Jesse Jackson
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Jesse Jackson


Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"Jesse Jackson Has a Mission: To Make You Stop and Listen"

Jesse Jackson Has a Mission: To Make You Stop and Listen

“For performing in general, you have to maintain people’s attention – you need to make them laugh, cry and think.” – Jesse Jackson, musician

By Omar Sommereyns

Just past midnight on Lincoln Road, and the sauced-up nightcrawlers are out strutting their stuff, meandering alongside the garish restaurants and storefronts. Around Meridian Avenue, a ragged bearded bum pushes his life’s belongings in a baby carriage while, just across him, a few sloppy drunks are shouting obscenities and pestering random walkers with vile behavior.

Nearby, one man plays his guitar, not a worry in mind. He’s got some stories to tell and, at this moment, this is where he’s telling them.

“Hey — can I play you a song?” he asks an older couple.

“Maybe next time,” the man says, his arm firmly swung around his woman.

Unaffected, the young troubadour looks over his repertoire and finds a piece to play. When he finishes, and some people have stopped to listen, he’ll say, “I’m Jesse Jackson.” Naturally, everyone believes at first that he’s talking about the famed black reverend, but he assures them it’s no lie. “That’s my name.”

Ever since he’s been down here – a good five years or so – the 28-year-old Jackson has preferred busking on the street with a dandy amp and mike set-up. Tonight, he’s quite happy, having been able to woo some people into surrendering brief moments of their time – from a group of excited young visitors to a wandering Beach local tugging a feisty Italian greyhound. He’s made more than a hundred bucks and he’s stopped several people on their way, offering them a song or two before they reenter their little lives.

His choice location is right in front of the ArtCenter because he has more space there and he’s less bothersome to the restaurants and their swanky, dolled-up diners. Usually, he’ll stay out from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., although it varies.

“I love playing out here,” he says. “In a bar, it’s difficult to get your friends to come out all the time and see you. Eventually they get tired of it, and the people that are there already have their own reasons: drinking, getting laid, meeting new people. … It can be difficult to win them over. But in the street, people that don’t wanna listen just keep walking by and the people that do are the ones you really want to play to.”

Right then, he sees a group of curious tourists and reels them in by a casual, “Time for a little song?” A cluster of people begins to assemble around the young musician as he gets lost in his charming, yet brutally honest way of telling tales of sex, death, God and government. Here on Lincoln, the group of tourists lend their ears as he heartily plays his “Psalm.”

It’s amazing you don’t look more like your mother/What with all the time we wastin’/tastin’ vicious, verbally disgusting treats we cook up one another/It’s amazing I don’t look more like my father, all them flyin’ insults tryin’ to become a part of what I’m tryin’ not to be/Don’t bother me at all.

It’s amazing that we don’t all just drink whiskey/And throw our clothes down on the floor and fight the fight worth fighting for and bill the rich to feed the poor/And open up some ancient door with this key.

Call Jesse Jackson a folk singer if you want, although it doesn’t really matter. For too long now, Miami’s been suffering from a deplorable dearth of live-music venues and many musicians either leave or somehow cultivate a scene by their own means. The fad-filled image glaze all around often obscures anything meaningful. But all the while, Jesse Jackson – a loudening voice in the scene – still believes in the redoubtable power of song and word. Every day, he’s busy concocting compelling sounds and ideas, offering them to whoever wants to listen, with, in the back of his head, Bob Dylan still singing Johnny’s in the basement/Mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement/Thinking about the government in “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

Seated on the curb near Jackson’s set-up, Tara Harris, a friend and drama student at New World, talks about the man’s persistence throughout the years. “I’ve seen this guy work really hard and stick around in the scene,” she says. “There’s a lot of great music and musicians here, but there isn’t quite that unity that you see in other places like Northern California.”

While she’s speaking, Jackson’s playing a cheeky little ditty written by Rob Katz of Miami’s stanky-funk outfit Pencilgrass. I’m gay…I’ve just come out the closet/Can your brother come out and play? Expectedly, the lyrics grab the attention of several onlookers – particularly a homely, rather square-looking chap hunched under a large backpack. His name’s Moses, he says, and he’s very interested in knowing whether Jackson’s singing about being gay or, well, just being happy.

