Frank Ocean’s success as a public bisexual artist should come as no surprise – publically gay and bisexual black artists have accomplished tremendous exploits in music. Two of the greatest examples are Little Richard, whose public homosexuality set the tone for rock and roll personality that exists today and Tony Jackson, perhaps one of the greatest Jazz musicians of all time who write the classic “Pretty Baby.” Tony Jackson is the subject of this essay that will attempt to paint a portrait of the musician Tony Jackson, a vermeer portrait as the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer painted the middle class of his time, with a somber background that only reminds us of the fact that despite Tony Jackson’s light hearted songs, he lived in a time that was not humane to black people.
According to Jelly Roll Morton in the book Mister Jelly Roll, Tony Jackson played in a mansion, at Gypsy Schaeffer’s, some sort of high class bordello. Jelly Roll continues by stating that ‘her main drink was champagne and, if you couldn’t buy it, she’d buy it for you in abundance. Walk into Gypsy Schaeffer’s and, right away, the bell would ring upstairs and all the girls would walk into the parlor, dressed in their fine evening gowns and ask the customer if he would care to drink wine. They would call for the “professor” and, while champagne was being served all around, Tony would play a couple of numbers.” Tony was the professor, or the resident piano expert playing melodies to the underbelly of early 20th century New Orleans. The whole affair sounds like a contemporary Hip Hop video and Tony dressed like he could be in such a video if made in his era: ascots, diamonds, etc.. Other Jazz musicians looked up to him because of the way that he dressed, as a dandy, but also because of his music skills.
Tony Jackson was born in New Orleans. Aesthetically, Jackson’s music was extravagant, as the most of the city also was. Life, to the New Orleans creole, was of 3 o’clock coffee, of balls and soirees, of old families with well-known names, of speaking debonair French, of spring fiesta, of the social standing of a freed mulatto or dark skin black person. It was also a life of the use of Vodou, also known as Voodoo and Hoodoo. Erzulie, a goddess of love who asks that her adherents offer her perfume, was a popular spirit in New Orleans.
Jazz would move on to Chicago and Kansas City and take it on new shapes. Jackson would move on to Chicago, where he published “Pretty Baby.” It is also the name of a Louis Malle movie on New Orleans. “Pretty Baby” is a song sung to a man that Tony Jackson loved. It is meant to be sultry and sophisticated. It is the sort of song that made Jazz musicians jealous of Tony Jackson as musicians are floored by Frank Ocean’s new album Blond: it awes with sophistication.
You ask me why I’m always teasing you.
You hate to have me call you “Pretty Baby.”
I really thought that I was pleasing you,
For you’re just a baby to me.
Your cunning little dimples and your baby stare,
Your baby talk and baby walk and curly hair,
Your baby smile
Makes life worthwhile.
You’re just as sweet as you can
Your mother said you were the cutest kid.
No wonder, Dearie, that I’m wild about you
And all the cunning things you said and did.
Why, I love to fondly recall.
And just like Peter Pan it seems you’ll always be
The same sweet cunning little baby dear to me,
And that is why
I’m sure that I
Will always love you best of all.
Everybody loves a baby that’s why I’m in love with you,
Pretty baby, pretty baby,
And I’d like to be your sister, brother, dad and mother too,
Pretty baby, pretty baby.
Won’t you come and let me rock you in my cradle of love
And we’ll cuddle all the time.
Oh, I want a lovin’ baby, and it might as well be you,
Pretty baby of mine,
Pretty baby of mine.