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Released April 19, 2004



By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - Music in Mississippi is and always has been a melange of styles, influenced by the state's myriad ethnic groups. And perhaps no one represents that musical gumbo better than celebrated blues musician Vasti Jackson.

A native of McComb who now resides in Hattiesburg, Jackson owns a unique sound cultivated from his diverse musical background. With inimitable flair, Jackson serves as an ambassador for the blues, embodying the confluence of musical styles that has made the art form one of the state's most recognizable exports.

That is why Dr. Jay Dean, University of Southern Mississippi professor and music director of orchestra, approached Jackson about writing an original blues-influenced piece for the May 1 concert called "Mississippi, The Birthplace of America's Music."

"I wanted him to write something that reflected his feelings about living in America," Dean said. The result was his original composition, "American, Proud and Strong."

"Vasti has done several shows with the symphony in the past," Dean said. "I ask him to play again and again because his music reflects popular music from this region better than any artist I know."

Jackson, who recorded with legendary blues man B.B. King on the Grammy-award winning "Blues Summit" album, is a composer and producer as well as a performer. In addition to his work for the Discovery Channel, HBO, VH1, BBC (England), City TV (Canada), Jackson has worked with renowned artists Johnnie Taylor, Katie Webster and Pulitzer Prize winner Wynton Marsalis.

Jackson's original patriotic composition fuses blues and country with an orchestral arrangement. The lyrics, he said, are particularly meaningful in light of recent world events.

"The theme is about thanking God that you're an American," Jackson said. "It's about being proud to be an American and standing up for America and being willing to serve as an American…about serving your community, your school, church, home and your state."

Jackson began playing the guitar at an early age, learning from his maternal grandparents. "I come from this from a roots standpoint," he said. "My grandfather was of Irish decent, so there was more of a gospel and country element there. My grandmother - she's 83 and she still writes music. My great-great grandfather was a fiddle player."

Jackson said that Mississippi has influenced modern music so much because it is a "hotbed of different ethnicities," bringing together the classical compositions of Europe and the unconventional intonations and spiritual rhythms of Africa.

Merging those styles - blues and classical - was easy when writing the composition, Jackson said. Getting classically trained musicians to accept this "different approach" was only slightly more challenging, he said.

"Phrasing in European music is very strict, very on time," he said. "But blues has a gut feeling, a beat that's a little more laid back. You push the tempo some here and there; it's not quite as staccato.

"Once I gave the string players an example of this different approach, then it was a wonderful sound."

Jackson's career has taken him around the world to such venues as the Monterey Jazz Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, Jubilee Jam, Saint Louis Blues Festival and the Delta Blues Festival. He also toured Europe with Z.Z. Hill.

No stranger to the symphony, Jackson has been featured with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. He also recorded live for the Library of Congress' "Local Legacy Series," on display in the Library's "Folk Life Archives."

Sponsored by BancorpSouth, the May 1 event at Reed Green Coliseum will feature gospel, blues, jazz and patriotic music. It will also feature a 1,000-voice chorus called the Mississippi Mass Choir. Jackson, praising the choir and the Southern Miss Symphony in particular, said that the show at Reed Green Coliseum should be "one-of-a-kind."

"For people who have not seen the choir, it's going to be a blessing. And the orchestra is just wonderful," he said. "It's going to be a bouquet of beautiful Mississippi music, with blues, and gospel, orchestra, rock elements, soul, and it's going to be visually exciting as well - a celebration no one should miss."


OCEAN SPRINGS -- Award-winning wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich will lead two photographic events at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory on Wednesday, March 10.

He will present a nature photography workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and then a talk and slide show called "Wildlife Images 2003" at 7 p.m., both at The University of Southern Mississippi GCRL.

Admission to the evening event is free and will be held in the Caylor Auditorium at GCRL. The veteran photographer will feature photos from his 2003 photographic safaris abroad and in North America. He will answer questions and sign his books during the reception following his slide show.

The registration fee for the all-day workshop is $50 per person, payable to GCRL. Registration includes a continental breakfast, light lunch and snacks. Participation is limited to 20. Though the workshop is geared toward beginners, Ulrich tailors the experience to meet needs for all degrees of skill.

"The beginners will definitely benefit from the workshop, but I always help the more advanced get something out of it also," Ulrich said. "I lead many photo trips and always find a wide range of levels."

Ulrich said participants do not need to bring their photographic equipment unless they need an explanation about some aspect of their equipment.

Topics include a brief review of the principles of photography, relationships between shutter and aperture settings, fundamental elements of composition, use and timing of fill-in flash, digital versus film photography, techniques of close-up photography, and a brief discussion of slide etiquette, the photography business and marketing.

Ulrich grew up in South Chicago, graduated with a degree in biology from Southern Illinois University and taught for four years before launching his career as a freelance photographer. He has supported himself with nature photography for the past 29 years.

His library of more than 300,000 transparencies includes birds and mammals from all over the world. His photographs have been featured in publications such as National Wildlife, Audubon, National Geographic, Montana Outdoors and Life.

He has published six nature books, including Mammals of the Rockies, Birds of the Northern Rockies, Once Upon a Frame and his 2002 release, Photo Pantanal. Dr. William E. Hawkins, GCRL executive director, said Ulrich brings the scientific and artistic worlds together.

"Tom earns his living photographing wildlife all over the world," Hawkins sad. "He is an outstanding observer and a biologist. His approach to photography is to capture his subjects exhibiting their natural behavior."

The GCRL is home to the university's Department of Coastal Sciences, the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, and the Gulf Coast Geospatial Center. The J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium is also a unit of the laboratory. The GCRL is part of the Southern Miss College of Science and Technology. For more information, call the laboratory at (228) 872-4200.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM