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Early Exposure to Music

Bill and his two sisters were exposed early to music by their mother Anne in their home in Oakland, California. Anne had wanted to be a concert pianist, but instead became an excellent "pop" pianist who could accompany anybody in any key. She loved to give parties which always included singing around the grand piano, often with a fiddler or two also participating. Bill and his sisters always sang, and from years of hearing Anne play piano for singing, assimilated many melodies of classic American popular music. They also absorbed melodies from European classical music because from time to time Anne would re-dedicate herself to playing this piano repertoire, and for weeks on end the house would ring with her practicing.

It Seemed "Sissy"

Anne taught all three children the piano at an early age, but none of them were very interested in it. Bill thought it was "sissy" and preferred sports. Anne had heard that it is difficult to teach the piano to your own children so she had them take lessons from other teachers. Bill stayed with the piano for a few years with a few different teachers and even played in the obligatory annual piano recitals that piano teachers give for their students. His teachers were impressed with how fast he learned, but lamented his lack of commitment to the piano.

Bill continued to be markedly unenthusiastic about the piano so all lessons stopped by the time he was in the fifth grade or so. From then on, Bill played the piano very little. He had learned some boogie-woogie piano and every now and then would sit down at the piano to play boogie-woogie. But that was it.

Bill Hears Jazz Piano

Bill was not drawn back to the piano until he was in college and heard jazz pianists such as Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, and Oscar Peterson. He became fascinated by jazz piano and wanted to learn how to play it. Bill took some jazz piano lessons from the late jazz pianist Arthur Fletcher, who taught him the fundamentals of jazz piano. After this, Bill was learning on his own via books and experimentation, was playing in the college stage band, and was really catching on to how to play the blues.

An Industrial Accident Stops the Music

All this was cut short in August 1968 by an industrial accident at a plant in Oakland where Bill was working for the summer. His left hand got pulled into the chain guard of a conveyor belt, severing more than a half inch off the end of his ring finger and badly damaging the middle finger. When Bill arrived at the old Herrick (now Alta Bates) Hospital in Berkeley, all the tendons of the middle finger had been severed, the bone had been badly broken, and the finger was turned sideways and was cradled in Bill's right hand.

The doctors did not know if they could save the middle finger. Bill told Dr. Sheldon Brown, the hand surgeon who operated on him, that he was a jazz pianist and was just really catching on to how to play the blues. Dr. Brown said he would do all he could to save the finger. Dr. Brown did save the finger, and years later Bill composed a blues he dedicated to him named "Blues For Dr. Brown," which is included in our series of CDs.

Music Put On Hold

Even though the middle finger was saved, Bill lost movement in the end joint. Moreover, the finger had a lot of scar tissue, hurt a lot, and just didn't feel the same. Given his injury, Bill thought he wouldn't be able to play the piano anymore. So he turned his attention to his college major, industrial engineering and operations research, at the University of California at Berkeley. After graduating in engineering, Bill continued on at Berkeley to get a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) with specialization in applied economics/econometrics. He later earned a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics with a specialization in econometrics from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Today, in addition to his musical pursuits, Bill operates Jackman Statistics (www.JackmanStatistics.com), providing statistical consulting.

Bill Returns to the Piano

As the two damaged fingers continued to heal from the accident and several subsequent surgeries, Bill found out that he could still use his left hand even though the amputated ring finger was very sensitive and the middle finger was stiff at the end joint and hurt a lot from scar tissue. Apparently he could do almost everything he could do before - albeit with some modification. Although Bill believed the injury would prevent him from being a top-notch jazz pianist, he still really enjoyed playing the piano and returned to building jazz piano repertoire.

Dancing Was Bill's Passion

Bill rarely played the piano during his teen years, but was an enthusiastic dancer. He learned to dance swing (which was then called the "Bop" in Oakland) dancing to rock'n'roll. In the late 1950s, swing dancing was part of the popular culture in Oakland. Everyone was dancing it so you didn't have to go to a dance studio to learn it. You picked it up from friends and at parties.

With the advent of the Twist in 1960, dance styles changed. Couples no longer touched each other when they danced, and partner-dancing to rock'n'roll quickly disappeared from the scene. After the counter-cultural ("hippie") movement of the late 1960s and 1970s faded, there was a revival of interest in swing dancing. Two dance clubs that played an important role in the swing dancing revival were the S.F. Bay Swingers and the Next Generation Swing Dance Club. From the early 1980s on, Bill was an active members of both clubs and attended almost all their events.

Blues Is Not The Only Music You Can Dance Swing To

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, live music was the rule for the swing dances put on by the swing dance clubs. The repertoire the bands played was mostly blues. Bill likes blues as much as the next person, but he also knows there is other music you can dance swing to. He used to point out to the officers of the dance clubs that you can also dance swing to classic American popular songs such as "Tenderly" and "On a Clear Day," but that the blues bands employed for the swing dances never played this repertoire. And since he loves the sound of the acoustic grand piano, he used to ask the officers why the bands couldn't use a real piano occasionally.

The club officers agreed with him and said they too liked to dance swing to classic American popular songs, but that they couldn't find bands that would play that repertoire at the tempos swing dancers need. As for the grand piano, they said that they either weren't available any more, or if they were available, were not in good working order.

A "Late Bloomer" Rises to the Job

In the 1980s, Bill was a "late blooming," amateur jazz pianist who was continuing to improve. However, he never thought he would get good enough to provide the jazz piano music for swing dancing he was asking the dance club officers for. As it turns out, he did get good enough. During September - December 2001, the Bill Jackman Trio recorded 6 CDs containing 7 hours and 27 minutes of outstanding jazz piano trio music (Bill on concert grand piano, Terry Hilliard on bass, and Ron Marabuto on drums). The 45 tunes they recorded are nicely balanced between Latin, swing, and ballad rhythms and tempos. And since Bill is a dancer and knows what tempos dancers need, he made sure that his Trio recorded danceable tempos.

A Love of Melody

Bill ensured that the music the trio recorded is danceable by selecting only danceable tempos. However, we have received much favorable feedback from Bill's demo tape (See Testimonials) on other facets of the music, particularly the strong melodic content of his improvisations. For example, businesswoman Debbie Hall of Moraga, CA wrote, "Sorry I missed you today because I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying your tape. I must tell you that I love classical music and have never been much of a fan of jazz. However, I find your jazz style very pleasant on the ear. The melodies are discernible. Sometimes jazz tunes all sound the same. You are very talented, Bill. Thanks for the tape. Any chance you'll cut a CD?"

Bill's gift for melodic creation probably goes back to his childhood when he assimilated many melodies of classic American popular music and European classical music from hearing his mother Anne play them on the home's grand piano. Melody is a top priority for Bill in his jazz improvisations. He believes that the goal of jazz improvisation should be the creation of new jazz melodies based on the original tune (i.e., the theme) you are using. Improvisation is the means toward the end of melodic creation, not an end in itself. The outcome of jazz improvisation should be good music, of which melody is an essential element. As Duke Ellington said, there are two kinds of music: good and bad.

Lupita López Jackman