B: February 12, 1919
D: August 29, 1986
Instruments: Vocals, drums, vibraphone
Biography by Gary Jackson:
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Clarence Jackson (1919-1986) was a musical treasure to aficionados within the northeastern region of America (New England, including Ohio and parts of the South up through Toronto, Canada). Jackson defined excitement combined with smooth, innovative and well thought-out arrangements to songs in the jazz and pop medium. According to George A. Moonoogian, quoted in ‘Wine, Women and…’, December, 1985:
“Clarence Jackson and His Four Notes of Rhythm never made it as big headliners, but they were great entertainers. Clarence did a little of everything well; he swung, he riffed, he mugged the words and was always very rhythmic. He could sing a very sensitive song, too, using a sort of falsetto. While he had a high range, he could also get rough and swing the blues.”
Born in Philadelphia, February 12, 1919, Clarence Jackson’s musical beginnings in his native City of Brotherly Love are limited; the last of his direct family having died in 1963. By that time, Jackson had been living in Boston, Massachusetts since 1941. Hence, with the exception of successful appearances on local radio as a child on “The Kiddie Hour” (a memory recalled by a close cousin, Maxine Bryant –also deceased—to his immediate family), little else is known about his early musical influences. Jackson did not gain notoriety until well after his move to Boston, when jazz dominated such legendary clubs as the Highland Tap and the Hi-Hat Club. It is presumed that Jackson shaped his signature vocal style during the burgeoning jazz evolution of the decade, a time when the likes of Billy Eckstine, Nat “King” Cole, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway and many others made jazz the popular music of choice in America.
There are precious few recordings of Clarence Jackson; the most important being a 1948 recording of “POOR BUTTERFLY” on Crystal Tone Records as Clarence Jackson & His Four Notes of Rhythm, with an arrangement that featured his signature tenor. Accompanying Jackson were George Jones (bass), Kurt Treveigne (guitar), and Highland Diggs (piano). The song was reviewed in Billboard’s March 27, 1948 issue. In the 1950s, Jackson appeared in the popular “Ted Mack Amateur Hour” as a featured performer. In 1983, Jackson capped his career by recording two songs – “MACK THE KNIFE” and “A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE” with the popular New England area big band, the Ted Herbert Orchestra. Lesser known, and much rarer, are numerous uncredited 45rpm cover tunes of popular ‘60s songs on the Promenade Records label in Boston.
From the early ‘40s until his death from cancer in 1986, Jackson played in the most popular nightclubs, casinos, hotels, colleges and restaurants of the time. Entertainment critics tabbed Jackson as a “must-see” performer. “Yanko Doodles” scribe Nick Yanko in Akron, Ohio, wrote:
“You shouldn’t miss this combo—they play all types of jazz as well as ‘old favorites’.They are credited with being President Kennedy’s ‘favorite group for his own personal relaxation and entertainment’. Alex Barris wrote:
“At the Silver Rail, another talented, if less spectacular, group is on hand. This is the Clarence Jackson Trio, also new to these parts. Jackson is a personable singer who accompanies himself on drums, while his colleagues, Lee Farrell, on bass, and Dean Earl, on piano, round out the group… All three are skilled musicians and Farrell also does some solo singing, but it’s Jackson’s warmth and appeal that hold your attention most of the time.”
Where Magazine in Ohio also adds the Kennedy quote, and wrote, "Their excellent showmanship can be viewed in the Casbah."
As an opener and headliner, Jackson appeared with such luminaries as comedians Norm Crosby, Frankie Fontaine and Rodney Dangerfield, vocalists Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page, Al Martino, Sammy Davis, Jr., the Jones Brothers, band leaders Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Jimmy Smith and Sabby Lewis. Celebrities that flocked to Jackson’s performances include baseball Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Carl Yastrzemski, Curt Gowdy and Bill Veeck, guitarist Johnny Winters, basketball legends Bill Russell and K. C. Jones (a keyboard hobbyist who sat in on jam sessions with Jackson), and many more. In addition, Jackson had close professional relationships with Nat “King” Cole, Torme, Page, Dangerfield, Fontaine and especially the Rev. Martin Luther King, who lived in the same Roxbury apartment building as Jackson in the mid ‘50s while King attended Boston University School of Theology.
