London-based Julian Jackson is a star on the rise. He was raised in a musically oriented family in Liverpool, England. While studying simultaneously at Sandown Music College in Liverpool and with world renowned classical harmonica player James Hughes, Julian captured the Hohner British Harmonica Championships three years in a row. He continued his studies with Hughes after moving to London, where he became the only harmonica player to ever gain admission to both the Guildhall School of Music Post-Graduate course and the Royal Academy of Music Bachelor of Music course. Julian’s unique style and ability in both jazz and classical harmonica playing has won him the recognition of many musicians and composers, including British jazz pianist Julian Josephs and jazz harmonica legend Jean “Toots” Thielemans, another of Julian’s teachers and along with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane a strong influence on Julian’s jazz conception. Julian has been very active in the London session scene, where he has worked on projects for film, television, and radio, including the Anthony Hopkins produced film “August,” Disney’s “Funny Bones,” starring Jerry Lewis and Oliver Platt, Carlton Television’s productions of “Anna Lee” and “Frontiers,” and the BBC’s “Tears Before Bedtime,” “The Missing Postman”, “Wokewell,” and “Drover’s Gold.” Julian is currently working with a new quartet, which he will record with soon, and is also working on a a terrific recording and performance project with percussionist Chris Wells and Guitarist John Parricelli, under the title “Projeto Do Brazil” (three guesses as to what kind of music the group plays).
We asked Julian the same questions we ask every pro whose profile we publish here:
- What are your 5 favorite harmonica records?
- What instruments (harmonicas) do you use?
- What amplification and other gear do you use, on stage and in the studio?
- What’s your discography?
Julian’s answers are personal and direct. He is obviously into the music and the instrument first and foremost, to the point that his gear choices are really just an afterthought. (When you’ve heard Julian play, you know why.) Thanks to Julian for this terrific contribution to harmonica players (literally) everywhere.
Julian’s Top 5 Harmonica Records
I really don’t listen to harmonica very much, so it might be better to talk about tracks rather than albums.
- Stevie Wonder, “Alfie”: My very very favourite harmonica track , which I put on if I’m ever feeling low or unmotivated, is Stevie
Wonders version of “Alfie”. It’s like a drug to me. The sound of Stevie’s harmonica just hits me square in the gut and travels all over my body
giving me goosebumps. But it’s the strings that give Stevie the cushion to bounce off, beautiful arrangements with semitone clusters,
chords that don’t have a legitimate place anywhere, and flat five substitutions. I only have a copy that a friend gave me, so I’m not sure, but I think it’s Bacharach who’s responsible for the arrangement and orchestration. I think it can stand up next to Mozart or any other legitimate composer, true genius.
- Larry Adler, “Summertime”: Apart from Stevie, a guy I used to listen to when I was starting out was Larry Adler. I’d been playing about a year
before I ever heard any of Larry’s work. One of the first things I ever heard was a version of “Summertime” with orchestra. Well, that record had a big influence on me, and so did Larry Adler. I read his Autobiography (It Ain’t
Neccesarily So) and it was a kind of education to me. I’d never heard of Padarewski or Heiffitz, not to mention Django Rienhardt. They were all such exotic sounding names, which eventually led me into a different world.
- Toots Thielemans, “Body and Soul”: After hearing Larry Adler’s sessions with Django, I bought more and more jazz albums. I listened mainly to Charlie
Parker and Miles Davis. One day I came across a George Shearing album. I thought he was a little unhip, but it was second hand and cheap, so I bought it. I’m not sure, but I think it was the last track on the first side; that was the first time I ever heard Toots Thielemans. I couldn’t believe it! He was doing exactly what I’d been working on and better than I’d imagined anyone could. Toots soon replaced Maestro Adler as a formative influence.
- Toots Thielemans, “We’ll Be Together Again” (Fred Hersch, piano):
I love the sentiment of this track. It was a big hit for Frankie Laine (who wrote the lyrics) in the fifties. I believe this is Toots in his best setting, a ballad, not just a slow standard but a song which should really be sung, and Toots does sing, he brings out the real quality of the harmonica: sadness. Here he is joined by Fred Hersch, who is one of the most complete musicians on this planet. They both exude the hallmark sign of great musicianship: empathy; they listen to each other.
- Toots Thielemans and Julian Jackson, “Autumn Leaves”: Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a massive ego trip here. I’m not saying it’s an important landmark in human achievement. But if I was on a desert island with my five harmonica tracks, for completely selfish reasons, this would have to be one of them. It was recorded on a gig I was playing in Belgium during one of my trips to study with Toots, and Toots came down to the gig and sat in on a couple of tunes. One of the greatest experiences of my life.
I tend to use a Hohner CX12 (3-octave chromatic) for practise and jam sessions. For the studio work I usually use a Hohner Mellow Tone (3-octave chromatic) that Toots gave me (he gave Quincy Jones one too), or a Hohner Meister Class (4-octave chromatic), which has a nice range but isn’t as responsive. I’ve also used blues harmonicas and bass harmonica on a couple of film sessions. (I’m not a virtuoso but I can get around on it.)
No fancy gear on stage, just a Shure SM58 mic. When recording, I use just a touch of reverb and a tweak of EQ (equalization).
I don’t actually have any albums out yet. I’m working on that right now. But you can hear me on the score of “The Full Monty” (video and CD). (Order “The Full Monty” soundtrack from Amazon.com.) (Richard Hunter notes: you can also hear samples of Julian’s work at Julian’s MySpace page.)