Alexandra Jackson Creates Musical Magic with "Legacy & Alchemy

Even as a young girl, Alexandra Jackson knew she had big shoes to fill.  Her father was Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, the late Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Jr.  Jackson’s mother is businesswoman and NPR personality Valerie Richardson Jackson.  Opera also played a role in her family, given that Jackson’s great aunt was Mattiwilda Dobbs, the Africa-American coloratura soprano, who was one of the first black singers to enjoy a major international career in opera.  But Jackson, besides being one of the nicest people I have ever interviewed, has demonstrated she is more than capable of filling those shoes. 

Jackson learned piano as a child and studied classical music, but it was the music she was surrounded by at home that truly influenced her.  “My father would play the Blind Boys of Alabama then move on to Take 6,” she says.  “My mother loved Johnny Hartman and Phoebe Snow.  I was into Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson, and Maxwell.  My older sister had a strong connection to Latin culture, so I also heard a lot of Celia Cruz, Mark Anthony, and Gloria Estefan.” 

After experimenting with choral and musical theater, Jackson dove into jazz, attending the University of Miami’s Studio Music and Jazz Vocal program.  “There was a lot of energy and the influence of a lot of different cultures.  That’s what Miami is all about,” she says.  “I was in jazz ensembles.  One was a Brazilian ensemble and another was a salsa ensemble, so I came to appreciate these amazing forms of music that were new to me. Latin and Brazilian songs are among my favorites to sing to this day.”

After school, Jackson continued to develop her craft.  After a brief stint in Los Angeles, she returned to Atlanta to pursue her jazz singing career.  A critical turning point came at the 2013 Atlanta Jazz Festival when Jackson opened for jazz/pop/rap singer-songwriter and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello.  During her set, she sang the milestone bossa nova tune, “The Girl From Ipanema” in Portuguese.  “I looked out in the audience and saw Robert Herbert.”  The music industry veteran and IT entrepreneur had known Jackson since she was a child.  “I was so nervous because I couldn’t tell if he was enjoying it or not.  So I looked elsewhere in the audience for the rest of the song.” 

Despite his poker face during her performance, Herbert was impressed at what he heard.  He talked with Jackson afterward and said he loved her songs that brought together Brazilian music, American jazz and soul, and London jazz soul.  He then asked about her career plans.  Unbeknownst to Jackson, Herbert was working a special project that until that concert, he never thought of an American singer for it.  Nearly 16 months later, when Herbert was confident that Jackson’s natural interests and abilities dovetailed with his vison for this project, he asked her to be part of “Legacy and Alchemy”.

“Alexandra Jackson: Legacy and Alchemy” was a four-year high concept project, featuring a wide range of Brazilian and American performers.  The project pays homage to Brazilian music, which celebrated significant anniversaries in the last few years: 2016 marked the 50-year high point of bossa nova and 2017 was the 100th anniversary of samba. 

Herbert felt that Jackson’s intensive vocal training and wide-ranging musical interests gave her the sensitivity, sensuality, and strength to capture the essence of these songs.  “I’ve worked with so many top singers, and I don’t think anyone else I’ve worked with could have or would have even tried to do this,” explains Herbert.  “Alexandra could and did.  The biggest thing is she made it convincing for Brazilians.”

When Jackson began working on “Legacy and Alchemy”, she contacted a Portuguese vocal coach for help in her pronunciation.  “I didn’t know Portuguese well,” she explains. “So I had to learn quickly because I wanted to give honor to the music I was going to be singing, such as knowing what the words meant in English and understanding the stories.  I didn’t want to be disconnected from the Brazilian people and culture.  The Brazilian culture is a very warm one, especially if you make the effort to try and learn.”  Some of Jackson’s most satisfying moments occurred after performing in Brazil and people told her how she not only captured the Portuguese language but the feeling of the music as well.  They told her they were very surprised that an American musician worked so hard to help preserve their music when so many of their own would not.

The “Alexandra Jackson: Legacy and Alchemy” project was an impressive undertaking that took nearly four years to complete.  Produced in Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, London, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta, the songs are sung in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  It involved some 150 people, among them a dream team of musicians and engineers in five cities and three continents.  Jackson recognizes the project took her on a journey.  “With all the different collaborators, the project took on a life of its own….Sometimes, I was frustrated the project was taking so long to complete, but I realized it made sense.”

With her debut album, Jackson breathes new life into these dynamic songs.  Throughout this project, she indeed pays homage to both American and Brazilian music legacy and its legends.  “There’s a huge melting pot of music in our world today,” says Jackson. “This album offers the opportunity for people to step outside the box.  It’s not just jazz, not the blues, not soul, not bossa nova, not samba, but it’s a mix of them all.”  Jackson brings the magic of an alchemist for a whole new generation to enjoy.

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