All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.
Audio recording of the interview with Milt Jackson

NARRATOR: Milt Jackson
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    April 11, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (7/1985)

This morning I will be interviewing Mr. Milton Jackson, a famous jazz artist.

(I) What type of instrument is it actually?

(N) It is a vibroharp. It is the only instrument actually used in jazz invented in America because all of the other instruments, most of the instruments used in music, come from someplace else, mostly Europe.

(I) Originally from European countries. I see. How long have you been in Teaneck? When did you first come to Teaneck? 

(N) Let me see, we moved here I believe in July of 1973.

(I) And what was the basic reasons for selecting Teaneck as a community to . .

(N) Well I like community type living. I was raised up in a house with a yard and all and I'm sort of geared to that. And here in Teaneck we found an ideal situation after moving from Scarsdale. So I guess the reason for leaving Scarsdale, taxes as you know were very high and the upkeep and what happened, I had built a house. This was something which was unique for me especially as a jazz musician because it is very rare to be making enough money to buy anything let alone build a house and I was really proud of it but like I say, another thing about people in this business is that creating an image, a lot of us will go down the drain trying to live up to that image and I, being one who always felt in terms of being practical, not living above your means of course and this actually sort of sums up how I got to Teaneck and why I am here.

(I) You were seeking a place of quiet, peace and quiet retreat. Sort of atmosphere. .

(N) Sort of and to get away from the high cost of living in Westchester.

(I) And Teaneck being a very accessible town to New York ..

(N) Oh, it is marvelous for like we are just about six or seven minutes from the bridge and you can't beat it.

(I) Of course. Very good. What large groups have you played with? 

(N) Oh my goodness. Well I started out with Dizzy

(I) Oh, Dizzy Gillespie. 

(N) Right. And then in the big band way back in 45 and 46. And I stayed with him off and on until eight or ten years. 49 and 50 I traveled with Woody Herman's band for two years.

(I) 1949/1950. That was the Woody Herman era.

(N) Yeah. In fact I left Woody and went back to Dizzy's band and then in the meantime while John Lewis was going to Manhattan to get his degree, we formed the Modern Jazz Quartet as it is today. 

(I) .Who is that you were. .

(N) The Modern Jazz Quartet and John Lewis who is the musical director.  And we were all at one time in Dizzy's band. And this is how the quartet was formed in the first place. We had intended on forming it, myself, John Lewis, Ray Brown and Kenny Clark the original members of the MJQ. We all performed in Dizzy's band. The MJQ has been together now for thirty years. And that's how this group actually came into focus. We recorded under my name as a quartet and then later changed it to a group name after John got out of Manhattan and got his master's degree. So that's been going on. We disbanded in 74 for about seven years and we formed again in 81 and it's been going along very well.

(I) Good. I suppose Teaneck, being somewhat of a hotbed for famous musicians, theatrical people and whatnot, I suppose you know different members that live in Teaneck like, oh there is a drummer, one of. the drummers live over on Irene Court there. What's his name? 

(N) Drummer, drummer. Would that be Rudy Collins? 

(I) It could be Rudy Collins, yeah.

(N) I am not sure. I know he does live over here. Like you say, I know quite a few musicians who live . . 

(I) And then the gentlemen that was Dave Fross' director, he's a piano musician, I'm trying to think of his name now.

(N) Piano, piano. I don't know. I remember when Billy Taylor.

(I) Billy Taylor.

(N) No, he doesn't live in Teaneck. No, no. Billy lives in New York.

(I) I thought at one time he was a Teaneck . .

(N) As far as I know, he has never lived over here. But then you got Cannonball Ederle's brother used to live over here. In fact I saw him the other night there. He moved back to Florida and I did a concert in Orlando and he drove up for the concert. It was really nice. Then you got Thayer Jones used to live in Teaneck. He is now conducting the Basic band, right? And the late Sam Jones, he lived over here, we were very close neighbors. And like I say, I know quite a number of, Dizzy is just around the bend in Englewood Cliffs. Sarah Vaughan lived in Englewood before she moved to California. And so there are many, many people, like you say, that I know in the business.

