Tribute from John Harrison
This is a tribute page to Gary Jackson who is the heart and soul of our music and will attempt to chronical his life as a musician. Any additional information anyone might add is welcome.
"Jackson" grew up in Douglas Massachusetts. His parents (who both passed away within the past 2 years)were very supportive of his musical carreer and-more than any other parents-attended his gigs all of his life-even last year!
Sometime in the early 70s in elementary school, Gary took up the trumpet. In middle school Gary switched to baritone horn. Although not his primary instrument, when called upon Gary was able to read Bb Treble Clef on that instrument his whole life! Gary told me he liked lower sounds and prefered being out of the spotlight in a musical support role. With this philosophy in mind he switched to tuba which entailed learning bass clef. Once he knew bass clef, it was an easy transition to bass guitar. He enjoyed playing AWB's "Pickup the Pieces" in the Dudley High Jazz Band. Gary had a strong lifelong friendship with his high/middle school band director and decades later would borrow brass instruments when needed. He also believed that reading music was a vital skill that all musicians need.
However with his bass guitar and without charts, Gary set out to learn every song he could hear off the radio. He formed a rock band with guitarist Randy Valle but was also freelancing (underage)with established local bands with older musicians learning a bag of tricks to get through unknown music. He developed a real affinity for Classical British Rock Bands: King Crimson, Deep Purple, Yes, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, David Bowie, AC/DC, and Ozzy Osboune. He attended their concerts and met many of them. However he was also attracted to other artists: Huey Lewis, the band War (Why Can't We Be Friends?) the melancholy ramblings of folk singer Jim Croce or the bottom heavy, bombastic, and orchestral Stan Kenton Orchestra. (Kenton's band often played the Douglas/Webster area which was a homecoming for many of the Kenton bandmembers-"Boots" Moussuli for one) The only band I was able to turn Jackson on to was Edgar Winter's White Trash which was difficult because he had already heard everything and had an ajoining opinion. He also developed and interest in all types classical music from solo to symphonic works.
Accepted at Westfield State College in 1981 or 2? (after a semester at Berklee) passing his audition on bass guitar, Gary chose classical guitar as his major. He was soon accompanying everyone in every possible musical situation: Jazz Ensemble, Juries, Recitals, and Musical Theatre Guild where he did some directing. Gary replaced Roger Fuller in the spring of 1982 at my weekly "Jazz in Space" gig at Ely Center. Next Gary filled in for Roger's vacated spot in the Radiators Band where he played for the next 2 years. It was not difficult to notice that everybody loved playing with Gary. After an intensive 2 musical years at Westfield Gary decided he wanted to pursue a carreer in business and enrolled at Dean College in Worcester County. Gary attended my wedding in 1985 and we lost track of each other.
In the winter of 1990, I recognized Gary in the black and white photo in the Worcester Telegram. This was a feature article about the Stone Soup Band appearing at Tammany Hall in Worcester the next weekend. Curious as to what this band was all about, I journeyed the following weekend to Worcester to hear them. This would prove to be a providential week in my next 35 years in music! The band played a mix of covers but I was really impressed by their originals, some of which were built around Gary's classical guitar. Gary spotted me in the crowd and came right over after the first set. He had changed a lot and had obviously garnered quite a reputation as an in demand bassist in the Worcester area. He introduced me to his future wife Chrissy. He also introduced me to the clubowner Johny Walsh as "of the greatest musicians around". Walsh then proceeded to ask me what I was doing the following weekend. When I said I did not have any plans, Gary interjected "We'll get our top guys and do that date. Dumbfoundedly- I ask Gary who we were going to get. Gary said "Just be here in a week with your keyboard, sax, and some of your goofy horn charts. Whoever I get will be better than anyone he can get!" So I showed up a week later. Gary had the guitarist and school buddy Randy Valle from the Stone Soup Band and from Westfield State he had Mark Holovnia on drums, Danny Sullivan on sax, and Pat Kennedy on trumpet. Onstage and wondering what would happen next-Gary simply started playing the "Peter Gunn" bass line and we were off to the races. "Gimme Some Lovin'" began the same way and so it went all night. The Stone Soup mailing list insured the packed house and more old friends (including Joe Reidy trombone)sat in. Walsh was thrilled and wanted to know what we were doing in a month. Gary interjected again and booked a date. Walsh walked away. I said I would ask the band if they wanted to play in a month but Gary said not to do that. His rationale was that everybody played "smarter" without rehearsal because they wanted to impress and were afraid to take risks. They were wearing "antenae" -paying attention-aware-because all of us did not know what was going to happen next. Nobody could tell us what kind of band we should become (no band meetings) and everybody played music in the moment.We hired four other guys with the same result and continued this way at Tammany and other Worcester clubs for three years mixing players and learning lots of songs in the process. By that time our regular bands the Radiators and Stone Soup were broken up. During this time we also got a regular weekend Bavarian Band gig at Riverside Park. Pat Kennedy called it the Schiester Meisters. Gary played tuba and baritone horn. Gary's ideas became my musical philosophy.
