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Play me home

Michael Gregory Jackson unites generations with jazz

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Play me home
Michael Gregory Jackson (Photo: Photo: Mandorla Group)

Guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson greets all of his audience members like old friends. He embraces a longtime fan and signs a record for him — one of his first albums. For such a talented musician, he’s humble, and even casual.

In a grey button down, jeans and combat boots, he croons out classic melodies and new mixes in between conversations with the audience. He’s performing at Third Eye Studio in Somerville as part of the Mandorla Music Series, but he may as well be hanging out with friends in his living room during a Sunday afternoon jam session.

Jackson has been playing and composing his own music since age seven.

“I was very fortunate to know what I wanted to do with my life at a young age,” he says.

Right after high school, he moved from his hometown of New Haven, CT, to Boston. Having turned down a scholarship to Johns Hopkins for medicine, Jackson had his heart set on playing music for a living. In Boston he began playing shows with well-known jazz musician Oliver Lake. Lake still plays a show with Boston’s Makanda Project once a year, and Jackson has likewise kept close ties to the Beantown jazz community.

“Amazing” is a bluesy, jazzy melody accompanied by vocals. The simple lyrics are electrified by Jackson’s nimble finger work. His vocal-based songs tend to have a more traditional sound, his artistry shines in his instrumentals. “Jcak Jcak” melds rapid, aggressive chords with smooth bridges. Fast and slow engage in a playful banter. Many of his melodies juxtapose hard and soft, a taste of sandpaper followed by the glide of water on glass, bite and beauty together.

Jackson works with several groups, including Clarity Quartet, based in Denmark. With so much group work, the one-man show is a breath of fresh air.

“I really like playing solo,” he says. “It’s a challenge to keep things interesting.”

The crowd at the Mandorla concert is quintessential Somerville. An elderly man bearing a striking resemblance to Leo Tolstoy stands at the concession table next to a 20-something with an ironic mustache and a wide-brimmed felt hat. Together they eat chocolate-chip cookies and take in the smooth melodies and sharp turns of Jackson’s music. In many ways, Jackson’s compositions transcend time. They don’t fit into a specific genre or period of music, but rather seem to be operating on a different plane, allowing people of all generations to connect.

Currently Jackson is working on several new mixes of Michael Gregory Jackson/Simon Spang-Hanssen Duo with Guest, due out in 2016/17. He plans to travel back to Europe in December to break ground on new projects with Clarity Quartet. Though he’s constantly creating, Jackson’s top priority is instilling a sense of peace and connectedness in his audience.

“I hope they take away some of the joy that I feel playing music,” he says.