"It’s like a language. You learn the alphabet, which are the scales. You learn sentences, which are the chords. And then you talk extemporaneously with the horn. It’s a wonderful thing to speak extemporaneously, which is something I’ve never gotten the hang of. But musically I love to talk just off the top of my head. And that’s what jazz music is all about."
… But I have to use words to communicate who Bert Jackson is. Chef. Restaurateur. Website developer. Jazz guitarist extraordinaire. This latest in my series on “Peeps of Paradise” introduces a driver of Cape Cod’s high-tech community, the host for several years of the monthly “Open Mic” evenings in the “art gallery town” of Wellfleet, and producer of the new CD from the Bert Jackson Quartet, titled Imaginary Journey.
Bert Jackson -- chef, restaurateur, web guru, jazz guitarist.
"One thing I like about jazz, kid, is that I don't know what's going to happen next. Do you?"
A native of New Hampshire who grew up on the island of St. Thomas, Bert left off playing the piano when he embraced his first guitar and fell head over heels in love with it. He opened a sandwich and ice cream emporium called “Lickety Split,” grew it to three shops, then bought the “Sweet Life Café” vegan restaurant. He installed a sophisticated software program to help him run the restaurant and then began helping other restaurateurs use information technology in their establishments. He became proficient enough to open his own IT business on Cape Cod, where he moved in the early 1990s. But always – like a mistress -- there was the guitar.
"I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini."
Chef, restaurateur, technologist, musician – what’s the common denominator? Bert blames his “ADD mind.” He explains: “I’m very good at putting together disparate ideas, not necessarily in a logical way. In the restaurant, I was always trying new things – not just with recipes, but, say, putting on workshops about healthy foods. I don’t like to do things the same way other people do. I’m always asking, ‘What if.’”
"By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn't want your daughter to associate with."
So here’s my question. Jazz, like poetry, is not wildly popular. Why? Because it’s not melodic? Bert says it definitely is melodic, but the melodies are more unusual. The sound may be more dissonant because there is always tension and resolution. “People try to understand jazz, try to figure out what’s going on. You have to let it just happen, be in the moment, listening to each note. Each note is special.”
"You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!"
But it’s improvisational, I say. How do you write a jazz composition if it’s supposed to be extemporaneous? Again I’m corrected. “It’s not completely improvisational. There’s a framework, like blues or pop -- but there’s more going on. Jazz is more complex – maybe 12 or 15 chords where blues has three or four. The hardest thing about being a jazz musician is getting out of the way and just letting it happen. The music manifests itself while you’re playing.“
"My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being. When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups. I want to speak to their souls."
“Listening to jazz is like watching a movie for the second or third time,” Bert says. “Each time, you see something you didn’t notice before, and there are lots of ‘aha’ moments. When I listen to jazz, I feel like my brain is getting a massage.”
"Once you play the music, it's in the air. It's gone. But when you record it, it comes back to haunt you sometimes."
The Bert Jackson Quartet’s album, Imaginary Journey, is available at www.bertland.com and at iTunes.
In my next blog, “Stealing Paradise”