WGBH’s Eric Jackson has truly been the voice of jazz in Boston for more than forty years. This year, Boston Jazz Week centers around a celebration of Eric’s four decades at the heart of the jazz scene in the Boston metro area.
By J. R. Carroll
Few sounds are as iconic to Boston as the genial, welcoming voice of jazz host Eric Jackson. Whether interviewing musical guests, introducing performers at a concert or festival, teaching a class in jazz history, or extending a warm invitation to listeners to join him on his weekly expeditions through jazz new and old on WGBH’s “Eric in the Evening”, Eric Jackson has truly been the voice of jazz in Boston for more than forty years.
Every year, Boston Jazz Week centers around a particular theme, and this year that theme is a celebration of Eric Jackson’s four decades at the heart of the jazz scene in the Boston metro area. That celebration kicks off on Sunday, April 22, with a jazz brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the City Winery in Boston’s historic North End, hosted by another local icon, longtime jazz presenter Fred Taylor, and featuring the Alain Mallet Quartet. Across the river at Cambridgeport’s Abundant Life Church, the festivities continue with a 6 p.m. fundraiser for the Cambridge Jazz Festival, which Eric emcees every summer.
On Wednesday, April 25 at 2 p.m., the central branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square will host a live broadcast in the library’s WGBH remote studio. Eric will be honored by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, City Council President Andrea Campbell, and Berklee College of Music President Roger Brown, with live music by Rollins Ross and Athene Wilson. The event is free and open to the public, who will get a chance to “meet and greet” the honoree.
Back at the City Winery on Thursday, April 26, Eric will preside over a celebratory jam session starting at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.). Performers have yet to be announced, so you’ll just have to show up and be surprised.
One of the most welcome developments over the past few years has been WGBH’s ongoing series of monthly live broadcasts from Scullers, hosted in person by Eric jackson. This month’s not-to-be-missed 10 p.m. broadcast on Friday, April 27, will feature saxophonist David Liebman and his Expansions quintet.
Saturday, April 28, is the occasion for a deeper exploration of Eric Jackson’s work and influence. Northeastern University Emeritus Professor Leonard Brown has organized two forums that focus on Eric’s roles as a teacher and as a broadcaster. Tickets to the day’s events are free, but registration is required due to the limited seating.
Eric Jackson has been a member of the faculty of the Department of African American Studies at Northeastern University for more than a decade, teaching undergraduates about the African American experience through music. He has been active, locally and nationally, as a guest lecturer on jazz and African American music; Eric also serves as a principal consultant and advisor to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
The first panel, from 10 a.m. to noon, brings together Northeastern faculty members Leonard Brown, Uta Poiger, Jose Buscaglia, Robert Hall, and Emmett G. Price III to reflect on Eric’s impact on the University’s African American Studies Department, as well as the College of Social Studies and Humanities, and the Department of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies. This will be followed by another roundtable, led by Wheelock College Professor Cheryl Render Brown, that expands the discussion to a local, regional, and national scale in recognizing Eric’s reputation and contributions as an authority on jazz and African American music.
Following a brief break, the second panel commences at 12:15 p.m. and runs until 2:30 p.m.
“Dean of Boston Jazz Radio” may not be an academic position, but it aptly describes Eric Jackson’s place in the pantheon of New England broadcasters. Son of the first African American radio announcer in New England (and a serious jazz aficionado), Eric was immersed in music from an early age. Although 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of “Eric in the Evening”, Eric’s involvement in broadcasting goes back almost another decade to his student days at Boston University, first at the campus-based WTBU and then at WBUR. Stints at WHRB, WILD, and WBCN led to his longtime relationship with WGBH, where for many years “Eric in the Evening” could be heard on weekday evenings from 7 p.m. to midnight—until the station’s format change in 2012 and the program’s much-regretted shift to weekends from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Moderated by fellow broadcasting legend José Masso, host of WBUR’s “¡Con Salsa!”, this second panel will include fellow WGBH hosts Kevin Ball, Al Davis, and Ron Della Chiesa, as well as former WGBH colleague John Voci (now Executive Director of Programming for New England Public Radio). Joining them will be Bonnie Johnson from WICN, in Worcester, MA, and Steve Pearl from WGMC in Rochester, NY.
The festivities around Eric Jackson’s anniversary as a WGBH host are the main focus of Jazz Week 2018, but as usual the event schedule embraces many performances in the Boston area. Most are events that occur on an ongoing basis or as part of venues’ regular schedules, but some are unique to Jazz Week. In either case, here are a few performances that are worthy of particular note:
JazzBoston Listening Party hosted by Jason Palmer
Saturday, April 21, 2 p.m.
Wally’s Cafe, Boston
Jazz Week has always included some events devoted to outreach and education. JazzBoston has once again organized a listening session where trumpeter Jason Palmer will share outstanding jazz recordings, both historical and contemporary, in the cozy setting of Wally’s Cafe.
Valerie Stephens presents Nina Simone & Hip Hop with special guest Yukihiro Kanesaka
Saturday, April 21, 8 p.m.
Amazing Things Arts Center, Framingham, MA
The groundbreaking award of the Pulitzer Prize in music to hip hop innovator Kendrick Lamar has called attention to the ongoing dialogue—dating back as far as early 70s Miles Davis—between jazz and funk, rap, and hip hop, and the capacity of both genres to address difficult social and political issues. Vocalist Valerie Stephens, well-known for her masterful tributes to singer/pianist/songwriter Nina Simone, has teamed up with hip hop artist Yukihiro Kanesaka to highlight the social consciousness and pointed political observations that link Simone and contemporary artists like Lamar.
Edmar Castañeda and Grégoire Maret at the MFA
Wednesday, April 25, 7:30 p.m.
Remis Auditorium, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The MFA is a welcome addition to the list of venues participating in Jazz Week. This event brings together two exceptional artists—harpist Edmar Castañeda and harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret—doing extraordinary things with instruments not particularly associated with jazz.
Arlington Jazz Festival
Thursday, April 26 through Sunday, April 29
Embedded within the plethora of Jazz Week events, this ever-evolving four-day event returns for a seventh year, highlighted by a special performance by bassist John Patitucci and his daughter Grei on the festival’s closing night. (Watch for Steve Provizer’s upcoming feature on the festival.)
Back in the 1970’s, J. R. Carroll (the “J” is for James/Jim) served as Jazz Director and then Program Director for Columbia University’s WKCR-FM (one of the shows he launched, “Jazz Alternatives,” is still on the air almost forty years later), and reviewed jazz, classical, world, roots, and rock music for Crawdaddy and other long-departed publications. J. R. has been writing on jazz and other topics for the Arts Fuse since 2007 and, as webmaster for the Arts Fuse, is responsible for much that you don’t (and shouldn’t) see on its pages. He has no connection with the Boston Globe editorial page or The Basketball Diaries.