While music has always been a major part of Bert Jackson’s life, he temporarily shelved his playing when he moved to Cape Cod in 1991 from St. Thomas.
Getting into the Cape’s music scene, he said, “took a long time. I was busy doing other things like trying to build a technology career. I didn’t play seriously with anybody for about 10 years. …During the 90s, it was kind of a dark night of the soul as a musician. I played, but I didn’t really grow a lot.”
That changed when a former bandmate encouraged him to return to his creative roots. A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Bert’s first shows were in his home state of New Hampshire. “I’d play blues gigs and drove several hundred miles in a cheap car for $75 a gig,” he laughed. “Then I started meeting more people on the Cape and playing a few gigs here.”
About 16 years ago, his career blossomed when he met musician and artist Roe Osborn, a bassist who eventually joined Paul Lesniak on reeds and Kareem Sanjaghi on drums to form the Bert Jackson Quartet.
The group did its first show shortly after Paul’s wife Janet was tapped to lead the Wellfleet Preservation Hall as its first-ever executive director when the cultural facility opened in May 2011.
“I met Paul while doing open mics there,” Bert recalled. “Janet came up to us and said, ‘My husband plays sax. Is it okay if he plays with you?’ She ends up taking a picture of us on stage which ended up being in the Boston Globe as part of the announcement for the opening of the hall. It’s the only time I’ve been in the Boston Globe.”
A few years later, he expanded his repertoire to include the Bert Jackson Wicked Trio which had several iterations, eventually featuring Scott Lariviere on bass and Kareem on drums. “The Wicked Trio happened by accident. We got a gig at Harvest Gallery Wine Bar not long after it opened,” Jackson said. “We said let’s try some jazz, let’s try some blues. It was very unplanned, and it evolved over the years.”
That evolution has led to real moments of joy and creativity because Jackson said, “the music community is huge. We have so many talented people here who are doing so many different kinds of things. I love Clã Da Bossa Nova and watching someone like Tad Price playing Brazilian music on the guitar. …And meeting people like Steve Morgan, and some of our great jazz musicians like Fred Boyle, Mike Dunford, Rich Hill. We have such brilliant players here and I’ve really enjoyed that.”
Enjoyed – past tense. At the beginning of this year, a huge void was left in the local music scene when the talented and affable Jackson moved to Hawaii with his husband Wil Rhymer.
Jackson has become a familiar face, adding to the rich tapestry of the arts on the Cape. The Red Inn in Provincetown, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar, the 1620 Brewhouse in Provincetown, Cotuit Center for the Arts, Grand Cru Wine Bar in Hyannis, Snow Library in Orleans, the Mews Coffeehouse in Provincetown, and Wellfleet OysterFest are just a few of the venues he has performed at.
And he’s supported multiple nonprofits, entertaining guests at fundraisers for Housing Assistance Corporation, CCYP, Lower Cape Outreach Council, Cape Cod Community College Educational Foundation, Community Development Partnership, Monomoy Community Services, and Wellfleet Preservation Hall.
Not long after the start of the pandemic, Jackson joined nearly two dozen national, regional, and local artists in performing for the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod’s (AFCC) Home Is Where The Art Is virtual music and arts festival to raise funds for the nonprofit’s Cape Cod Arts Relief Fund.
During the three-day event, Jackson donated all proceeds from the sale of his two albums – “Light of the Son” (2020) and “Imaginary Journey” (2013) – to the AFCC’s fund which provided emergency assistance to artists who lost work and income, and to cultural organizations that were impacted as a result of Covid-19.
“I think at that point, we were all searching for something. We didn’t know what was going to happen and we didn’t know how long the shutdown was going to be,” Jackson recalled. “Here we are three years later and we’re kind of coming out of it, but still being impacted by it.”
He spoke highly of the AFCC and its importance to the arts in our region. “Someone needs to stand up for us. Artists don’t typically have the resources to pay themselves, let alone promote themselves,” he said. “I’m really happy about how the Arts Foundation has stepped up, in terms of being able to put money into the community through grants and helping to fund individual artists.
“The arts shouldn’t be about what sells. It should be about putting things out there, especially things that are less popular and more controversial,” he continued. “Yes, we need artists who paint seascapes, but we also need artists doing abstract work. It’s important to have a spectrum.”
Often what gets lost in the natural beauty of the Cape, Jackson said, is the importance of the arts to the region. “There’s great physical beauty here which is an environmental draw which draws visual artists and other creative artists. This is a melting pot of creativity,” he said. “The arts are who we are. The Cape, for whatever reason, attracts the best artists in the world, whether in music, visual arts, or performing arts.”
For the past three decades, Jackson was one of those artists. While he’s found a new home, he stressed, “a part of my soul will always be here.”
And the one thing that will never leave Jackson is his passion for music, especially for all it has given him. “If you can learn how to improvise on guitar, then you can learn how to improvise in life,” he said. “It is like exploring the universe – the more you realize you don’t know. Music is a microcosm for that.”
Learn more about Bert Jackson at his website, www.bertland.com.