Anthony Jackson is a Grammy-nominated American electric bass guitar player based in New York City. By those who know his playing, musicians and non-musicians alike, he is considered a master, who has furthered the technical and idiomatic boundaries of his instrument. He is seen by many to have added considerable legitimacy to the instrument in more jazz-related musical contexts, though he has had a career that has gone beyond that style.
Born on June 23, 1952, in New York City, Anthony Jackson has been a distinctive voice on the electric bass ever since he entered the scene in New York City. He began learning the piano as a teen before switching to the guitar, and finally picking up the bass after being influenced by legendary motown bassist James Jamerson. At age 18, Jackson became a working session musician, whose playing was eventually in high demand.
Most musicians familiar with Jackson’s playing know that he has a very particular style. This style can partly be attributed to Jackson’s musical influences. Jackson cites his main influences as James Jamerson — one of Motown’s most prominent bass players and the electric bass’ first virtuoso, Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane, and french composer Olivier Messiaen.
Jackson initially invented what has now caught on as the “six-string bass,” - a bass guitar tuned B-E-A-D-G-C. His idea, which he called the contrabass guitar, precedes any modern standard six string bass by at least twenty years.
Jackson said that the idea for adding more strings to what was previously the “Fender bass” came from a limited range and frustration with the decreased sonority and loss of upper range of de-tuned strings. When asked what he makes of criticism of the six-string, Jackson replies:
“Why is four [strings] the standard and not six? As the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family, the instrument should have had six strings from the beginning. The only reason it had four was because Leo Fender was thinking in application terms of an upright bass, but he built it along guitar lines because that was his training. The logical conception for the bass guitar encompasses six strings.”
Though Jackson came up with the idea some years previously, and first approached various luthiers about the construction of his idea in about 1974, he began playing the six string bass exclusively in 1981. Carl Thompson built the first 6-string for Jackson in 1975. But he later switched to basses built by Vinnie Fodera and Joey Lauricella.