Ahead of Theo Jackson’s performance at the 606 Club, LauraThorne from the club interviewed him:
LondonJazz News: How and when were you first exposed to jazz music? Do you recall who the artist was in particular?
Theo Jackson: When I was thirteen I was given a school project for which we had to write ‘the history of jazz’. We were expected to write a few pages mentioning some famous names. As I worked on it I listened to a compilation CD which I found in the local library which was simply called ‘Jazz’. The first track featured Sarah Vaughan. Listening to her for the first time got me hooked and I poured my heart and soul into that project and found myself becoming more and more fascinated.
LJN: When did you start playing and singing? Did you explore other styles of music besides jazz?
TJ: We had a bashed up old Clavinova digital piano at home which I taught myself on for a while when I was a kid. I didn’t really understand what I was playing but I would happily explore and learn shapes and patterns that worked on the keys. It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I took some lessons. I was immediately convinced that I was fantastic and insisted that I should be performing which I did for pocket money at local bars and hotels. When I first started playing more seriously I was already listening to jazz but I had a lot of love for Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel. They were all great songwriters in their own ways and writing songs was already a real passion of mine.
LJN: You are developing a significant body of work as a songwriter. Do you set aside a certain time regularly where they sit down and create new material; or do you rely upon inspiration when it strikes?
TJ: I really wish that I could just set aside time to be creative. Unfortunately my approach is more like musical Tourette syndrome – sudden outbursts which I have very little control over. Normally my ideas come during spells of insomnia and I can go several weeks without writing anything then write several tunes in consecutive days. I have come to terms with my way of writing and I get less worried about dry spells now. I can’t say whether any particular approach is better or worse.
LJN: How theoretical is your approach to writing, how much do you think about keys, progressions, chord substitutions and that sort of thing? What other songwriters do you most admire?
TJ: It changes significantly per song. Sometimes I actively try to rein in my musical ideas, particularly if the lyric is dense and meaningful. In those instances I try to make sure that the music is a sort of vessel to carry the meaning of the lyric and that it therefore isn’t too intrusive. I used to write complicated songs incorporating multiple metre changes and convoluted harmony. These days I’m more aware that a well written song can give more space to the performer so I try to write in less detail.
The songwriters I most admire are very varied in style but all have a clear voice in their writing style – Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Becca Stevens, Nick Drake, Erykah Badu, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Billy Strayhorn, Jeff Buckley. They’re all great and there are many more that I am inspired by too. I saw a wonderful band in New York earlier this year called Mother Falcon who write some fantastic arrangements for their tunes. They’re a lot of fun live too, I would recommend checking them out.
LJN: At what point did you decide upon music as a career, and why? Do you have a master plan, it’s a bit of an insecure business where change is constant. Where do you see yourself in say five years?
TJ: If I tell you what I wished for then it won’t come true.
LJN: You had a one-off publishing deal with Concord Jazz (for setting lyrics to the late bassist Scott Lafaro’s composition, “Gloria’s Step”); an album for US/Dutch label Dot Time Records is on its way. What will be on the new record? What will you be performing at the 606 this Sunday?
TJ: The tunes on the album will all be my own songs with one possible exception – I have written a geeky arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ with a lyric which Mr Shorter has recently approved. I will definitely be playing some of those new tunes on the 12th Oct. I will be featuring a new band too and we are getting some wonderfully intense rehearsal time in and I think it is going to be a lot of fun.
LJN. Speaking of which, you’ve been playing at the 606 for a number of years now. How did that all start?
TJ: I first played at the 606 when I was twenty-one. I played a twenty minute solo showcase on a Monday night ahead of the main act. It was actually meant as a sort of audition for a record company. It wasn’t until the night of my twenty-fifth birthday that I was booked to play my own show. It was my first proper London gig – I wasn’t living in town at that point – and I got so nervous that I completely lost my voice. I also met Nathaniel Facey for the first time that night and we have been working together regularly since.
The club has been a constant feature in my diary since that night. As soon as I play I’m on the phone within a few days to book the next one because it is my ‘home away from home’. It is a club which has really supported my development as a young musician and I hope to keep playing there for many years to come.
Theo Jackson Sunday 12 October 8:30pm £10
information/bookings: 606 website/ , Email: firstname.lastname@example.org