D.D. Jackson
Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival 2017 Highlights Concert
Algonquin Commons Theatre, Ottawa
Thursday, May 18, 2017 – 7:30 p.m.

Coming back to Ottawa gave D.D. Jackson the inspiration for a name for one of his new compositions.

The Ottawa-raised, now New Jersey-resident, pianist has recently returned to jazz, and has been on a furious composition kick lately. He's planned to record his new jazz pieces this summer for a new CD.

He told the audience at the Kiwanis Music Festival Highlights Concert Thursday evening that he had been trying to find a title for one piece, and realized that “in coming here, I had the perfect title from what I was trying to express, and didn't realize it – and that is 'Homecoming'.”

Jackson is back in his home town this week for two concerts. He was the special guest at the annual student highlights concert on Thursday, and will play a duo show at GigSpace on Friday.

To warm up, Jackson opened with Thelonious Monk's “I Mean You” – surrounding the angular melody with complex flurries of notes, almost obscuring the piece's highly-recognizable off-kilter rhythm. The original peeked through, but this was definitely a more dramatic and less-standard rendition. Jackson played it with his entire body, tapping his foot in time, almost attacking the keyboard in places, and at one point bending down to the keys to listen.

He then presented three new compositions: “These are brand-new – I've never played them for anybody.” He started with “Homecoming”, a beautiful ballad expressing both the joy and mixed feeling of returning. Its contemplative melody was accented by gleaming strings of pointillist notes flying above.

Jackson said that he had been inspired to compose by the election of Donald Trump. “It was so frustrating to me, that I just wanted to vent. So not all my pieces are frustrated-sounding, they're just more of a catharsis at times.”

“DFT”, though, was his initial “venting piece”. It was an abrupt, angry composition, with jagged lines over deep bass chords. Its discordant attack was highly effective and, in a short period of time left you in doubt about his feelings about the American president. Jackson stood up at the piano several times to add strength to his crashing chords.

He finished his set with “Better Angels”, a gospel number whose yearning feel reminded me of American composers like Aaron Copland and Stephen Foster. It featured Jackson's trademark percussive rhythms over the anthemic melody, intensifying its effect, before resolving gently into a long final note.

Even as presented in relatively short versions, each of the three pieces were memorable and individual. It will be interesting to see how they fit into Jackson’s new album.

Jackson's 25-minute performance was the final section of the 100-minute highlights concert. Eleven Ottawa performances were also featured, ranging from an upbeat 17-piece R&B ensemble to a warmly-resonant euphonium/piano duo, a musical theatre ensemble performing a number from Chicago, a guitar ensemble playing TV and movie themes, and several classical flute, oboe, violin, piano, and voice selections. Three jazz compositions were given strong renditions: a bright piano piece by Hiromi, a ragtime piece by William Bolcom, and an inventive alto sax/marimba duet of a Sherrie Maricle composition.

The audience responded warmly and enthusiastically throughout Jackson's performance – they applauded strongly after each piece – and he replied in kind. He began his set by saying that he had “incredibly fond memories of playing this festival back when it was called the Ottawa Music Festival. It really was very much where I got my first start from a very, very young age. So it's really wonderful looking backstage and seeing people being shown how to bow properly and all that kind of stuff.”

After the show, Jackson stood outside the theatre, animatedly chatting with a large circle of listeners and performers.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list (all pieces by D.D. Jackson unless otherwise specified):

  1. I Mean You (Thelonious Monk)
  2. Homecoming
  3. DFT
  4. Better Angels