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Ray Vega honors the legacy of jazz scholar and friend Reuben Jackson

Angela Evancie
Vermont Public File
Ray Vega and Reuben Jackson in the studio in 2014.

On Feb. 16, 2024 the world said goodbye to beloved jazz scholar, educator, poet and former Friday Night Jazz host Reuben Jackson. Current host Ray Vega honors Jackson's memory and legacy with a special tribute on this week's show.

Tonight's edition is a tribute to Reuben Jackson. It's important that we give tribute, that we honor those who did very special things for us and our community.

Reuben was the host of Friday Night Jazz before I came on and I have to tell you, that was the hardest thing for me—to try to fill those shoes, which I can't. I couldn't and I can't. Not with that voice of his, and not with that delivery of everything he would say. He could read a menu in a restaurant and make you go, 'Wow, that's just amazing!' He was just a really nice gentleman, very supportive.

We open up with My Friend, from Take Six, featuring Ray Charles from the recording Join the Band. In my very first broadcast as host of Friday Night Jazz, I dedicated that track to Reuben. I said, "Thank you, Reuben, I love you. You're my friend. Thank you for being so supportive in this change."

It's hard to accept the fact that he passed away so quickly, nobody expected anything of this magnitude. The next three hours are an attempt on my part, just be patient with me, cause this is not easy. This is the hardest, most difficult program I've had to put together for Friday Night Jazz. It has a lot of joy, but it has a lot of sorry, and a lot of remembrance.

Two local folks in the community, Montpelier-based poet Toussaint St. Negritude told me simply that Reuben was his best friend. Molly Stone, the artistic director at Catamount Arts, also said Reuben was her best friend. That friend thing, that's important. We put a lot of borders on what we call friends, but this gentleman was a friend to all.

My colleague, John Gennari, professor of English and Critical Race and Ethic Studies at UVM, stated it perfectly. He said, "Reuben was quiet, sensitive, mysterious, and above all, soulful. I will miss him, as we all will."

Friday Night Jazz airs every Friday from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Vermont Public's main radio station. Past episodes are available for two weeks on our Replay stream.

Ray is Vermont Public's host for Friday Night Jazz! A native of the South Bronx, Vega has established himself as an innovator in the international jazz and Latin music scenes. In addition to several of his own albums, he is a veteran of the bands of Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, and Mario Bauza, to name a few. Vega is also a senior lecturer at The University of Vermont where he teaches Jazz History, directs three jazz combos and heads the Jazz Trumpet Studio. In 2015, UVM honored him with the distinguished title of University Scholar for 2015-2016, making him the first creative artist in the university's history to receive this high honor.