That was the enthusiastic and rapid response offered up by 16 year-old singer/guitarist Sudan Jackson when I asked how sheltering-in-place has been going for her and her family. Her younger sister, 15 year-old drummer Ayo Jackson, was quick to agree. Apparently, in the midst of an unprecedented society-altering global pandemic that is forcing people to self-isolate at home, the Jacksons are living their best life.
Along with their 18 year-old brother Aman, also a vocalist who plays bass as well, these three Haitian American siblings from East Oakland make up the band named JAX, “the next Jackson band.” They took some time to talk with me over the phone after their fourth weekly mini-concert broadcast live on Facebook and Instagram.
JAX is a stereotype-defying group of talented and creative teens who have been playing together for the past seven years. Their parents, mom Sandrine and dad Ajayi, are both artists who have raised their children in the vibrant and eclectic Oakland arts scene. As a result, their music is complex and incredibly mature, and they come off as well-prepared for the stardom that surely awaits them in the near future.
The fact that they are enjoying quarantine is even more impressive when you take their current living situation into account. For the past 12 months, the three children and their two parents have been sharing a two-room in-law unit that does not allow for much physical distancing.
A two-room cottage would be close quarters for any group of people, even in the absence of a shelter-in-place order, but the Jackson family is making the best of it.
“We’re all very close together all the time,” says Aman.
It’s one thing for wealthy celebrities to be quarantining in a mansion immersed in privilege, but the Jackson family mostly just has each other, which is perfectly fine with them.
All of the Jackson children grew up and were homeschooled together on this same property, but in the main house. JAX was born here.
In 2014, when JAX was just getting started, the whole family moved to Sandrine’s home country of Haiti to live with her mother, and they rented out their house in Oakland to a close friend who was in need of a place for his family.
Since then, JAX has shared stages with huge acts like Sheila E, Tony, Toni, Tone, Jennifer Hudson, and Yo-Yo Ma. They have also played some large festivals in Haiti as well. The band’s success has had them commuting back and forth between the Haitian capital city of Port-Au-Prince and East Oakland, but since the main house is rented out, the whole family has had to cram into the in-law unit in the backyard whenever they are in the Town. That two-room cottage also happens to be their rehearsal/recording studio as well.
A year ago, the Jacksons came back to Oakland for an extended stay to record their debut album, which is due out in June.
For the past 12 months, they have literally been living in the studio. However, they hadn’t exactly been working on music that entire time.
“It’s hard to all be at home at the same time,” Ayo says about their pre-quarantine lives.
But now because of COVID-19, the Jacksons all have to be home at the same time, all the time, and so they’re doing what they truly love to do: playing music with each other.
“We can play more now,” Aman says about being forced to stay home.
“It’s kinda throwback for all of us.”
JAX plays genre-fluid music that is smooth, soulful, and funky, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re basically a rock band. And they definitely rock. All three members take solos. Their songs feature male and female vocal harmonizing, solid bass grooves, tasty drum fills, and psychedelic guitar riffs. They started studying Haitian music traditions, and have been incorporating that into their music as well. Every song is infused with a chemistry that can only come from siblings who learned how to play their instruments together.
At a time when most bands can’t even be together in the same room at the same time, Jax is constantly rockin’ out.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” Aman says about being forced to shelter-in-place with his family.
For the past month, JAX has spent each week preparing for a Friday night “quarantine concert,” each of which has featured a different set of songs. They have to choose and learn new cover songs, “spiff up” old originals, and continue to develop their new originals.
Ayo says their primary focus has been to “keep getting better every week,” and the concert videos prove that they have been.
The band understands that the overwhelming majority of musicians don’t have this opportunity, and they are taking full advantage of the situation.
They got the idea for doing weekly online concerts from the Hogan Brothers, another band composed of East Bay siblings. They say that’s the only other band they’ve seen performing together live during quarantine. In this new era, there just simply aren’t many bands that are actually performing live, and of those that are, very few are doing it in the same room together.
JAX has been broadcasting “Live From The Living Room” on both Facebook and Instagram, and they later post the Facebook videos on both platforms. They say that more of their peers are on Instagram, but Facebook offers more of a global reach and better sharing capabilities.
Their first quarantine concert video has had over 1,000 combined views on both platforms through four weeks. There are no tickets and no cover charge, but JAX does have a GoFundMe page that supporters can contribute to.
I asked them what it’s like to perform for cameras instead of a live audience, and Sudan quickly responded, ”So much different.”
“The applause is all in your mind,” she added. She also noted that while performing, they can’t really read the comments on social media, but in between songs they see the “likes” and “loves” floating across the screen.
Aman notes that, “Playing isn’t that different, it’s the in-between [songs] that’s weird.”
JAX has had to learn some things on the fly, such as the fact that, while they can hear themselves in the room, they have no idea how they sound over the livestream until they listen to a replay. Their sound has improved throughout the weekly series, with the biggest adjustment apparently coming in the form of the vocalists getting closer to the microphones and singing softer into them.
In addition to music, the Jackson family has fixed up their backyard to make it more comfortable to hang out in now that the weather is warmer. They attempt to go out on hikes together, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to find a park that isn’t already crowded. So the family focuses on playing music, enjoying their yard, and staying connected with the outside world via technology.
“Ayo’s been hooking it up with the vegan food,” Sudan adds.
From here on out, JAX will only perform live the first Friday of the month so that they can devote more time to finishing up their debut album. They say that all songs have been recorded, but some still need to be mixed, and all post-production is expected to be accomplished this month.
“It’s coming along great,” says Aman. “We’re in the 4th quarter, 9th inning.”
In addition to blowing up after releasing their album, JAX wants to see both of their grandmothers: one lives in Oakland, and one lives in Haiti.
They plan to stay based in East Oakland, but also want to visit Haiti as often as their schedule will allow.
For now though, they keep grinding, focused more than ever on finishing their album while also being inundated with inspiration for new material.
“We’re just happy to have the opportunity to deliver that product to the people,” Aman says.
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JAX will be performing “Live From The Living Room” on Friday, June 5, at 5pm. You can catch them on Facebook (@jaxmusic4) or Instagram (@jaxtheband), and also help support them by donating to their GoFundMe. For more info about JAX, check out their website, jaxtheband.com.