Arranger, composer and pianist from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, who started playing at five years of age, and took formal lessons at the encouragement of his mother, who had learned to play by ear. He was already a force to be reckoned with at the keyboard by the time he went to high school.
In 1960, he went to the Eastman School of Music, but financing proved to be a problem, and he wound up dropping out and taking a job as Program Director for a radio station in Rochester, New York.
He returned to school in time and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in the discipline of piano performance from Wilkes College in Pennsylvania. Then he auditioned for Juilliard and was welcomed into their Masters program, which he completed in 1968.
In 1969, he debuted at New York’s Town Hall with a recital of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Sonata in D major, Op. 10, No. 3”.
He hit the road with the Norman Luboff Choir and met Chip Davis and his soon-to-be wife, Almeda. They got married and relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1974. She took a job at the University of Nebraska as a choral director and he wrote arrangements for her singers to perform.
Meantime, Chip had his own ideas. He wanted to start a new group that fused classical and electronic music with rock. One problem: he could compose better than he could play piano, and he needed someone who could play his sophisticated charts. Enter Jackson.
In 1975, the pair released Fresh Aire, the first of many albums that would bear the name Mannheim Steamroller. It was followed by five sequels and a 1984 yuletide album entitled Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, which went to #2 on the holiday chart and #8 on the new age chart. They went on to release more then 30 different albums that included 11 Christmas albums over several decades.
Jackson’s compositions found a voice in his wife’s newly founded Chorale Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum, and his own solo albums, beginning with Cape May Preludes in 2000. In 2001, he released Harpsichord Carols, with harpist Kathy Bundock. This was followed by Facetsin 2003 and Atlantic Fantasy in 2004.
He was very prolific in the mid-2000s, composing “American Journey”, “Benjamin Franklin’s 13”, “Cape May Solitudes”, “First Noel”, “INGs for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon and Piano”, “The Kate Campbell Collection”, and “The Wind”. By 2005, he had penned fifty commissioned works. In 2009, he appeared on Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas: 25thAnniversary Collection and released another solo album, 21st Century Romantic.
He has written more than 300 pieces of music in just about every classical idiom, including band, chamber, choral, instrumental, orchestral and solo works.
For his efforts, he has received ASCAP awards, Distinguished Achievement in Composition Award from the Nebraska Individual Artist Fellowship for Performing Arts, has been added to the roll of Steinway Artists, and won awards for his video soundtracks.
Paul Hill Chorale recordings
O Come All Ye Faithful (Frederick Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
Arranger – Jackson Berkey
Conductor – Paul Hill
Organist – Sondra Proctor
National Capital Brass and Percussion Ensemble