“It’s a very tricked-out word,” Moses explains. “I’m not a homosex - Miami Sunpost

"Broward New Times review"

From Tom Waits to George Gershwin to Chopin, the influences on Jesse Jackson, a renegade musician bending the norms of the dance-obsessed Miami scene, produce a passionate iteration of contemporary soul-folk. You can often spot the blond, affable Jackson performing outside Back Door Bambie, an incongruous figure with his portable amplifier and thrift-store clothes, pulling from a seemingly bottomless pit of fantastic original songs and obscure, wonderful covers. He's a multi-instrumentalist who started on saxophone at age 12 and is now comfy on cuatro, banjo, and guitar, among other instruments. Jackson has called South Florida home since an escape from Las Vegas deposited him here in 2000. Last year, he abandoned traditional venue gigs in favor of busking on the street corners and alleyways of Miami Beach, claiming he makes a better living there than in the clubs. - Broward New Times

"CONCERT REVIEW - Local performers express folk talent at North Beach Bandshell"

Next was Jesse Jackson, a singer-songwriter who has called Miami his home since 2000. Clad in plaid pajama pants and playing a Latin American instrument called the cuatro, Jackson's commanding voice emanated from a tiny amplifier, the distortion causing him to sound like Delta blues singer from the 1930s howling out of a Victrola record player. As he played a minor key strut about lovemaking in a telephone booth "on a little bit of whisky and vermouth," one could almost imagine the mural of a serene bayside behind him turning into the façade of a speakeasy.

All of Jackson's songs featured clever wordplay, vivid imagery and intelligent composition, but things really started to heat up as a three piece Dixieland horn section joined him onstage for a rousing rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In," blaring countermelodies as Jackson stomped in place and improvised nonexistent verses.

The horn players, Kevin Russell, Keith Cooper and UM student Chad Bernstein, remained to supply slinky harmonized lines that gave Jackson's colorful songs an added depth, a wailing clarinet and muted trombone further tying his modern music to the great songwriters of the past.

Alternating between cuatro, six- and 12-string guitar, and banjo, Jackson demonstrated incredible musicianship, especially impressive since he attended the Berklee College of Music as a saxophone player. Jackson's advanced harmonic knowledge was clearly evident in his original songs, a shade or two more sophisticated than traditional singer-songwriter fare.

The highlight of the evening was when Jackson welcomed to the stage a young boy named Bailey Case, who sang with surprising presence a gospel-tinged dig at conservatism with the chorus "in the name of the father / in the name of the son / in the name of the Holy gross national production." This surprise, like Jackson's music, would be ill-advised in the hands of a lesser performer, but with his adept guidance the results bordered on euphoric.

Jackson plays every Thursday at Cornerstone on 20th Street and North Miami Avenue in the Wynwood art district, and for anyone who enjoys folk music with a twist, this is one show you won't want to miss.

- Miami Hurricane

"No, Not That Jesse Jackson"

Miami can be a tough town if your musical tastes fall outside South Beach dance music or Latin jazz. Most lesser-known indie rock bands and folk singers tend to give Miami a miss. But tonight's free Jesse Jackson show at the North Beach Band Shell (7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach) should bring Miami's underserved music lovers some relief. Jackson, a recent transplant to Miami, is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who blends melodic, melancholy folk music with Brazilian and country influences to create a gentle, harmonious sound. The song "I Don't Have You" draws influence from Caetano Veloso, while other tunes are reminiscent of Beck's mellower songs on Sea Change. Jackson began playing the saxophone at the age of twelve. After a stint at Berklee College of Music, he struck out on his own and became a fixture of Miami Beach alleys. Hipsters, hippies, artsy intellectuals, and folkies unite at 7:00.
- Miami New Times

"The bard of Lincoln Road: From the street to the stage, Jesse Jackson hits his own note"


Last year, Jesse Jackson played a series of shows at the North Beach bandshell. Most nights, it poured. The rain didn't stop Jackson. The 28-year-old Tom Waits fan looked out over the darkening venue and invited the audience onstage.

Jackson has a way of making a place home. For the last five years, Miami has been the town where he's laid his hat (which, on the day we meet in South Beach, is a natty straw bowler) -- even though the city's about the least likely place for a word-spieling, jazz-and-rock-loving folksinger to try to make a living. Or as Jackson puts it in his song Diamond-Studded Toilet, ``Cause ain't nobody dumber than a guitar strummer in the middle of a miserable Miami summer.''

''Ah, Miami,'' the skinny, dirty-blond troubadour says, looking around Lincoln Road, where he's been known to make his living busking. ``I was born with an uncanny ability to block out my surroundings.''

Actually, judging by the way he's been able to create a growing legion of true believers, in a town hardly known as a live-music mecca, Jackson doesn't block out his surroundings: He reinvents them. He used to be a fledgling wanna-Beat preoccupied with ''denouncing society'' who played and sometimes lived on the streets. Now, he's probably the most buzzed-about unsigned musical act in South Florida.

