Las Vegas Sun

May 21, 2019

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PEOPLE IN THE ARTS:

Meet Chuck Jackson: music director, reformed tuba player

One of our weekly snapshots of creative people living in the Las Vegas Valley

Chuck Jackson

Steve Marcus

Chuck Jackson, music director of the Las Vegas Youth Philharmonic and director of orchestras at Silverado High School, took the Youth Philharmonic on a European concert tour over the summer. The orchestra performed in Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague. Jackson saw it as great promotion for Las Vegas as a cultural city. “What happens here doesn’t have to stay here,” he says. “That’s a cliche. We’re a town built on cliches. How about a little substance?”

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Name: Chuck Jackson, music director of the Las Vegas Youth Philharmonic and director of orchestras at Silverado High School

Age: 48

Education: Bachelor’s degree in music, tuba performance, University of Northern Colorado; education certification, Old Dominion University; master’s in education, University of Phoenix.

Becoming a musician: Jackson grew up in Rome, N.Y., where his father played trumpet in a local polka band. Records and instruments were scattered about their house. Music was plentiful: Scottish folk, Beethoven, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” etc. When Jackson’s father died, music became his identity. At 11, he started playing trumpet, moved to clarinet, then French horn. Finally, tuba: “I was the fattest kid in 7th grade. My music teacher looked at me and said, ‘You know, we need a tuba player,’ ” Jackson says.

“I was good at it and I loved it. And I was the only one for a while. I loved the sound. I had good time and good pitch and because of that, I’ve lived everywhere.”

Getting to Vegas: After 11 years in the military, teaching tuba at the Armed Forces School of Music and performing with bands in Atlanta; Fort Monroe, Va.; and Seoul, South Korea, Jackson and his wife, Blair Nesbit-Jackson (a violinist with the Las Vegas Philharmonic) moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., so she could pursue her musical training.

That was 1998. Eight months later, Hal Weller, who was putting together the Las Vegas Philharmonic, persuaded them to move to Vegas. Weller hooked them up with Marcia Neel, who headed music programs for the Clark County School District. Jackson switched from brass to strings and took a job as director of orchestras at Durango High School.

Other gigs included playing for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World and for Walt Disney World, teaching at Old Dominion University and serving as musical director of the Las Vegas Brass Band.

Music director: Between Silverado High School and the Las Vegas Youth Philharmonic, Jackson works with about 180 students a week. “As much as I loved playing the tuba, the greatest joy is walking into school every day and to rehearsals, because they truly want to learn. I’m living’ the dream. You’d be amazed by these kids, how erudite they are about music.”

Jackson took the Youth Philharmonic on a European concert tour over the summer. The orchestra performed in Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague. Jackson saw it as great promotion for Las Vegas as a cultural city.

“What happens here doesn’t have to stay here,” he says. “That’s a cliche. We’re a town built on cliches. How about a little substance?”

On quitting the tuba: A neurological disorder, focal dystonia, got in the way of Jackson’s tuba playing. It got to the point where he’d ask the instrument, “Are you going to be my friend or my enemy today?”

Eventually, he quit playing and sold his tubas. “It was very liberating because I stepped back and asked, ‘What have I missed? What books haven’t I read?’ ”

Culture in Vegas: “This is the first place of my life I’ve been to where culture is counterculture. What culture is anywhere else is counterculture here. Culture stops at ‘Phantom.’ The Philharmonic and ballet? That’s underground.”

On the arts: “There’s a certain amount of humanity within the creative process. I’m not so jaded that I don’t think music serves a greater purpose. You’ve got to stand in amazement of what humanity has created and continues to.”

He doesn’t want anybody to lose sight of the fact that Las Vegas, a glitzy tourist destination, is also somebody’s home.

Hobbies/interests: Crossword puzzles, listening to music, running and reading — history and literature from James Joyce and Alexandra Dumas to John Grisham.

Sticking around? “Yeah. This is a great place to work. I hope that it will work out, that culture will become entrenched, that finances will right themselves.”

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