When her father created the Atlanta Jazz Festival some 36 years ago, vocalist Alexandra Jackson was waiting to be born.
But Memorial Day Weekend the 28-year-old came full circle as one of the headline acts at the renowned 3-day free festival in the city’s Piedmont Park.
It was the first time that Jackson, an Atlanta native and youngest daughter of Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, performed at the musical extravaganza.
The sultry songstress, who now lives in Los Angeles, says “I used to go as a kid” to the festival which her father, the legendary Maynard Jackson, founded in 1978.
“My father was very humble,” she says. “I didn’t know until a couple of years ago that he was the one that started the festival. It’s really nice to return to a full homecoming in a different manner.”
Indeed, during her performance (under the watchful eye of her mother, Valerie) on the main stage the singer-songwriter did what she does best and wowed the crowds with select cuts from her newly-released album, From the Start.
The sentimental album showcases Jackson’s soulful voice and explores her understanding of traditional jazz music or “jazz music in its most pure form.” Talking about her much-anticipated debut jazz EP, she describes it as “really a love letter from her to jazz,” with “jazz standards that you’ve known and loved” but with a few surprises for avid jazz listeners.
In a symbolic gesture, she chose to return to her former school to record the album. As a matter of fact, it was her high school band director at the Lovett School who first influenced her to focus on jazz.
“I thought it would be so fitting to record my first jazz album where it all started, with the people who influenced me musically, and the great musicians with whom I had played for years,” Jackson stated in her biography on the festival website. “It was a full circle, and one for which I am very grateful.”
Although she says she doesn’t have a big interest in politics, she shares her father’s temperament and passion for music. “I am from a musical family. My parents both had wonderful voices” and “both my grandmothers played the piano.”
“I am most like my father,” she laughs. “We are both very headstrong and sensitive. Fun loving people, who love to laugh, and be around family. A lot of people didn’t see the other side of my father. He made you feel like you mattered.”
Maynard Jackson died at the age of 65 in 2003 and didn’t get to see his daughter’s career as a singer take off.
The in-demand vocalist has performed in and around numerous cities and festivals, including the Atlanta Montreax Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and was the featured performer at the 2010 Atlanta Inauguration for Mayor Kasim Reed.
Jackson’s performance on Saturday evening was no coincidence. This year the festival focused on a new era of younger up-and-coming or mid-career artists, mainly aged between 22 and 40 years old, says Atlanta Jazz Festival publicist Karen Hatchett.
“This year’s theme is ‘Generation Next’ and the festival is presenting some of today’s most vibrant and innovative artists who are shaping the future of jazz,” says Hatchett.
Aside from Jackson, other exciting voices that performed at this year’s festival included José James, Meshell Ndegeocello, Tia Fuller, Cécile McLorin Salvant and Rudresh Mahanthappa, as well as many others. It’s estimated around 225,000 people attended the 3-day festival, which ended on Monday.