''We've worked with a lot of pop stars,'' says Adam Zimmon, the Miami guitarist who plays with the Spam Allstars and Shakira. Zimmon and Aaron Fishbein (who, as megaproducer Scott Storch's main axman, has played on records by Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé Knowles) are producing a batch of songs for Jackson.

``What's great about working with Jesse is there's a lot of stuff flying around in his head. People have to understand what a good storyteller he is.''

Jackson is a gifted singer/songwriter, adept at Dylanesque streams of consciousness and Leonard Cohenesque ballads of blue. He's also a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, a player of guitar, sax, piano, drums, banjo, cuatro, and more. That double whammy has made him a musician's musician, the envy and pride of South Florida's artistic community.

But wearing so many hats can make it hard to get anything done. Jackson's a perfectionist. He hears every sound of how an orchestration should be in his head and wants to get it exactly right -- and have it feel spontaneous. Not to mention trying to choose between the solo, acoustic recording of a song and the reggae band version. No wonder the long-rumored recordings remain closely guarded.

The Miami Herald got a sneak listen. From the Muscle Shoals-esque groove of Grass Is Greener to the searing solo protest of Apocalypse, Jackson has the stylistic range and adroit wordplay of a Beck or Joni Mitchell, and a timeless sensibility.

''Jesse has a really unique style for someone his age,'' says Ethan Schwartz, co-founder of this weekend's Langerado Music Festival in Sunrise, where Jackson is one of six Florida-based artists picked to play. ``It's very mature songwriting.''

Jackson was born to American expatriates in Lucca, Italy. His painter dad and musician mother named him not after the reverend, but after an artist named Jesse Frost. Italian was his first language. Then the family moved back to Cody, Wyoming when he was 8. He spent about seven years in culture shock, ''a troubled youth . . . I wish I could take every single kid out of Cody,'' he says.

Around 12, Jackson picked up the sax. His playing got him into the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied for three semesters. He was a jazz purist until he accepted Bob Dylan and Van Morrison: ''Those songs were my best friend.'' From there, he began soaking up rockers and songwriters. But he didn't begin writing until a month before he moved to Miami, where he came to visit a friend and decided to remain.

The city's musicians quickly embraced Jackson. He's played with Nicole Chirino, DJ Spam, and Tony Laurencio (Bacilos, Suenalo Sound System). He was one of the highlights of the multicultural Nervous City Orchestra, assembled by esteemed Brazilian composer Livio Tragtenberg. With two stand-up bassists and another guitarist, he performs Sundays at Stop Miami and Mondays at Jazid. In a week, he leaves for a one-month tour of the Northeast, where he'll be playing living rooms and alternative spaces, DIY-style.

Jackson admits to thinking about cities like New York or Montreal. But in those bard-packed burgs, he'd be a needle in a haystack. In South Florida, he's a diamond getting its polish on.

''People are taking me seriously and they never did before,'' he says. ``I didn't give them a reason to. Now I'm giving myself a reason. It would be nice to pay some bills, fix my credit, apologize to society. I think I have a fighting chance.'' - Miami Herald


Jesse is currently recording his debut CD.


Feeling a bit camera shy


About Jesse Jackson:

If you have been in the Miami area may have noticed Jesse around town, playing a banjo, a cuatro, his sax, or tapping his foot which jingles, and always telling a story. Making Miami his home in the last five years, he has found a spot that has inspired him to create and share his music.

Born in Italy , in the province of Lucca in a small community – Comune di Camairoe, Jesse lived there until he was 8 years old and moved with his family to Wyoming . He found an interest in music at a young age, and took up the saxophone when he was 12. Being the son of artists – his father a sculptor/painter and his mother a songwriter – Jesse was always encouraged to be creative. He loved to paint and draw, and in his freshman year of high school he discovered jazz through his teacher/mentor Bud Cox. This led him to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston where he formed a funk ensemble – The Jesse Jackson Project – and began to perform publicly as a leader and sideman. Leaving Berklee he headed to Las Vegas for a short stint, and began to fiddle with a new toy his mother had given him - his first guitar.

In 2000, he moved to Miami and spent the next few years writing songs, teaching himself to play guitar, piano, flute and an assortment of indigenous South American instruments that he had discovered (including the charango, cuatro, tres and more). His musical influences include Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, The Beatles among other greats, and he's currently investigating Chopin and Motown.

For now you will continue to find Jesse peddling his quirky and insightful songs on the streets of Miami, travelling up and down the east coast with folk aritsts raffa & rainer, sharing his music with anyone who cares to listen. He is currently recording his debut CD.