(I) Do you know a Pee Wee Irving that used to be in Teaneck years ago?

(N) Pee Wee Irving? I know him but I didn't know him then.

(I) Yeah, there was a call to the historical project from Houston. They wanted to know about Pee Wee Irving and he was a jazz artist too and I was just wondering if 

(N) No, I know the name very well, sure.

(I) And they wanted to find out where he was born, you know, they wanted to get his birthplace and some of the information of that sort so they were trying to run that info down because they knew he originally was in Teaneck for a period of time. What do you think of the Teaneck schools or government? Have you been involved in that in any way? 

(N) Yeah. Not as much as my wife, of course, but I have been involved in it. My daughter, she went to Whittier.

(I) Oh yes, tell us about your family. Oh yes, this is important. 

(N) Let me see, then where did she go? Benjamin Franklin I think and then on to Teaneck High.

(I) You have how many children?

(N) Just the one daughter. Now she is in her second year at Howard. 

(I) What's her name?

(N) Cerise.

(I) And Mrs. Jackson, uh huh, okay, wonderful, very good. Of course, Teaneck was one of the first towns to get with this change of integrating and on the proper ...

(N) Well I like the structure of the Teaneck education system. I really do. Because I've got, like I say, I got to see how it works through my daughter going to all of the schools. And also I have a nephew and a niece that graduated from Fairleigh, you know, so I got a chance to sort of look into the school system and see what it is really like and of course Fairleigh is one of the top ten Ivy League schools and so that part is also, I feel, is an asset to the community of Teaneck as well. 

(I) You haven' t had any adverse conditions as far as being accepted in the community during your stay here?

(N) No.

(I) That's nice to know. I often ask that question because there has been certain instances where, there is pockets, you know, where certain ones may have 

(N) No but I haven't ..

(I) But that's awfully gratifying when you hear that, so you've never had any adverse. .

(N) No, all the neighbors that I've come in contact with have been very friendly and no racial overtones of any kind so like you say, I think that's always an asset as well.

(I) I understand, did you ever play with George Shering?

(N) No. No, I never did. .

(I) I recall Ramsey Lewis and Lou Donaldson and

(N) Well Lou Donaldson, yeah. Lou was on one of my first albums that I did.

(I) Oh great. I know my son's got some of your recordings. So this is a pleasure for me to meet, finally meet Mr. Milton Jackson. That's great. Real nice. I've had the pleasure of seeing George Shering and Ramsey Lewis and oh the youngster now that's quite good, he is a Puerto Rican fellow I think. Monty Alexander.

(N) Funny you mentioned that. This concert in Florida I did with him and we did, about two/three weeks ago now, we did an engagement in the Blue Note which was quite successful. No, he is from Jamaica though, not Puerto Rico. He is Jamaican. 

(I) I see. It is my error then. Very good. 

(N) Very marvelous pianist.

(I) What do you have for the future, your new projects that may be coming up? 

(N) Well the Modern Jazz Quartet, we are going to do a series of concerts starting in California around the 24th of the month. We are going to do a festival in Wichita, a solo concert in Minneapolis. You know, also to make note, this is also for historical purposes for younger students and younger people to know that this group, we have played with over 36 different symphonies. That's a major accomplishment in terms of jazz artists. Also I am going to be recording on the 13th of May. I got a new album that I am going to record. It won't be out until the fall.

(I) I see. That will be nice. That will be great. I'll be looking forward to that. That's great. .

(N) So that's some of the things that we are going to be doing in the future.

(I) It would be nice to see more of the great musicians, the jazz musicians, get together and give a nice concert because we don't get the opportunity too often to get them in one place.

(N) No except during the summer, during the festival. Now that's when you get to see most of them at the festival. 

(I) And where do they usually hold that? .

