It seems every project Jackson becomes involved with becomes a top hit, including his work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, along with Jackson’s own #1 hit single with his version of Motown’s "It’s A Shame," and his own previous album, Still Small Voice.
Yes, every musician has his or her own voice-something unique that tells fans, "this is that person," but Jackson has several voices. He fits perfectly with a perky Motown classic by Stevie Wonder-"Don’t You Worry 'bout a Thing," or, with a Lionel Richie sensual offering of "Easy (Like Sunday Morning)." Equally fine is Jackson’s ability to sit in and fit in with bands of all genres.
His guitar voice? It’s as complex yet, comfortable, as the man, himself---ever changing to fill the bill-- at home within himself, realizing his greatness comes from an even greater source. (It’s amazing how someone with such incredible talent is as mild, warm and humble as Paul Jackson, Jr.)
JazzReview: Your album is already featured in the top 20 on the www.smoothjazztop20countdown.com website. It is also played on Café Jazz Radio. It’s a top request along the Gulf Coast, and it hasn’t even hit the market yet. What a fabulous album!
This is a great sign it’s straight ahead! I already caught my roomy trying to sneak out of the house with it. That’s a marker in this house of a good album!
Lay It Back was a year and a half in the making. Can you tell me a little about the process-how you came up with the idea for this project?
Paul Jackson, Jr: It was kind of interesting. What happened was: I was trying to figure different ways of putting it out and figuring different avenues of marketing. We decided to form a record company. I, my parents and some other folks got together and we formed Branch Records. That was the first thing.
We got busy putting that together. Then, funding came next. We decided to fund it ourselves, so I got busy working a lot of overtime and my folks saved their pennies and a lot of other folks chipped in and helped. That was a learning process.
Next was getting the music just right. That also took time. There were writes and re-writes, so I recorded songs, then went out and played them live (for audience response) and if the audience didn’t like it, I’d go back and do something else. So, there’s some trial and error involved. I think I could do the process a little faster now. That’s why it took a year and a half.
JazzReview: That’s great. It was certainly worth the wait. Is "Lay It Back" a musician term? Or, how did you come up with this title?
Paul Jackson, Jr: It’s a musicians term and on that particular song, written by a buddy of mine, Cornelius Mims, (and myself, actually), the melody is behind the beat. If you’re playing ahead of the beat, you’re on top or ahead of the beat. . If you’re playing behind the beat, you’re playing behind or-laying it back. So, let’s say a guy’s in a band and he’s playing right with the beat, the producer or arranger might say, "You’re right on the beat. I want you to lay it back a little bit or play behind the beat." On this song, the melody is behind the beat so we called it "Lay It Back."
JazzReview: Oh, I love that. I learned something new today. On that song, it sounds like you may be using different guitars, also on "Bay Shore Drive." Are you?
Paul Jackson, Jr: On "Lay It Back," there are two guitars. And on "Bay Shore Drive," there are-you’re correct, there are two guitars.
JazzReview: At this point, because we’re discussing guitars, I would like to bring up the fact you recently had three guitars stolen from you. They are mentioned on your web site, www.pauljacksonjr.com
Paul Jackson, Jr: One of them, I did get back. On the back of the album cover is the PRS. I did get that one back.
JazzReview: I’m sorry that happened. But I am glad you got one back.
You are a musician’s musician-a first call player when somebody wants it done right. You play on American Idol with Ricky Minor’s band. You have played with some of the most outstanding musicians in the world. I’m just surprised your name doesn’t just jump out at me-as familiar as the other famous musicians.
Paul Jackson, Jr: You know it’s funny, because I think God does different things for different people in different ways. I tell people all the time, "I don’t know if I’ve been number one guy but I’ve been number three and four longer than anybody else." He’s given me a really great career. That much I do know.
JazzReview: "To Be Like Him" is a heartfelt, almost spiritual tune. You wrote this tune. Who were you thinking of while writing this?
Paul Jackson, Jr: Three people: Earl Klugh. Growing up I was and still am a big Earl Klugh fan. When I was 15 years old, Patrice Rushen (who is on that album) told me about Earl Klugh. I would go see him every time he came to town... I’d buy all his records. And I even ended up recording on a few of his records. We even did a duet on one of my earlier CDs called "Never Alone." So, to be like him, talks about Earl Klugh.
Second, "To Be Like Him" talks about Paul Jackson, Sr., my dad. He’s always been a great father. My parents made great sacrifices so I could play in bands and practice guitar and become successful.
