Craig Jackson spent his high school and college years learning to be a phenomenal saxophone player. Jackson studied theories and techniques, scales and scores. Now that he is about to put his classes at Berklee College of Music in the rearview, the Ohio native says it’s “time to let go and exist as an artist.”
“In high school, I gained a lot of skills, I learned how to sight read, how to improvise,” Jackson told the Herald. “In college, I had to learn how to manage growing exponentially. Now jazz and classical music are my base. … But at some point you let go.”
For musicians at Jackson’s level, stuffing all that knowledge to the back of your brain and learning how to play with freedom unlocks great art. And playing with freedom is fundamental to Jackson’s ensemble Seventh Sun, which performs Aug. 19 at the Lilypad in Cambridge.
Seventh Sun is a jazz ensemble, but one defined in the loosest terms — Seventh Sun can move from hard bop to funky r&b to electronica-touched moments in a single song. At the center of most of the ensemble’s performances is Jackson’s lyrical, expressive sax playing.
“I don’t want to call the sound fusion,” Jackson said, referring to the ’70s jazz-rock movement (although Seventh Sun can evoke a bit of Return to Forever). “But there are a lot of different genres in it, a lot of different worlds from straight-ahead jazz to neo soul to indie, even some progressive rock.”
This cool blend of approaches is aided by a cool blend of musicians.
“I wanted the group to be diverse but also a family,” Jackson said. “I wanted a group of brothers and sisters that could co-exist with their differences.”
Seventh Sun’s lineup achieves that. The members come from different countries, backgrounds, genders and genres.
“My bass player, she is from Austria and she’s blind,” Jackson said. “My pianist, she’s Afro-English. My vocalist is black and LGBTQ. My MC and guitarist is a brother from Milwaukee and Canada and is very bubbly. There are all these different personalities mixing.”
Jackson goes on naming more players working in the group from a range of scenes and sounds.
Boston has loads of talent to draw from, but even with a stacked music community, it’s surprising Jackson had no trouble recruiting like-minded collaborators.
“My vision was originality, and real recognizes real,” he said. “When I saw what these players were doing, saw their talent and their voices, it was easy (to pull the group together) and to get the vibe going. It was organic.”
Seventh Sun is currently raising funds to work on a debut album that Jackson expects to deliver next year. In the meantime, the group plans to tour while Jackson also explores other outlets — he plays Aug. 28 at Smalls in New York City with trombone legend Frank Lacy.
For tickets and details, go to lilypadinman.com and smallslive.com.