David Jackson, sometimes called Jaxon, is perhaps best known as a member of legendary 1970s progressive rock group Van der Graaf Generator. But he has worked right across the musical spectrum with artists including Peter Gabriel, Keith Tippet, Osanna and many others. He developed his own very individual and recognisable electronic saxophone style, often playing two at once (see below).
He was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, in 1947 and is married with two children and a grandson. A musician from an early age, he was educated at Stamford School where he was both a chorister and a flautist. He went to university at St. Andrews, where he got an MA in Psychology and Economics while playing in several Scottish bands. He met the musician and architect Max Hutchinson and they played together a lot. After university he got a job in London and played with the jazz-blues-pop-group Bernard Reich in Oxford.
Max introduced him to Judge Smith, one of the original founders of VdGG, and together they formed the jazz-rock band Heebalob. When a record deal fell through, Heebalob split and Peter Hammill asked David if he wanted to join Van der Graaf Generator, which he was trying to reform. Although this band was a success, especially in Italy, money was still short and for several years in the 70s David supplemented his income working as a truck driver (4 years) and a forestry crane operator (2 years).
Van de Graaf Generator split twice: in 1972 after a hectic tour schedule and, after reforming in 1975, again in 1978. Meanwhile, David collaborated on a number of other projects and toured in Peter Gabriel’s band in 1978-79.
In the 1980s, David felt the need for a new direction. He studied teaching at the University of Surrey and subsequently worked for a number of years as a Special Needs Maths Consultant at Bulmershe Comprehensive School Reading, as a Junior Year Leader and Maths Specialist at St Paul’s School, Wokingham and as a Music Teacher at Wildridings Primary School, Bracknell.
His career turned back towards music in 1990 when he went on tour with Italian singer Alice and wrote the music for two plays: Savages (1990) and The Death Of An Andalusian Poet, about Federico Garcia Lorca, directed by Joel Roszykiewicz (1990/91).
Whilst working at The Ark, Southill Park in 1990, Jaxon had discovered the amazing world of the Soundbeam system. They are cone-shaped beams that produce sounds depending on how and where the beams are cut. He found they were ideal to enable disabled people to produce music and became a music and disability practitioner involved in projects activating disabled children, a career that still keeps on giving.
At the same time he was composing and performing. He was part of the Van der Graaf Generator reunion tour in 2005, and collaborated with various groups and musicians, including Judge Smith, the Magic Mushroom Band, Italian progressive rock band Osanna, the Dutch percussionist René van Commenée and many others.
Today he plays with London-based Kaprekar’s Constant and Naples band Osanna while continuing to write music for and perform with a wide selection of other musicians.
More about David Jackson
Recent (Feb 2024) in-depth interview with David Jackson by Jacopo Vigezzi in Prog Rock Journal
An interview with David Jackson by Mick Dillingham
David Jackson on FuzzLogic.com
David Jackson in Expose on Line
Jaxon’s Disabled Orchestra – Children With Talent: Review by Tim Locke
Music on my mind – David Jackson tells of a life making music with children with PMLD
The Jaxon Electric Sax Story
In the music of Van der Graaf Generator, playing and technology grew alongside each other apace in a unique symbiosis.
At the start of my VdGG years I had: a Gemeinhardt Flute; an old Guenot 1928 Alto Saxophone (a gift from my brother); an old Beuscher Tenor Saxophone (bought from a university holiday job in a sugar beet factory in 1966). My early playing was acoustic sax only, but my student imitations of Roland Kirk (two or more saxes at once) had finally found a true home playing Peter’s riffs and modal harmonies. I was aware of Mothers of Invention’s Ian Underwood doing wonderful amplified things and was secretly planning my move into more power and electric sax.
My ancient horns were upgraded by VdGG: a Yamaha Tenor; then later a Yamaha Alto. This Alto had its neck specially bent to line up with the tenor and had extra thumb keys added so I could play it backwards as in Double Horns. Experiments in electric sax began in rehearsal and studio during H to He. My Berg Larsen metal mouthpieces were permanently drilled and araldited. I hired in a primitive Octave Divider from Rose Morris. This had a great sound but was not practical for stage and road. I also discovered Wah-Wah sax. The early problems were very poor bugs. Hugh suggested old BBC earphones. Once tried, these were (and still are) the ultimate secret. I got improved sound and excellent device triggering.
