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The Instigator: Homer Jackson of the Philadelphia Jazz Project.

July 24, 2013

HomerJacksonSmallText and image by G.W. Miller III.

Homer Jackson worked at WRTI radio when it was an all-jazz station during the 1980s. Everyone working at the station then was young. Most were 25 or younger. “What person under 25 knows anything about jazz?” Jackson ponders.

He didn’t know much and neither did most of those around him, including Rich Nichols, who went on to become the longtime manager of The Roots. But they were a creative bunch that listened to whatever interested them, from bop to avant-garde to world music, and everything in between. That’s what they put on air.

“Each personality had a community they connected to,” Jackson remembers. “There was a quilt that was created.”

It all fell under the massive umbrella of jazz, which is really about the improvisational style of playing rather than a packaged musical genre. They did not remain confined within one definition of jazz.

“Jazz is a synthesis of everything that came before it,” Jackson says. “Jazz is an approach. Culture isn’t stagnant. Culture evolves.”

His experiences at the station stayed with him all these years, while music became more corporate and interest in jazz declined.

So last year, Jackson, a multidisciplinary artist who has received numerous grants and awards over the years, launched the Philadelphia Jazz Project. The mission is broad and ambitious — galvanize the base of jazz fans, reach new audiences and support the future of jazz by building bridges between different communities.

The organization began programming in February with a filmed community conversation with local music-thought leaders. They’ve held a few listening parties, where people gather to absorb and then discuss music, followed by live performances. Jackson wants the project to be a fertilizer for ideas — jazz and otherwise.

“I’m an instigator, in a way,” he says.

There is a bigger picture, beyond music, however.

Jackson, who grew up near Gratz and York streets in North Philly, just a few blocks away from his current home, wants to world to know about all the talent that exists in Philadelphia.

“It’s all here,” he says. “Why go anywhere else? Why go to New Orleans? It’s not so hot and our food’s not so salty.”

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