The pursuit of excellence has been a driving force in the extremely versatile career of West Coast-expatriate-turned-Music City stalwart Nioshi Jackson. Since his arrival more than two decades ago, he’s been involved in multiple facets of the city’s music scene. He became a go-to drummer for tours and one-off performances with a wide range of country stars (Trisha Yearwood, Ricky Skaggs, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan), rock stars (John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi), blues legends (John Lee Hooker) and R&B luminaries (Smokey Robinson). He also has to his credit numerous gigs with various local and regional jazz acts, and at one time he led his own ensemble, The Nioshi Jackson Reason.
A little less than a decade ago, Jackson moved deeper into the business side of country music as an artist producer and manager. For a time, he was the entertainment director at Rudy’s Jazz Room, responsible for booking talent at the sole commercial jazz club in Nashville. Now he’s taken his skills to another venue in the vicinity, booking top area jazz and blues talent for the All That Jazz Lounge. The venue is a part of Hendersonville event space and private club The Lighthouse on the Lake. Recent concerts have featured such outstanding locals as trumpeter Rod McGaha, saxophonist Richard Griffin and powerhouse R&B and soul outfit Bizz and Everyday People. Upcoming bookings include stellar bandleader Giovanni Rodriguez on Aug. 22 and superlative singer Kim Fleming on Sept. 26.
There’s a jazz brunch with live music on the second and fourth Sunday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and evening shows are scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. There’s also a weekly jam session on Wednesday nights from 6 to 9 p.m., which features, among other participants, gifted saxophonist Kerry Frazier. During many of the jam sessions, you’ll find Jackson himself on the drum throne.
This affiliation represents a reunion between Jackson and Dr. Jewell Winn, a longtime administrator at Tennessee State University who co-owns the facility with her husband Tim. She and Jackson knew each other years ago through a downtown Nashville club called Something Else.
“It’s been a slow climb since Jewell and I started talking about wanting to bring jazz to Hendersonville,” Jackson tells the Scene. “But we think it can really become something special. Our focus right now is on showcasing top jazz acts both locally and throughout the region, but eventually we want to bring in national and international artists as well. But the important thing right now is to let music fans know we’re doing this, and encouraging them to come out and enjoy it.”
Jackson acknowledges that the pandemic has proven an obstacle, affecting his plans as both a promoter and a performer.
“Man, when that hit, overnight I lost almost 90 percent of my business,” Jackson recalls. “There were some bleak periods there. But I think we’re coming out of it. I’m finding people really did miss live music. They missed that spark that you get from the interaction between the band and the audience, the inspiration and good feelings that result from experiencing the music directly rather than from a streaming situation.”
The multitalented Jackson continues a variety of other pursuits, ranging from artist consultation to periodic DJ dates. He has a few private functions on the books, and he’ll sit in on jam sessions and club dates elsewhere around Nashville from time to time. He’s been called in for some extraordinary sessions too. He’s the main timekeeper on Fire It Up, the new album by Stax legend Steve Cropper, which the Nashville-residing guitarist and composer has described as his first real solo album since 1969. But building the reputation of the new club and making plans for its future is keeping Jackson plenty busy.
“We’d definitely like to do a summer festival here next year, and we’re also discussing adding more jazz nights down the line. Of course, a lot depends on what happens with COVID-19, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed about that. Still, overall, I think when people come out to hear the music here, they’ll be pleased. I definitely emphasize professionalism and excellence in my playing, and that’s what we’re emphasizing in everything we present here.”