Catching Up With BK Jackson
Saxophonist BK Jackson is young but he is quickly gaining the experience of a veteran. The Tampa, Florida native released his first album, On the Move while he was in high school and has already opened for several musical greats including B.B. King, Chaka Khan, Kirk Whalum, Wayman Tisdale, Gerald Albright, and Roy Ayers to name a few. In 2007, BK won the gold medal in the music instrumental/contemporary category of the NAACP Afro Academic Technological Scientific Olympics. He followed that by winning the Capital Jazz Festival Challenge in Columbia, Maryland.
Perhaps BK’s success as a jazz artist is related to his deep understanding of the genre. He is currently majoring in jazz studies at Florida A&M University. As an avid supporter of keeping music instruction in our schools, BK conducts seminars for a nonprofit called KIP for Kids. He even researched the correlation between students’ ability to read music and their academic performance and found positive results.
BK is working hard as an indie artist and I am delighted to share our conversation about his musical experiences and his album.
Mimi: How did you start playing the saxophone?
BK: I’m a drummer at heart but I sound better on the saxophone. I went into the 6th grade expecting to learn how to play the drums but the drum set wasn’t offered until 7th grade and you had to be in the jazz band to play. So, I had to learn something else. My mom said to pick up the sax. I guess it does pay to listen to your mom because she was on the money on that one (laughing). From there, I’ve just kind of been playing ever since. I started playing in church and that’s where I learned a lot, from how to play in different keys to even my showmanship and being comfortable in front of crowds. The church definitely had a big role in helping me be the artist that I am today.
Mimi: How long have you been playing?
BK: I started playing at age 11. I fell in love with the horn instantly. My first performance was like a month before my 12th birthday and I had been playing for about 10 months at that time.
Mimi: You’ve opened for a long list of artists. How have those experiences helped you as a solo artist?
BK: I’ve learned a lot about how to be an artist on stage. I remember seeing Najee, Will Downing, Brian Culbertson, Peter White and all these artists and when I went to their shows, I would look at their showmanship and how they connected with the crowd. I also looked at how they interacted with their band members and things like that. Now that I’m older, I listen to how artists put together their set list to keep their show flowing. I learn a lot by watching and listening and I think about things that the average listener would not.
Every time I open for different people, I get exposed to different crowds. I opened for Fantasia and Brian McKnight, which was a completely different crowd than when I opened for B.B. King. That keeps me honest as an artist because I need to entertain the r&b crowd as well as some more seasoned jazz lovers. So, to get the reaction from the two crowds lets me know that I’m doing something right and I’m going in the right direction. The interaction with the crowd is the key. Just because it’s jazz, that doesn’t mean that people just want to sit there and listen to it. They want to feel like they’re a part of the music. So, I get them to clap their hands and be engaged.
Mimi: How do you respond to those who may wonder what you know about jazz at such a young age?
BK: There are so many mediums out right now. If this were maybe 20 years ago, I would have had to do a lot of in-depth research. I would have had to find the actual vinyl records and things like that to understand the older artists. But, mediums like YouTube make the world a lot smaller and you can really learn who the greats were back in the day that paved the way for jazz to evolve into what it is today. I would have to say that technology played a big part in me learning about jazz, along with the teachings that I got in high school and now college.
2008 Album – On the Move
Mimi: Why did you choose On the Move as the name of your album?
BK: It was around 2008 that I really had a chance to start performing at more notable events. I won the Capital Jazz Challenge that year and before that I placed first in the NAACP ACT-SO competition. So, it was around that time when a lot of things started to get in motion for me. It’s funny because it still holds true today. I’ll text friends and they’ll ask “What city are you in today?” (laughing).
Mimi: I really like the song on your album called My Sunday Groove. What was the inspiration behind that song?
BK: My Sunday Groove was actually written by the producer Allon Sams. It was one of the last tracks that we recorded. My mom was like “You need to have a church song somewhere on the cd. It doesn’t have to be a cover but people need to listen and be like ok, that’s a church song”. So, Allon took that and ran with it. He put the song together and I fell in love with it. It’s a different groove. It’s not the traditional but it still has that Sunday feel to it and that’s my Sunday groove.
Mimi: If you had to part with all of your music except three albums, which three would you have to keep?
BK: Number one is Eric Darius’ Night on the Town. That is his first cd and I love it. Eric Darius is from Tampa and we went to the same high school. He’s a hometown favorite and that gave me inspiration because if he can make it, I can do the same. Number two would have to be Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album. It has one of my favorite saxophone players, Cannonball Adderley. I’ll go with any Chaka Khan record for number three. I take that back. I love Chaka but I have to go with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.
Mimi: What is one good b-side song that you would suggest?
BK: The first one that comes to mind is The Crunge from the Joshua Redman Elastic Band album Momentum.
Mimi: What can we expect from you soon?
BK: I’m getting more dates and spots so you’ll notice a more national presence. I’ll be doing a lot to keep myself relevant. I’m working on a new album and it will be out next year. The music is gonna be hot and James Lloyd from Pieces of a Dream is producing it. I also do the jazz program at the Florida A&M University radio station.
Now that you’ve read about BK, check out the video below where he plays a little and talks about one of his funniest moments on stage.
Purchase On the Move