By GWEN OREL
There was the time D.D. Jackson bumped into drummer Victor Jones at the Maplewood pool. Then there was the time Jackson, a jazz pianist who was performing with The Roots, the house band on The Tonight Show, realized one of the band lived in Maplewood — and bummed a ride home.
Since the Emmy-Award-winning performer moved to New Jersey from Queens six years ago, he’s found that many of his peers live here too.
Of course, he knew that some did: he’d been working for decades with Montclair’s Pheeroan AkLaff, jazz drummer and the co-founder, with Chris Napierala, of Seed Artists.
Jackson’s recent album “Live at Freedom of Sound” was recorded during the “Freedom of Sound: Percussion” festival in Montclair this past May.
He will perform at a Seed Artists piano festival next spring (the exact date has not yet been established). He’ll be conducting some of his own pieces at a concert on Nov. 26 at Brooklyn’s Tow Center for the Performing Arts.
“Freedom of Sound” is Jackson’s 13th album, but his first live album as a leader.
The CD came out in September, but it’s been having a soft release, and Jackson will probably have events around it this coming summer.
Last May’s festival honored Montclair drummer Andrew Cyrille, America’s first Jazz Laureate. It was a partnership between Seed Artists and Montclair Public Library.
Piano is a percussion instrument, and Jackson describes his playing as having a particularly percussive drive to it.
He hadn’t intended to record his festival playing for release, but he always documents his playing. He tells his students to do the same, because while basic melodies and chords are composed, improvisations and what happens in the moment is not, and you might do something worth saving for later. “All bets are off,” he said about what happens in performance.
There was no elaborate set-up for the recording, and he had expected to have it primarily as a record. But then he heard the recordings — and decided to make an album instead.
The day of the festival he was in a particularly good mood because it was the day after he’d won his second Emmy, for Best Song for the animated PBS children’s show “Peg + Cat.”
The Freedom of Sound Percussion Festival took place at Glenfield Middle School. “It turned out surprisingly well. And I realized that I’d never really captured what it feels like to play in that type of situation, not in a controlled studio situation.”
Jackson has a studio in his Maplewood home, with sound-directing panels, keyboards, drums, ukulele, guitar, and his latest Emmy, sitting proudly on a speaker. He teaches jazz keyboards there to students who play piano (but not necessarily jazz), and also teaches jazz and media scoring at Brooklyn College.
(He wrote the music; someone else wrote the lyrics.) So he was in a terrific mood the day of the festival. Right now he’s writing for the animated series “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” which is returning to PBS.
He’s recorded albums on major labels, and on some smaller ones, including the Canadian label Justin Time. (Jackson is originally from Canada.) However “Live at Freedom of Sound” is self-produced. So many labels have gone under that it’s just as meaningful and regular for artists to self-produce today, especially when they are already established, he said.
One of the reasons he wanted to do it was that his career in recent years has been much more focused on his television work, and this would put him out there again as a musical artist. “I’ve been off the map for quite some time,” he said.
He’s toured the world many times as a musician, but has settled down to raise his children Jarrett, 13, and Aria, 10, in the suburbs. “They became the perfect target audience,” Jackson said, smiling. And one of their dad’s songs even went viral. “There’s a video called ‘Marvie’s Song!’ that has something like three million views on YouTube. It gives my kids instant street cred.”
Jackson’s wife, Elizabeth, works in publicity for Luna Stage in West Orange.
The desire to get out a little more has worked: he’ll be touring Europe in April with saxophonist James Brandon Lewis.
“He has an almost humbling reverence for the previous generation, which I’ve suddenly become,” he said, laughing. “I was the youngest star when I started.”