(N) Well, several places. Mainly though Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher. See it is usually a week or a ten day run. And from there when this is over they immediately go to Europe and do the European festivals, mostly Nice and the North Sea. One of my favorites is (inaudible). We are going over for the month of July. For the whole month and do all of the European festivals.

(I) We have a young man that attends our church, he's up and coming. Sam Low. He might be too young for you, I don't know if you've heard of Sam Low. He's a young musician that's coming up and he's doing very well~ Of course, he's only a youngster yet.

(N) Plays in the church, that is?

(I) No, he doesn't play in the church but he plays the piano and he plays the electric harp and that sort of thing, you know.

(N) Oh, I see.

(I) But he has a jazz group that just came back from Japan and whatnot.  I understand you had a successful trip to Florida. Good. Very good. What would you like to give to, a young person that's, would like to become a jazz musician or a musician period. What is it that you say they really need to become. .

(N) I am glad you stipulated it though because I tell you, it is quite different these days in terms of encouraging a youngster to become a musician as opposed to try to encourage him to become a jazz musician. I'll tell you the difference. In becoming a jazz musician, first of all, the music is very intelligent. In other words, there are no short cuts. It is very difficult to encourage a youngster to become a jazz musician. One of the main reasons is  the media which never gave us any backing or support. You can't encourage a youngster to go into that. So when you are looking into it in terms of the other fields, now in terms of just encouraging a youngster to go into music and become a musician, well there is no emphasis there. That is what you have to do. You just go to school and learn music and get into it. .

(I) Be extremely dedicated.

(N) If that's what you want. While the extreme dedication comes in trying to be a jazz musician because it is very difficult to go, you see what it is is this. Once a Charlie Parker or a Coleman Hawkins all agree, Duke Ellington, you know you can go on and on. Wes Montgomery, who have passed on, we cou1d never encourage our youngsters to replace them because of the media exposure. See, we never got the media exposure and promotion and backing because the music comes from black Americans, you see. A lot of us are afraid to speak out and say this but I am telling you facts from 48 years of experience. And this is basically the reason why we've never gotten the proper support. Another example that I will give you is because of radio. Years ago, if you go back twenty five years, thirty years, we had two stations that played jazz which was network stations. We never did have it during the day.  We did have it at night. Okay. We haven't been able to come close to nothing like that since. And every other form of entertainment and every other phase of entertainment has made. a natural transition from radio into TV, all right into TV, and been very successful. Jazz music never did. 

(I) Yes, that's right. .

(N) We never had no music like you get now on your cable for example. Twenty four hours of animated rock, all night. Jazz never got that kind of support.

(I) No, it didn't. I can

(N) I personally say that it is deliberate because I think the government wants it that way so that they can keep you from becoming too intelligent then they can keep control of everything. You know once the country itself becomes too intelligent, the government can't control you with the things they want to do. They can't make the laws and govern the country by their laws like they want to because too many people would be against it..

(I) Sure, right.

(N) And I say that not really to put nobody in rock music down but that's not really intelligent music. You don't have to have no super brain to get into that music. And also the people back, I am going back to the media again when I say people, they support things that they can relate to plus make a lot of money from. OK? They don't have to give us too much credit for jazz music and plus they couldn't make as much money off of it because we wouldn't be subjected to getting ripped off or whatnot through the business. I am talking about the business end of it now. 

(I) Sure.

(N) You know a lot of those young music people in the rock field, I am not saying all of them but some of them, they are getting ripped off from millions and millions of dollars because they are being exploited. 

(I) That's right.

(N) They couldn't exploit jazz in the way they do this other music and therefore they couldn't do too much with it. Also, a very important factor is in giving us the credit, our credibility, respect for that music, we could build our own automobiles, our own factories, you know, and be independent on our own. This is another thing because as a black man, we have been the backbone for everything that America does and I say if they give us that kind of freedom and that kind of support, they know that we would be too much of a threat to the whole country itself I guess and it is a shame in a way to say that but you can't avoid racism in this country if you are going to get to the facts. And it definitely pertains to this part of the business that is entertainment. 