Clarence Jackson was also a pioneer: He was one of the first African American performers to play at legendary Boston jazz clubs such as the Hi-Hat Club and Highland Tap in the early 1940s. Throughout his illustrious career, Jackson also played at Boston’s Symphony Hall, Hynes Auditorium, numerous hotels, nightclubs and other venues. Other musicians that played with Jackson include pianists Bobby Everett and Sid Simmons (who once played with the late Grover Washington, Jr.) and bass player Ron Downs. Downs, a popular Boston area bass player who filled in on occasion in the ‘70s, recalled that
“You had to really understand music to keep up with him. Jazz is so complex, and he expected you to know what you’re doing. Often, he liked to change keys to songs. It was a challenge, and you had to work your ass off. I was much younger then, just learning my craft, but in the end, you were a better musician for having played with Jackson.”
In 1946, Jackson married his first wife, Estelle, in Boston, a union that resulted in six children, Sharon, Pamela, Gary, Keith, Bryant and Gisele. All are alive and live in various parts of the United States: Sharon is Manager of Financial Administration; Pamela is a Nurse Research Scientist; Gary is a freelance music journalist; Keith is a television producer; Bryant is a retail manager; and Gisele is an Academic Administrator.
Clarence Jackson also possessed innate culinary skills. Jackson deftly juggled duties as Kitchen Manager at the Black Rock Hotel in Cohasset, Massachusetts in 1961 with nightly entertainment. Nine years later, in 1970, Jackson and his wife fulfilled a dream by opening Bagful of Goodies Restaurant in the bustling business area of Roxbury, Massachusetts. In 1974, Jackson closed “Bagful” to capitalize on an opportunity to create and run Ye Olde Courthouse Café in the Roxbury District Court. Adding to his reputation as an entertainer/restaurateur, Jackson also became a court officer at the District Court, a post he held until his death in 1986. One of his duties included transferring hardened criminals to jail. Jackson fondly recalled to the local newspaper Bay State Banner how he so easily transferred prisoners to jail by purchasing meals for them paid out of his own pocket. His home-spun rationale: “It made it easier to transfer prisoners if they’ve got a full stomach.”
Another of Jackson’s talents was as a commercial jingle writer. The most famous was for the soda company Cliquot Club, for which, in the mid-‘60s, he wrote this catchy phrase over a smooth samba beat:
Cliquot’s got the taste you like
Take a taste
A great taste
With bubbles that never fizzle out
Take a taste
A great taste.
PARENTS: THOMAS & LILLA LINDSEY-JACKSON
SIBLINGS: Brothers LINDSEY AND EDWARD (three others are unknown as all are deceased)
OFFSPRING: SHARON, PAMELA, GARY, KEITH, BRYANT, GISELE, Grandson MORGAN, Granddaughter BRITTANY
- Among the first African Americans to play at the HI-HAT CLUB and HIGHLAND TAP in Boston
- Performed for PRESIDENT JOHN KENNEDY and his brothers ROBERT and TED many times.
- CLARENCE JACKSON TRIO was the house band at the Fenway Commonwealth and Fenway North hotel chain (late ‘60s to mid ‘70s), performed at numerous yacht clubs, country clubs and casinos throughout his career.
- CLARENCE JACKSON & HIS NOTES OF RHYTHM : “POOR BUTTERFLY” (78rpm SINGLE) RELEASED MARCH, 1948
- “TED HERBERT: ‘BIG BAND SATURDAY NIGHT’” RELEASED 1983 – Lead Vocals on: “MACK THE KNIFE,” “A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE”
- Uncredited covers of pop song for Promenade Records
ENSEMBLES: CLARENCE JACKSON & HIS NOTES OF RHYTHM, CLARENCE JACKSON TRIO, TED HERBERT ORCHESTRA
VENUES: HIGHLAND TAP, BLUE MOON, FENWAY COMMONWEALTH & FENWAY NORTH, HI-HAT CLUB, SAXONY LOUNGE, BOSTON TEA PARTY, NICK YANKO’S (Ohio), MT. VIEW CLUB, RIO CASINO, THE DOWNBEAT, PIRATE’D DEN, PETTY COCKTAIL LOUNGE, HI-WAY CASINO, EDDIE’S, THE 400, TOWN & COUNTRY CLUB (Brooklyn, NY), THE C-NOTE, PARKWAY CLUB, BRUNSWICK HOTEL (Old Orchard Beach, Maine), BLACK ROCK HOUSE (Cohasset, MA), THE SAVOY, 1-2-3 LOUNGE, TIC-TOC LOUNGE, THE FRONTIER and many more.