One of Mississippi’s foremost active bluesmen will headline a star-studded cast of preeminent session musicians during a free concert honoring the state’s heritage as the “Birthplace of the Blues.”
Vasti (pronounced Vast-Eye) Jackson, a Grammy Award-nominated performer from Hattiesburg known for his innovative guitar playing and stellar vocals, will kick off the Institute for Southern Storytelling at Mississippi College’s event calendar with “Vasti Jackson and Friends: Live in Mississippi!” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31, in the Gore Arts Complex auditorium. The blues, soul, and jazz concert is intended to air as a television special on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and PBS.
Jackson’s “friends” will include Tom “Bones” Malone, a trombonist best known for his work on The Blues Brothers, the David Letterman Show, and Saturday Night Live; Keith Johnson, a talented guitarist and great-nephew of renowned Bluesman Muddy Waters; Derrick “D’MAR” Martin, lead drummer for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Little Richard; Jerry Jemmott, two-time Grammy Award-winning bassist; Keiko Komaki, a keyboardist who has played with many of New Orleans’ most beloved musicians; Frank Greene, lead trumpeter in the Count Basie Orchestra; and Donald Harrison, jazz saxophonist and “Big Chief” of the Congo Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group.
Amy Bryant Thaxton, executive director of the Institute, said the concert will christen the Institute’s burgeoning event initiative.
“Our mission at the Institute is to celebrate Southern stories and the things we do well in the South, especially in Mississippi,” Thaxton said. “Blues music is made up of stories, so hosting these wonderful musicians is a great way to celebrate this type of music that is special to the state.
“At the Institute, we want to celebrate literature, art, and music. We’re excited to welcome musicians of this caliber to the Gore Arts Complex auditorium for an amazing night of the Blues.”
An electric blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, and record producer, Jackson has served as musical director and guitarist for such artists as Bobby Bland, Z.Z. Hill, Denise LaSalle, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, and Katie Webster. He has also worked with gospel performers Daryl Coley, the Jackson Southernaires, and the Williams Brothers.
He has released seven albums, including “The Soul of Jimmie Rodgers,” which celebrated his appreciation of the country music legend’s influence on the history of American music. It was nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 59th annual Grammy Awards. The recording was in direct competition with Bobby Rush’s album, “Porcupine Meat” – the title track of which Jackson had served as a guest performer. His most recent album is “New Orleans: Rhythm, Soul, Blues.”
Jackson was featured along with artist and MC alum Wyatt Waters in an episode of Institute co-founders Robert St. John and Anthony Thaxton’s show, Palate to Palette, which aired on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
“Vasti is the consummate bluesman,” Anthony Thaxton said. “He tours all over the world promoting Mississippi Blues. The Blues is so loved and respected worldwide, and he is a great ambassador – not only for our state, but for our country.
“This will be the first live event promoted by the Institute. For Robert, Amy, and I to host this event together, to have some really good music that originated right here in Mississippi by someone we respect and is a friend of ours, is a dream come true.
During his visit to Mississippi College, Jackson will take part in a pre-concert interview that will air along with the television special.
Anthony Thaxton said the concert will provide a wonderful opportunity for audience members to experience “Mississippi-born” culture.
“We will have an energetic auditorium packed with people having a great time,” he said. “There’s an energy to being part of a live studio audience. The audience is just as important as the performance on stage because they become part of the production.
“They can expect a lot of fun. Vasti is a consummate showman. He will move across the stage like his hand moves along the neck of his guitar. He can read an audience very well, and he knows what to give them. His energy level will ignite these musicians. It is going to be a high-caliber show.”
The Institute for Southern Storytelling at MC is an interdisciplinary approach to storytelling through studying the Southern experience. Participants collectively produce inspiring and instructive films, art, music, and writing that help others reflect on the uniqueness of the South and its role in the world.
Anthony Thaxton said the concert will give audience members greater insight into the Institute’s mission.
“Our state is the leader in music and literature in the South,” he said. “It was important for the Institute to launch this event in this beautiful auditorium on this beautiful campus with someone we trust who deserves to be showcased to the world. We know Vasti will be amazing and authentically Mississippi.
“There will be a lot of original music, an homage to the history of the Blues by one of our great Mississippi bluesmen and some of his friends. It’s going to be terrific.”
Seating will be available on a first-come basis. Doors will open at 6 p.m. For more information, call Amy Thaxton at 601.925.7345.