(N) Well, we also have to face another fact though, you and I, as blacks though, I mean the minority group rather as opposed to the majority, so you have to think about that. It is really not our country. We are just a small part of it.

(I) Right. But I still feel that there should be something done and something said about it to correct it as much as possible. 

(N) Well it goes back to what we said a little earlier. Too many of the innovators and creators are gone. We are not to replace them. And this is what it needed. Also a very important factor in that a lot of us, I am speaking in general, we are free to speak out. In other words, in lieu of having to feed a wife and four kids, you have to take every job you get more or less.

(I) You have to make a living. 

(N) Until you establish yourself and become independent. Now, in the meantime, you can't afford to be too rebellious and speak out because then you get blackballed in the business and don't get jobs. Don't call Milt Jackson and don't call this person because he is a racist. So you got to be careful of that. But at this point in my career, that doesn't worry me because I don't have to worry about that kind of thing.

(I) Right. You are above that plateau. 

(N) I think I passed that. So therefore I can speak out and speak on what I feel is the truth about the situation..

(I) That was a marvelous think that the artists did about the hunger for Africa. We Are the World.. It's too bad we don't have more of that. 

(N) We should have, you know, and the fact that people, anybody would even protest in the lightest sense those that, that human element is missing in a lot of ways in a lot of the countries. 

(I) Right. Very good. What would you like to see done now in terms of music? What type of project accomplishment would you like to see? 

(N) I would like to, and I guess it would have to be through the school system because the way I learned, got my apprenticeship in other words, was right there in the night club next to whatever period it was that. I admired and that's the major difference today as opposed to those days also. OK. But through the educational system in the schools I think we could go back to teaching the kids about the music and the historical background of the music. I think it is important. That's one thing I would like to get in. I'd like to get really heavily involved in this but I can't do it and travel and also make a living unless I set up a project where I am going to make my living doing that. But this is something I would very much like to see, along with a few other innovators of the music, encourage youngsters to get into it and try to learn about the music because I think it is a very valuable asset to the country, to the future aspects of the country and whatnot. .

(I) Sure. Very good. OK. Well, I think this has been an interesting discussion and talk hearing these facts from you, Mr. Jackson. 

(N) Well yeah, like I say I .am very interested in the community projects in terms of music and this is one project I would like to, eventually I think I am going to get into that type of project here in Teaneck too. Once I get involved with the council and I am slowly heading in that direction. 

(I) Very good. That will be nice.

(N) And when I find myself having a little more time off the road in order to do it, I am going to just set up a whole complete project in this direction. 

(I) Fine. Very good. Well I know the historical project appreciates your time you've given us and they'll listen to this tape and this will become a part of the history of Teaneck.

(N) Well I appreciate the fact that they think enough of me to consider me one of their important people in Teaneck.

(I) Fine. Thank you very much. 

(N) You're welcome.

(I) So the establishment keeps a tight control?

(N) Sure without question.

(I) That's too bad because I think the country and the world miss out on a lot by not being able to hear all of these famous artists perform.

(N) Take someone like Paul Whiteman, the dean of jazz, then what did that make Duke Ellington? OK? If they make Benny Goodman the king of swing, what does that make Count Basie or any other number of greats like that? You see, obsolete, because the psychological element of thinking, you see, and if it don't be for Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman would have never, wouldn't have the fame he got. That's how he get it.

(I) 'That's true. But as far as I am concerned, as a person growing up listening to 

(N). OK, now if a person like Benny Goodman asked Duke Ellington to go to Russia with him in his band, as a side man, it just shows you how much they respect us. And I am sorry man, I got to let people know this. Because that is not hearsay, that is fact and I can prove it. 

(I) Well things like that should be corrected and it is too bad that there can't be ways of . .


Back to Teaneck Oral History (2)

Back to Township History Main Page