And, it’s funny, because they weren’t the type of parents who said, "Oh, you’re pursuing music. You should have something to fall back on" or, "You might want to be..." I was going to school for Electrical Engineering and decided I wanted to be a musician.
They were like "Hey, whatever you want to do, just do your best, work hard at it, and we’ll support it. So, my dad was my role model. I was lucky to have Mr. Barber in the neighborhood, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Gibbons .so I had a lot of role models in my neighborhood but ultimately it’s to be like my dad.
And, ultimately, in my life, it’s to be like Christ. like the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, -- because of who He is in my life and what He does in my life.
JazzReview: I noticed in the liner notes how you give homage to God. It is a great thing to be so successful, yet to be so humble and to recognize where the greatness comes from.
"Ballad for Uncle Ronnie" is actually a tribute to Luther Vandross. One of your keyboardists on this album, Rex Rideout often worked with Luther. How did you come to address Luther Vandross as Uncle Ronnie?
Paul Jackson, Jr: I did lots of records with Luther Vandross. I played on "So Amazing" and "Stop to Love." I played on "Here and Now." I played on "Love Power." I mean, I played on lots of records with Luther Vandross. He was a friend. And, I was a fan, even before I ever met him. If you notice, his publishing company was called, Uncle Ronnie’s Music. I asked him once, "Who is Uncle Ronnie?" He said, "I Am." He said, "My middle name is Ronzoni (sp?). All my nieces and nephews call me Uncle Ronnie."
For this album I wanted to do something special. I worked with Rex Rideout on an album, "Forever, For Always, For Luther." The song I did was "Never Too Much." This time, I wanted to do my own tribute so I wrote this song, "Ballad for Uncle Ronnie."
JazzReview: That’s amazing, definitely heartfelt. I was fortunate to have an interview with Rex Rideout for that album. He’s wonderful, but again, he sort of stays in the background. His name isn’t out front even though he’s a fantastic musician (keyboardist).
Paul Jackson, Jr: I think he’s going to change that. I think he’s getting ready to work on some solo projects.
JazzReview: Vocalist James Reese lays it out on "Can This Be Real," bringing plenty of sex appeal with him. Where has this young man been hiding? Or should we already know him from some group?
Paul Jackson, Jr: That’s funny. He’s been hiding in the suburbs of Los Angeles-Compton and Gardena. Interesting story: I grew up with James Reese. I’ve known him since I was 11 or 12. He’s done a lot of producing and remixing for MCA and others. And, he’s been a DJ for years. We’ve written songs in the past and done a lot of other things.
So he called me on the phone. He has his own project called RESSSO; --he called me on the phone and said, "Paul, I got a great idea for a song." I said, "What is it?" He says, "Can this Be Real?" So I was thinking " Can This Be Real" .sounds familiar. There’s a group called The Natural Four. They had one big hit called "Can This Be Real?" It’s one of those songs where everybody can hum the song but nobody knows who did it. It actually took a while to find out who did it and who wrote it. So we decided to get together. We laid the tracks and he did the vocals. That’s how that happened.
JazzReview: He is cutting it on that song. He’s wonderful. Looks like he’s getting ready to launch his own career, too.
Paul Jackson, Jr: He’s incredible on there. Yes, look out for James Reese.
JazzReview: "Lucy the Cat" brings Jeff Lorber into the fold. He is very successful in his career. How did you choose Jeff for this song?
Paul Jackson, Jr: We were working on some songs-"Lucy the Cat" and at the end did the "Work Out" We were in the studio working and while working, Jeff has a couple of cats, one named Geldorf and one named Lucy, that were roaming about.. We got to the end of writing the song and wondered what to call it. So, I said, "Hey, how about we call it "Lucy the Cat?"
I’ve done a lot of work with Jeff Lorber and with Art Porter and Dave Koz, and we’ve done ton and tons of songs together so the outcome of that was "The Workout" and "Lucy the Cat."
JazzReview: That’s incredible.
Then you take a different direction with "Easy (Like A Sunday Morning)," taking us back to the day of old school. You hit every note and did some pretty hot stretches on guitar. You managed to roll the notes into something very sensual. Also, on Stevie Wonder’s song, "Don’t You Worry 'bout a Thing." You managed to hit every single note all the way through. You have Wayne Bergeron on trumpet and flugelhorn for that. He’s a very successful artist in his own right.
Paul Jackson, Jr: Thank you. Wayne is fantastic. He’s kind of an anomaly. He’s a great jazz player. He’s a great studio player. And, he plays for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He’s incredible. We were doing something at the Hollywood Bowl, with BB King and I see Wayne in a tuxedo. I was amazed. I had no idea. So, he’s just an incredible musician, as all of them are-Chuck Finley, Dan Higgins and Steve Baxter-all the horn players. Wayne is a great jazz player, a great session-section player and a great popular player.
