Alexandra Jackson appeared at the 2018 Atlanta Jazz Festival with an all-star trio of Larry Williams (Piano), John Roberts (Drums) and Joel Powell (Bass).
When her father, the legendary MAYNARD H. JACKSON was inventing the Atlanta Jazz Festival (back then it was called the “Atlanta Free Jazz Festival”), Alexandra Jackson was waiting to be born.
“I don’t even know if I was a twinkle at that point,” said Jackson with a laugh. The first jazz fest took place in 1978. Jackson arrived seven years later, the youngest daughter of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African-American mayor.
As an audience member, she enjoyed many Memorial Day weekends of bebop, swing and funk in Piedmont Park, but years passed before she discovered the role her father, the late Maynard Jackson, played in creating the city-sponsored event.
“My father was very humble about a lot of the things he did for the city,” said Jackson, speaking from her home in Los Angeles. “I didn’t know until a couple of years ago that he was the one that started the festival. He would take us as kids. We would enjoy it, but he would never mention that this was a lot of his doing. He just wanted to appreciate it.”
This Memorial Day weekend, Alexandra Jackson steps onto the main stage at Piedmont Park for the first time, performing Saturday at 5 p.m. She is gratified to be a part of her father’s legacy, singing for a hometown crowd at one of the country’s largest free jazz festivals.
“What I do remember is how happy everyone was at those festivals, so carefree,” she said. “It was a nice, serene time. The fact that I’m able to come back and be on the stage now is … incredible.”
Jackson was propelled into piano lessons at age 4 by her music-loving parents. She imbibed a love of music from the records and CDs played around the house by her father and mother, NPR radio personality Valerie Jackson, from Take Six to Prince to the Blind Boys of Alabama.
But jazz seemed to hold a special place in the family playlist, particularly the vocalist Johnny Hartman. “I would hear [Hartman] in the background singing, and they would get really happy and doe-eyed with each other,” she said of her parents. “I remember as a kid thinking ‘There’s something about this man and his voice that makes my parents happy.’”
Maynard Jackson died in 2003, and didn’t get to see his daughter’s career as a vocalist take off. She studied in the jazz program at the University of Miami, performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and sang a secondary role as a Nubian slave in a Florida Grand Opera production of “Aida.” (The light-skinned Miss Jackson had to wear body paint for the role.)
She moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to seek a bigger stage for her work, but she’s happy to be visiting home and family. The weather prediction: 80 degrees and clear. Says Jackson, “my hair and I” are praying for sunny weather.