Tampa natives B.K. Jackson, Eric Darius share stories of playing sax with Prince
B.K. Jackson was a 20-year-old college sophomore when he got the call to audition for Prince.
How do you say no?
“Hands down, he’s my favorite artist,” said the saxophonist. “Hands down.”
When he got the job in Prince’s band, he took a semester off.
“But I didn’t take a semester off of learning,” he said, “because the education that I got with him was the greatest education that any person in the world could have received.”
After Prince’s sudden, shocking death Thursday at age 57, musicians who played with him were left grappling with grief and reminiscing about the impact the Purple One had on their lives.
Two Tampa-born and -educated saxophone stars, Jackson and Eric Darius, were among them.
“It was mind-blowing,” said Darius, who in 2006 participated in a late-night jam session at Prince’s Las Vegas club 3121.
“I grew up watching and listening to Prince since I was a kid. Having the opportunity to not only meet him, but have a brief conversation and share the stage with him, was one of the highlights of my life.”
Darius doesn’t even remember what song they played that night. “It was just a funk song,” he said. “We just jammed, playing the song for 30 minutes. The funk just didn’t stop.”
Musicians kicked it to one another for solos, with Prince communicating almost wordlessly.
“He didn’t really have to say much,” Darius said. “You could just read his expression in his eyes and know exactly what he was wanting. ... He had a way of connecting with people that words can’t express.”
Jackson spent more time with Prince, touring and recording with him from 2013 to this January. They played arenas and performed on Kimmel and Arsenio; Jackson appeared on Prince’s final album, HITnRUN Phase Two. He was en route to a gig in Panama City Beach when he got the news.
“I started getting text messages from people I hadn’t necessarily heard from in a while: ‘Are you okay? You good?’” he said. “I didn’t believe it. Then when I called into the camp and got my own confirmation was when it really struck home.”
Jackson recalled playing all-night, celebrity-filled shows with Prince, as well as the unparalleled energy that filled an arena anytime he toured.
“When a Prince song comes on, there is a light of joy that beams on the audience,” he said. “People know what’s about to happen. The first show, the first song was Let’s Go Crazy, and all you heard him say on the mic, in the midst of all this thunder, was ‘Dearly beloved...’ and the whole arena, it was the loudest, piercing noise, this melody of screams from everyone in that arena.
“That sums up what he was. Before you saw him, before a note was even played, just to hear his voice brought that excitement and joy. Because you knew whatever came next, it was about to be one of the best musical experiences you will ever have in your life.”
Jackson said Prince taught him a lot as a musician, primarily how to operate and exist within a funk groove.
“Prince had a way of setting up a groove, how to know exactly where each instrument needs to speak, but more importantly, where the space needs to be to create the biggest impact overall in the groove,” he said. “We had literally a who’s who of every instrument in the band when I was on there, and every musician still walked away completely different from what they were when they came into the camp.”
Darius’s time with Prince was much more brief, but still had a lasting impact.
“His passion, his heartfelt lyrics and his electrifying persona onstage just captivated people,” he said. “There’s no replacing him. There’s nobody like him. There never will be anybody else like him.”
“Prince always was ahead of his time,” Jackson said. “He left us ahead of his time.”
— Jay Cridlin