Jazz Bassist Paul Jackson 1947 – 2021

By Andy Kahn Mar 19, 2021 7:40 am PDT

Acclaimed jazz bassist Paul Jackson, known for his association with Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters, died at the age of 73. A statement on Jackson’s website confirmed his death on Thursday, March 18. The statement follows:

“It is with extreme sadness that we announce Paul Jackson’s passing today, March 18th 2021. World renowned bassist, founding member of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and a deep influence to so many bassists, he loved playing bass since he began playing standup at the age of nine. With countless recording credits to his name his music and his joyous spirit is still loved by so many people world wide. As he would say, he could not only groove he could groove all night! We will all miss you – your music lives forever.”

A native of Oakland, California, Jackson was born on March 28, 1947. He started playing bass when he was 9-years-old. By the age of 14, he had expanded to bassoon and piano and performed with the Oakland Symphony. Jackson’s studies included enrollment at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

In 1973, Herbie Hancock recruited Jackson, saxophonist Bennie Maupin, drummer Harvey Mason and percussionist Bill Summers to form the group known as The Headhunters. Hancock’s 1973 landmark jazz-fusion album Head Hunters featured the standout opening track “Chameleon,” which was co-written by Jackson, Hancock, Maupin and Mason. “Chameleon” and Head Hunters earned Grammy Award nominations.

Jackson contributed to subsequent Hancock albums, including 1974’s Thrust and Death Wish, 1975’s Man-Child and Flood, 1976’s Secrets and VSOP, 1978’s Sunlight, 1979’s Direct Step and Kimiko Kasai Butterfly and 1980’s Mr. Hands. Jackson earned additional Grammy Award nominations for co-writing “Hang Up Your Hangups” (1975) and “Doin’ It” (1976).

“We lost another great musician,” Hancock wrote. “Paul Jackson played electric bass like no one else. He could create a new bass line on every tune every night. No one else could do that! It came from his jazz background. It was part of his genius. Safe travels to your next life, Paul.”

In the 1970s, Jackson also appeared on albums released by The Headhunters as well as others including Sonny Rollins, Santana and The Pointer Sisters. During the same time, Jackson worked on film soundtracks such as Dirty Harry and others. Jackson’s solo album, Black Octopus, was released in 1979 by Toshiba EMI Records.

In 1985, Jackson relocated to Japan. Two years later he launched his Jazz for Kids project, which brings the history of Black American music to Japanese school children. In 1998, The Headhunters reunited with Hancock for a successful Return Of The Headhunters worldwide tour and album. The Headhunters released a new studio album, Evolution Revolution in 2003.

Jackson was an accomplished music instructor having taught at such renowned institutions as Tokyo’s Contemporary of Music Pan School of Music and Musashino School of Music, Osaka’s School of Music, Boston’s Berklee School of Music, University of California Santa Cruz and San Jose State University. Recent years saw Jackson touring with The Paul Jackson Trio featuring Xantoné Blacq and Tony Match. The group released the album Tiptoe Through The Ghetto in 2014. Health issues forced Jackson to stop touring in 2015.


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