From 1994, Gary had to take time off due to health problems but would stay in contact and return. Years would pass and we would all forget that he had medical problems. He would not mention that anything was wrong but if asked would tell us . We all really considered him to be the heart and soul of all our groups and when he returned the band would pick up. Drummers Vic Thomas, Rich Adelson, Mike LaMangia, Mark Holovnia, John Kokozina, John Piper, Dave Bell, Chris Glanville, Jeremy Holch, and most of all Bob Pierce were especially fond of working with Gary.
In November 1998, Gary, myself, and friends finished recording an album at my home called "Tunes from the Tomb" under the Skeletones moniker. Our record release was at Theodore's in Springfield. We continued working without rehearsal with an expanding lineup from Sugarloaf ME to Nantucket Island MA to New Hope PA. Gary also worked as a handyman during this time refurbishing my home and rental properties.
In 2002, we were contacted by legendary New Orleans saxophonist Charles Neville. This began a musical association-The Charles Neville/Skeletones Big Band which continues to this day. Gary's musical/diplomatic expertise has been fundamental reason for the success of this band.
About 2000, wanting a smaller neck and more portable instrument,Jackson had built an accoustic bass that had a cello neck, bass guitar pickups and strings, and a photographer's tripod. This all folded into a gun case. Gary's bass provided the foundation for the Swing Band and Quintet. He also played banjo with the dixieland band and baritone horn with the Bavarian Band.
In 2006, he formed the Contempaisance Guitar/Flute Duo with Chris Glanville. This was Gary's favorite musical project, which he took more seriously than any previous outing. He enjoyed playing the past 500 years of music again backing a (flute) soloist. He also loved to talk about the music at concerts. Both living in Palmer, Chris and Gary were great friends and teamed up with auto repair and other mechanical and building projects.
In 2015, Gary was plaged by health problems but he continued to play brilliantly whenever he was able. In 2016, we began playing with Charles Neville's Quintet. I believe his playing with this group in March at Liston's in Worthington was the best I ever heard. Gary's last gig with us was in April at PJs Town Crier in Holland, Massachusetts. He played (the band) brilliantly again with a drummer he had never met.
On Memorial Day, he called unable to show for an annual gig at Boylston Center. He could not lift his arms. He was diagnosed with Spinal Cancer and did one month of radiation treatments which reportedly went well and eased the pain in his back. He was ready and planning on playing with us again on July 3rd and 9th. However he was diagnosed on the 5th with kidney failure and passed away on Sunday morning July 10th. Gary's funeral in Douglas was the next weekend. A musician's celebration was held a PJs Town Crier in Holland on August. The mood was somber until someone put a mannequin with a sombrero and a sign "Live Band" outside. The place quickly filled up and we know Jackson would have loved it. Guy Wallis and Donna Lee did a great job with their vocals and keeping the music upbeat.
Gary Jackson was an inspirational and encouraging person who knew what life was all about and had nothing to prove. He suffered silently with known and unknown health problems-probably most of his life. It was a great experience for all of us to have known this wonderful person who would make everything go smoothly on so many levels beyond music. All of this life experience went into music which as he described his job to "play the band and make the guy with the melody sound good". He encouraged everybody to live in the moment and although he really appreciated the musicians that were playing the correct chords, he got a huge laugh when musicians made mistakes. He discouraged criticizim about mistakes calling the errors "already a dim memory" or "don't spoil my fun!". It was great playing gigs with him but it was even better having him as a friend. Mark Holovnia and I agreed that he might be the coolest person we have met yet. Jackson we won't forget you and we will miss you!