At some point, I discovered the belt-pack King Octavoice. This offered Instrument; Bright (octave up); Trombone (one octave down); Tuba (two octaves down). You could use all four or different combinations by clicking little switches. They were safe and easy on my belt and the bendy guitar cables gave me off-mike freedom to roam! Electric Double Horns was now a serious powerhouse rock and roll novelty and possibly the first (and last) ever attempted. Theoretically with DH (Double Horns – 2 saxes in the mouth) you had 8 note chords and/or a lot of noise! I had two Ocatvoices, one for each horn, connected to a Vox Wah-Wah and a Volume pedal and then into a big Hiwatt amp and two big cabs. Incidentally, this Wah-Wah pedal was particularly prone to picking up either the BBC World Service (Beethoven’s Vth), or some cosmic pigeon-like interference, all of which added something to the mystery of my early experimentations.
Whilst gigging at very high volume, I accidentally discovered sax feedback, or perhaps it discovered me. The reed (or reeds in DH) started to vibrate like a guitar string does in sympathy to the moving air around it. What was alarming is that it was all happening in my mouth focused by the conical shape of the sax. You can then attempt to control it by altering your mouth shape or by pointing the bell of the horn(s). Sometimes, at very high volume, it seemed to have a life of its own and you could finger phrase play without blowing! It also gave me incredible sustain, quite a lot of pain – and was a kind of electronic circular breathing.
In 1973 I returned from Italy a little richer from the Alan Sorrenti Tour and bought a second-hand Yamaha Soprano (Serial No.2). What a joy it was, and a sensation when electrified.
In 1975, at the reformation, I started work on the ultimate electric horn system – “Creda and Rizla” – in a small attic kitchen at Headley Grange, Hereford. My consultants and electronic gurus were Buonuomo (John Goodman) and Hugh Banton – when they could be torn away from soldering giant organ looms.
The Creda was made of black speed frame. It was so christened because I was cutting, measuring and offering it all up next to an old Creda Cooker. The cooker was a total inspiration – with rings and grill and oven at perfect ergonomic intervals. I practised my saxes whilst operating the cooker and knew it would all turn out right. My Creda’s rings were my new pride and joy – a Gibson Maestro (as per Ian Underwood). This was, and still is, the ultimate in electric sax – octaves up and down, great variety of tone, tremolo and the fiercest fuzz. It also featured a hands-free foot controller. My grill was a Wem Copycat (tape loop echo-machine) and standard VdGG issue at the time. My oven was a power supply and a pre-amp sensation called MR2 (Mad Robert Two). This small piece of electronic revolution was of course conceived and built by HRB – Banton.
The Rizla was a very heavy duty oblong steel box with room for many pedals and much anticipated expansion. It was so christened because it was similar in shape and the exact height of a (standard VdGG issue) Rizla packet – balanced on its end! The Rizla housed: Maestro footswitches; Vox Wah-Wah; volume and echo-volume pedals (these two volume pedals came from an HB cannibalised Hammond Organ and used a noise-free light sensoring device); Boss CE-2 Chorus Pedal; and three brass organ pistons. These enormous ornaments were awaiting never to be completed further R&D sensations. Their eventual reality was to act as rather therapeutic springy foot rests – often misinterpreted as stunning foot work by in your feet fans.
On my Elvis type belt I now had: a custom Routing Box (whose name has been long forgotten) and one faithful King Octavoice. The switch on the belt-box had three positions: Soprano Sax only and alternate Maestro/Octavoice psoitions. This was operated by my elbow during DH passages. The Maestro domination meant that I could feature whichever horn had the fundamental (Alto or Tenor).
The parts of my system were connected together by 3 multicore cables and thence to an even bigger more powerful stack. The belt lead was again bendy and long. It allowed me to work in close proximity with whichever member of the band I was trying to play a cross-over with. This belt bendy was a much sought-after souvenir by fans. As they were expensive and hand crafted by John Goodman, they were usually well guarded by our crew. Nevertheless, some did get away! (Dear Reader, there is now an amnesty if you still have one!).
