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Homecoming Performance for Native Daughter

Alexandra Jackson Headlines at Atlanta Jazz Festival

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 5/24/2013, 1:15 p.m.
Alexandra Jackson

When the evening sun begins arching over the western edge of Piedmont Park on Saturday (May 25, 5 p.m.), and Alexandra Jackson takes the stage before an Atlanta Jazz Festival crowd that could number in the tens of thousands, the local prodigy admits she’ll likely be overcome by emotion.

“Lately, I wake up every morning visualizing what it will be like,” said Jackson, the youngest daughter of Atlanta’s first black Mayor, Maynard Jackson.

“Visualization is a practice I learned from my mother (Valerie). I imagine how everything will go during the performance and how everything will look in the park.

“I know I’m going to have a lot of family and friends there, so it’s going to be nothing but love. And, hopefully, my hair will behave itself. I’ve been out in L.A. recording and performing for several years now, so it’s taking time to adjust to the humidity.”

Jackson, 28, is no stranger to performing at prestigious venues. While a student at Atlanta’s esteemed Lovett School, she sang in accompaniment with the legendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in New York. She has showcased her vocal talent at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland as well.

But the gig to play at Atlanta’s Jazz Fest for the first time, understandably, holds special significance for her.

“My supporters here in Atlanta tell me they’re camping out early on the day I perform,” she said, wistfully.

“A few of them are staking out tents. I’m incredibly lucky to have people who’ve been behind me since long before my new album (“From the Start”) came out, and remain supportive of me to this day.”

“From the Start”, available at local retail stores as well as on iTunes, results from Jackson’s upbringing in a household where music by Miles Davis, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughn, Johnny Hartman, Duke Ellington and Carmen McCrae served as the domestic soundtrack.

“It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I discovered that my listening tastes were really different from the rest of the kids,” said Jackson. “My parents loved jazz standards, so I loved them too. I didn’t pay much attention to other genres of music growing up.”

Her first major release is packed with jazz standards – “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was”, “You’ve Changed”, “Dindi”, “Midnight Sun”, “I’ve Got the World on a String” – that have been celebrated for twice as long as she’s been alive.

But Jackson sings them with maturity and a smokey, understated twist that’s unique to her.

“I had a pretty deep voice when I was 15 and that hasn’t changed much,” she said. “I’ve learned how to use it better; how to manipulate it when I need to, and how to sound natural when that’s necessary. Every day, I’m learning more about the craft.”

To bolster her big homecoming performance, Jackson has assembled an all-star roster of local jazz stalwarts to accompany her: Gary Motley (piano), Craig Shaw (bass) and Che Marshall (drums).

“They say as many as 150,000 people come out to the Jazz Fest daily,” Jackson mused. “But I’m not concerned about the numbers. It’s about the prestigiousness of the occasion.”