Singer Mahalia Jackson and vibraphonist Milt Jackson will be saluted in separate Renaissance Jazz & Gospel Brunch events at New York’s MIST Harlem this month.
The salute to Jackson features Sandra Reaves-Phillips and takes place Feb. 16, with sets at noon and 2 p.m. Phillips will be joined by Esther Blue on keyboard and Larry Williams on drums.
The Milt Jackson tribute will occur the following Sunday, Feb. 23, also at noon and 2. The show will feature a first-time meeting of vibist Monte Croft and two members of Jackson’s own rhythm section, pianist Mike LeDonne and bassist Bob Cranshaw.
Throughout her celebrated career, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) used her rich, forceful voice and inspiring interpretations of spirituals to move audiences around the world to tears of joy. In the early days, as a soloist and member of church choirs, she recognized the power of song as a means of gloriously reaffirming the faith of her flock. And later, as a world figure, her natural gift brought people of different religious and political convictions together to revel in the beauty of the gospels and to appreciate the warm spirit that underscored the way she lived her life.
The woman who would become known as the "Gospel Queen" was born on October 26, 1911 into a poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Jacksons' Water Street home, a shack between the railroad tracks and the levee of the Mississippi River, was served by a pump that delivered water so dirty that cornmeal had to be used as a filtering agent. Jackson's father, like many blacks in the segregated south, held several jobs; he was a long-shoreman, a barber, and a preacher at a small church. Her mother, a devout Baptist who died when Mahalia was five, took care of the six Jackson children and the house, using washed-up driftwood and planks from old barges to fuel the stove.
Milton Jackson is jazz vibraphonist. Sang in church; took up guitar at age seven and piano at age eleven; played several instruments in high school music classes and took up the vibraphone; joined Dizzy Gillespie band, 1945; recorded with Thelonious Monk band, 1947-52; performed with Woody Herman big band, 1949-50; rejoined Gillespie, 1951-52; formed Milt Jackson Quartet, soon renamed Modern Jazz Quartet, 1952; performed with Modern Jazz Quartet, 1952-74; extensive solo recording career.
The unquestioned master of the vibraphone in modern jazz, Milt Jackson exemplified the true jazz musician's ability to understand the music's duality of group thinking and individualism. While most players would have been proud to be present at even one of jazz's great historical moments, Jackson played in groups that helped forge two innovative jazz styles: bebop and classical-influenced jazz. Versatile and skillful when playing as part of a group, Jackson also compiled an impressive record of accomplishments as a soloist over the course of his 60-year career, and his lyrical, soulful vibraphone style was unmistakable.
Jackson was born on January 1, 1923, in Detroit, a city with a vigorous jazz scene for much of the twentieth century. The second of five brothers, Jackson started out in gospel music under the influence of his very religious mother. By the age of seven, he was accompanying his brother A.J. on the guitar as the two sang gospel hymns. While still a youngster, Jackson had already become an experienced gospel performer, traveling across the Canadian border every Sunday with a Detroit gospel choir to broadcast on the Windsor, Ontario radio station CKLW. He began taking piano lessons at the age of eleven, but stopped two years later when his mother became unable to afford them.