By 1975 all of my equipment was travelling in one massive flight christened “The Van Gogh” – after a quote by Roy Hollingworth in Melody Maker. On 22/5/75 however, someone stole my executive Maestro case from the dressing room in the Salle Vallier in Marseilles – perhaps thinking it was Gordian’s financial stash. It no longer contained the actual Maestro, as this was attached to the Creda, but it did contain my saxophone straps, bugs, leads and two Octavoices and the crucial Routing Box – all safe in neat foam recesses. The following day, at the sound check in Montpellier, this devastating loss was discovered. The gig had to be cancelled and John flew immediately to London to find and build replacement parts. Such was my/our dependence upon technology that by 1975, VdGG unplugged (or even a bit unplugged) was utterly unthinkable. Later, in Italy in December, the enormous Van Gogh case proved a personal Saviour. Saxes et al lay undetected under PA for a week and were later recovered. Other contents of the truck were stolen or ransacked. Peter and Guy’s losses were profound.
Particular praise and thanks must go to John and Hugh for their ideas and help with the innovative electronic sax work. Thanks also to band and other crew for their support and encouragement in the quest to go where no other sax player had dared to go – before, during or afterwards! Once more, in the immortal words of Gordian Troeller: “Jaxon – Strap!”.
David Jackson, 25/7/2000
Osanna, Kaprekar’s Constant, Jerry Cutillo & O.A.K.
International Gigs & Recordings:
Heebalob, VdGG, Peter Gabriel, Keith Tippett, Peter Hammill, David Cross, Jakko Jakszyk, Twinscapes, Fish, Echo City, Howard Moody & Station House Opera, Mick Paul, René van Commenée, Astralasia, Alan Sorrenti, Alice, Bernardo Lanzetti, Mangala Vallis, Alex Carpani, Tony Pagliuca, Aldo Tagliapietra, Arti & Mestieri, Rodolfo Maltese, Sophya Baccini, Franco Taulino, Garybaldi, Playing The History, Francino D’Auria, ReaGente 6, Chris Stassinopoulos & The Explorers Project, CRAMS, BSO, The Mountain Trio (Jackson, Mayes & Rabbia).
The Devine Comedy, The Rome Pro(G)ject, Syndone, Not a Good Sign, Ellesmere Project, Clint Bahr, NecroMonkey, Unsere Zeit band, Andrew Keeling, The Gong Farmers, William Topley, Don Falcone, N.y.X, Andrea Chimenti, Pandora, Bembekiri, Giorgio Coslovitch, Ingranaggi della Valle, Intergalactic Totem Archestra, Stelios Romaliadis.
David Jackson’s Tonewall:
The interactive performance project using a unique system of Soundbeams, Echo-Mirrors and Jellybean Eye (working with all ages, abilities and especially disabilities.) The Ark@ Southill Park; CRAMS, Lecco; BSO; Sarum and BBC Concert Orchestras; CRAMS in Italy, Bethel in Germany, Greig Academy in Norway, Aranäsgymnasiet in Sweden.
Music written and played for many major albums (1972 Pawn Hearts & Theme One at No. 1 in Italy 1972) Charisma Year Box Set 2021; Interference Patterns 2022.
Long Hello; Long Hello Volume 3, Tonewall Stands, Batteries Included, Fractal Bridge (first ever professional Soundbeam CD 1996), Beam & Bells – Live at The QEH, A2Z – Healthy Choices, Unknown Public, Another Day – Cross & Jackson.
Major Works & Commissions
see special Section The House That Cried, Beam Machine – Star Messenger 2989, Anvil Rings, TWINKLE etc.
Soundbeam Consultant and Trainer:
Soundbeam Consultant and Trainer at Meldreth Manor School and College SCOPE (1996/2014). Teacher, Performance Artist & Soundbeam Consultant. Christened the ‘Soundbeam Guru’ by the BBC, his work has been featured on BBC ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and international Radio and Television. Radio 1 – Newsbeat; Radio 3 – Music Matters; Radio 4 – Education Matters. ITV and BBC News and BBC Music Magazine (May ’00); features in the Times, Independent & Guardian. (1996/98).
Other Education Projects:
Delta Centre, Carlow, Ireland; Cork Music works; 2000 Year of the Artist Awards for: “Soundbeam Wizards” based in Berkshire; and “Mermaid of Zennor” (Soundbeam Disability/Dance Project) Northampton; Eden Project; ‘Bosco Profondo Soundbeam Project’; Swaledale Festival; City of Canterbury Symphony Orchestra, etc.
Musical Director, The Point, Dublin for performances with disabled musicians to 7,000 guests.