SportsJam: Drummer Ali Jackson's Son Brings His Rhythm to the Pitch

Jun 13, 2017

AZ Jackson, who is training with the Toulouse football club in France, is a rising soccer star. AZ, 15, is the son of jazz drummer and composer Ali Jackson, Jr.

Dad spends plenty of time as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra drummer, but he has also found time to go to France and support AZ's dream of becoming a pro soccer player.

15-year old AZ Jackson is a rising soccer star in France. He's the son of jazz drummer and composer Ali Jackson. Dad and son share their stories on SportsJam with Doug Doyle
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

The Jacksons, father and son, came into WBGO for a special edition of the award-winning podcast SportsJam with Doug Doyle.

Ali says AZ's Little League coach in West Orange, New Jersey pointed out his potential nearly a decade ago.  The coach pulled dad aside at the time and stressed that his then five-year-old was already doing some special things on the pitch.

From that moment on, Ali has made sure his son got the coaching and practice he needs, even if it meant going to France to play with high level competition in his age group.

Toulouse is a top football club in France
Credit TFC

The Toulouse club was founded in 1970 and currently plays in Ligue 1, the top level of French football.

AZ is already speaking French quite well. "It was pretty difficult the first couple of months," he says, "but since you are around the language everyday, every hour, every second, it really helped me raise my level every day."

He says watching his dad work long hours to become one of the top drummers in the world has prepared him for what kind of dedication it takes to achieve success.

"My dad is a jazz musician and he wants to be the best at it. I want to get to his level, but on another path. And so, he's an example to what I want to be in my life."

Ali says his teenage son has made it easy, because he's driven and knows what he wants. AZ has already spent a few seasons honing his skills with New York Red Bulls Academy, but he wanted to head to a place where football was a part of the country's culture.

Ali starting playing drums at age two and knows how powerful it can be have family support and guidance.  The multi-talented percussionist learned early on from his musical father.

"The seed that was planted with music for me and being in the environment...I grew up in a music culture. My household was music.  I studied some music in school, but it was more of a way of life."

AZ listens to jazz music in his headphones before heading out to practice or for a match.  He especially enjoys the song his dad created many years ago, called Aziel Dance.  It was a tune that Ali Jackson wrote before AZ could even walk.  AZ thinks football (soccer) and jazz have a strong connection.

"Jazz is very, very similar to football.  The timing, the rhythm and how you dribble or how you pass."

Ronaldinho is AZ's favorite footballer of all-time

AZ's favorite player of all-time is Ronaldinho, a famous Brazilian professional footballer and ambassador for Spanish club FC Barcelona. "Ronaldinho's way of playing is very similar to the flow of jazz and the way it goes in and out of our ears," he said.

Barcelona confirmed this week that Ronaldinho will take part in a legends match against Manchester United on June 30th.

AZ would love to play for Barcelona someday. 

After some fun in the New York City area, AZ will head back to France in July to prepare for the new season.