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Jazz guitarist strums something extra for area

YOUNGSTOWN — It wasn’t love at first sight between Ron Jackson and the seven-string guitar.

In a telephone interview in advance of his concert Sunday at Soap Gallery in Youngstown, he described his reaction as “scared” when Bucky Pizzarelli encouraged him to play it.

“No, I can’t touch that,” he said.

His opinion soon changed, and Jackson now bills himself as “probably” the world’s only black seven-string jazz guitarist. He displays the capabilities of the instrument on his new album, “Standards and My Songs,” and on a Midwest tour that includes the Youngstown show.

Unlike Nigel Tufnel’s “This Is Spinal Tap” amplifier, which went to 11 instead of 10, Ron Jackson’s seven-string guitar isn’t simply a cosmetic change. He plays the guitar with an extra low string that can provide a more pronounced bass line within the context of the song (some seven-string guitars use an extra high string instead).

While it is more common in progressive rock and Brazilian music, it’s less common today among jazz players. Pizzarelli (the father of contemporary jazz artist John Pizzarelli) was a seven-string jazz master and introduced Jackson to it when Jackson was studying with him.

“It’s hard to read the string spacing,” he said. “It was a difficult adjustment. I was studying with a very famous guitar player recently — I won’t say any names — and he picked up my guitar. ‘I can’t find the notes.’ He was freaking out.”

On the new album, that extra string allows Jackson to play bass on the chords in “This Nearly Was Mine” (a song from the musical “South Pacific” that Jackson arranged for the instrument) and introduce bass notes into his solo on Quincy Jones’ “Secret Garden.”

Jackson’s repertoire include jazz favorites and Great American Songbook standards, but his new album includes some surprising choices, like the 1972 pop hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass.

“I pick songs I really love,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite songs. I didn’t care what people thought.”

Jackson will be joined by Kyle Koehler, Hammond, organ, and Corey Rawls, drums, for the six-city tour, which was made possible through a Jazz Road Tour Grant from South Arts. Without that funding, it would have been a solo tour.

“I found out two weeks ago I got the grant,” he said. “Now I can bring a band and pay expenses.”

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