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San Diego Jazz Great Daniel Jackson Dead At 77

Daniel Jackson, 2013.
Angela Carone
Daniel Jackson, 2013.

San Diego Jazz Great Daniel Jackson, Dead at 77
Daniel Jackson, saxophonist, pianist, composer, and music teacher with a decades long career in the San Diego jazz scene, died Wednesday of a prolonged illness.

Daniel Jackson, saxophonist, pianist, composer, and music teacher with a decades long career in the San Diego jazz scene, died Wednesday of a prolonged illness. He was 77.

Jackson was a young boy when he heard the saxophone for the first time. His older brother’s band, which included tenor saxophone player Harold Land, was practicing in the front room of his childhood home. Jackson told KPBS in 2013 that as soon as he heard Land play, he was hooked.


“I heard that tenor saxophone and I was like ‘That’s it! That’s where I want to be for the rest of my life is on that sound,” Jackson said.

Jackson stayed on that sound, taking lessons his mother paid for on a maid’s salary.

Jackson kept perfecting his instrument and eventually toured Europe with the Ray Charles band. He soon returned to San Diego and overcame drug addiction.

Jackson made a conscious decision not to stay in New York, where he lived briefly, and where jazz musicians went to make it big. He loved playing in San Diego, and built a reputation as a musician’s musician. So says saxophone great Charles McPherson.

“Every time we played together I would hear originality in his improv, a thoughtfulness and a certain musical sensitivity,” McPherson said.


Fellow musicians called Jackson "The Shadow," because he was so soft-spoken.

“The only way you knew Daniel Jackson was in the room, was because you turned around and he was there,” McPherson said. “It’s almost like he’s this fourth dimensional character that just appears,” McPherson added, chuckling.

Jackson played with and inspired many of San Diego’s jazz musicians, including bassist Mark Dresser, violinist Jamie Shadowlight, trombonist Dave Scott, and scores of others.

Jackson was also a mentor to young San Diego musicians, like singer A.J. Croce and acclaimed local trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, who never called Jackson “The Shadow.” Instead he called him his “musical father.” Castellanos, now a galvanizing force in San Diego’s jazz community, met Jackson when he moved to the city 20 years ago.

“If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have moved to a bigger city,” Castellanos said. “But having a role model like that, there was no reason for me to move if I had someone like that here in San Diego.”

“Daniel was the real deal,” adds Castellanos.

Jackson taught himself piano so he could make extra money, playing for diners at the Hotel Del Coronado and Croce’s restaurant downtown. During his 30 years at Croce’s, he would take a sabbatical or two. During one such absence, then city councilwoman Donna Frye missed his playing so much she asked the city council to proclaim a week in January Daniel Jackson week, so his music would always be celebrated.

In 2013, the San Diego Music Awards gave Jackson the annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

Daniel Jackson played music almost every day of his life. When he wasn’t on stage or jamming with other musicians, he would sit on his stoop at night and play his saxophone for the dozen stray cats on his property. Local violinist Jamie Shadowlight says “those cats had a front seat to the best gig in town.”