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John Eby: Franz Jackson’s last concert could become CD

Published 11:15pm Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Part personal quest, part preserving jazz history from a Chicago legend whose recording career began in 1931, Michelle Jewell of Niles is a woman whose mission marches on.

Her mission is keeping her dad Franz Jackson’s name and music alive since he died four years ago by preserving his last concert she organized in Dowagiac when he turned 95 in November 2007 as a two-disc CD set.

“It was a fabulous night filled with music, love and memories,” she said.

“Having all those amazing performers make the trip to Dowagiac was so special and the music they made that night was nothing less than magical. And, we were fortunate enough to record the entire three hours with Dad playing the first note, the last note and every one in between.”

I can attest, fortunate enough to have been there.

“Happy Birthday” doesn’t usually shoot electricity through an audience.

But then it isn’t usually played – at least not in Dowagiac – with a New Orleans jazz flair by horn players parting the Middle School Performing Arts Center crowd like Saints Marching In.

Franz, a Dowagiac resident who died May 6, 2008, opened that Sunday evening benefit on Nov. 4, 2007, with “What a Wonderful World,” then was joined by vocalist Judi K, trumpeter George Bean, trombonist Ed Bagatini, Tad Calcara, principal clarinetist for the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City, Hugh Leal on banjo, Jim Pickley on piano, Chris Carani on bass (his father also played with Jackson) and Hank Tausend, who played with Woody Allen’s jazz band, on drums for Fats Waller’s “This Joint is Jumpin’.”

Master of Ceremonies Neal Tesser, Playboy’s jazz critic from 1991 to 2002 and the first jazz critic for USA

Today, played “traffic cop” for constant shuffling of the “cast of characters” from 18 guest artists, such as flamboyant trumpeter Yves Francois Smierczak.

Yves Francois told me, “Franz was instrumental in me playing jazz music. He’s truly one of a kind, right up there with Webster, Young and Hawkins as the greatest tenor players who ever lived.”

To raise the capital Michelle needs to fulfill this dream, she started an online fundraising campaign through

“This is an all-or-nothing venture,” she said.

“I either raise the $9,000 I need to complete this project with the class it deserves by the July 10 deadline or I will receive none of the money pledged.”


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