Jackson originals on the CD range from the reflective title song (a vocal/guitar duet with Martin Sewell) to the playful Take a Little Walk." Although the latter has a bright melody, it was inspired by something very tragic. Jackson notes: I wrote ĎTake a Little Walkí for a very close friend who was obliterating himself with drugs. The song is saying, ĎLeave the dark side, and come walk with me over to the bright side.í ĎTake a Little Walkí has such a playful melody, but it was inspired by something very dark."
Jacksonís lyrics often have a highly spiritual quality. The singer thinks of the a cappella Yet Still" as a musical prayer, and the inspiring, hopeful Towards the Sun" encourages positive living--it has the sort of uplifting spirituality one might expect from Earth, Wind & Fire or Lonnie Liston Smith. And Jackson's own albums aren't the only place to find her compositions; Jackson's Share a Life" is among the songs that guitarist Ed Cherry embraces on his 2001 Justin Time release The Spirits Speak.
Meanwhile, Lonely House" is one of Kurt Weillís lesser known melodies. Jackson explains: To me, ĎLonely Houseí is a real city song. It speaks of the loneliness that can exist in a large city like New York. Some people living in large cities are so alone."
Born in Cleveland, Jackson grew up in the Detroit area and attended Western Michigan University before moving to New York in 1985. After making her presence felt on the New York club scene, she was featured on the Big Apple Voices project of 1993 (which also featured Roseanna Vitro and Carla Cook, among others). Then, in 1994, she recorded her first album, Quiet Flame, which came out on the Venus label and employed Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Donald Harrison on alto sax, Steve Nelson on vibes, Chris Thomas on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Quiet Flame enjoyed favorable reviews; Down Beat, which gave the disc three and a half stars, wrote: Ms. Jackson, in her after-hours debut album, offers jabs of sadness and blues-tinged passion to conquer your heart with respectful readings of 10 standards." And JazzTimes lauded: Laird Jacksonís strong, sensuous voice (is) supplemented by excellent phrasing."
After the release of Quiet Flame, Jackson continued to perform in New York and made some appearances in Europe as well. Why did it take her so long to provide a second album? In a nutshell, she was determined to do things her own way and be in the creative driverís seat--even if it meant waiting a few more years to come out with another album. Those who heard Jackson live realized that she had an independent spirit; she wasnít just another young singer who was trying to be a clone of Sarah Vaughan.
Instead of trying to sound exactly like the masters, young jazz singers need to find their own reality," Jackson emphasizes. All of the songs on this album mean something to me personally. Touched is a very personal album."