JazzReview: Okay-what is the difference between a jazz player and a session player?
Paul Jackson, Jr: Well, there is a difference, per se-in terms of musicianship. But, a lot of times it’s approach. Let me see if I can break it down: Let’s think of singers for a second. You have the lead singers who go out and sing. Then you have the background singers that have to blend and harmonize with other singers. They have to be rhythmically more precise because they’re coming in, and coming out on downbeats or upbeats or whatever. And, they have to do it with other people so they have to be more precise. So there are things you need with a background singer that isn’t necessarily needed for the soloist in terms of precision. For a soloist, you need charisma, you need chops and you need presentation-stuff like that.
Same thing is true of musicianship. It’s one thing to be able to play great solos and have a great tone and to really project. And, I have a lot of musical ideas. It’s another thing to be able to come in and blend with other players and be as rhythmically precise as they are-- To come in and out and blend. It’s really a unique gift. Also-and this is critical-is the music readings. As a soloist most the time you don’t have to read that much music. You learn the melody. You learn the solos. You play, and you’re done.
As a section guy, or session guy, there are tons and tons of reading-especially for horn players. Wayne and I did some Big Band records-in fact, on one record, we did four recordings in three hours. Everything was written out. We also did a tribute record, which Quincy Jones did to someone, (I can’t remember who it was to) -I went over and looked at the horn part. And, the pages were just black with notes. I had a new respect for these guys. Okay, let’s come in. We’ve got to do it great. We’ve got to do it fast and we’ve got to do it now! It’s a different mind-set. And, it’s a different talent. And, the fact he can do that is amazing.
And classical is a different situation. You’re watching a conductor, you’re reading and there is no improvisation. It’s exacting. So, just to be able to do that is quite amazing.
JazzReview: As if that wasn’t hot enough, you get down and get funky with "Swing It." This song is truly ‘swinging deep.’ Dan Higgins blows a mean sax, and the background vocals are right on time! You have some wonderful background singers on this. It looks as though you may have two of your youngsters doing background and vocals.
Paul Jackson, Jr: That was Dorian Holley, Sharlotte Gibson and Lynn Fidamont and my daughter, Lindsey Jackson.
JazzReview: It’s nice when you can bring your own kids into the loop. Particularly when they try to follow in your footsteps, which is what it sounds like they’re doing.
Paul Jackson, Jr: Yes it is. She’s a great singer, which is nice. So I decided to give her some encouragement and get her started. It was nice to be able to do that.
JazzReview: Your son then offers a new, hot beat with "Hit It." He’s got it going on!! What an honor to also have a son following in your footsteps.
Paul Jackson, Jr: He’s into the dance and the hip hop stuff and we were sitting there, creating and I said, let’s come up with something he would approve of. That’s how that came about.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about this album compared to your last album, Still Small Voices. What is the big difference with your new album? What sets it apart from your previous album?
Paul Jackson, Jr: I think the big difference is, number one: there’s fourteen songs compared to 11. The other difference is I always like to stretch a little musically. Let’s push the envelope. Let’s see if I can play better or grow a little.-come up with different progressions or different beats, or something. The other difference is I used a lot more real horns.
JazzReview: Can you tell me a highlight in your career? You have played with the best of the best-did something stand out to make you say, "Wow! I can’t believe I got here?" You have played in front of amazing audiences.
Paul Jackson, Jr: There have been a few. First would be working for Michael Jackson on the Thriller record and Quincy Jones.
Second would be playing for Ella Fitzgerald when I was 19 years old; And, working with the Crusaders; When I played with Quincy Jones for the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton; Playing with Whitney Houston in South Africa. Apartheid had just stopped a year or two before we went there. Being in South Africa was amazing. When they opened the curtain and I saw all those people, I got teary-eyed.
Let’s see-even last year on American Idol when they pulled back the curtain and got a close up while I was playing "Reeling in the Years." I’ve been fortunate to have many outstanding moments. Even going on tour with Patrice Rushen when I was 20 years old-that was amazing.
JazzReview: Memories like these are meant for someone with the awesome abilities and genuine humility of Paul Jackson, Jr., with or without instant name recognition, Jackson is a gift who keeps on giving. His name will be on top for quite a while. He is well worth watching for as he brings us great musical treats.
Lay It Back is full of what all music lovers enjoy-rich jazz, a touch of R&B, a bit of funk and a whole lot of great music.