Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series. This is the third in the series written by one of our Community Correspondents.
If you are lucky, a neighborhood is more than a collection of streets and blocks. It can be a community that brings about a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. In Edison, creativity is one of those shared interests.
And an Edison resident inspiring others to create is Jay Jackson, who lived in Edison as a teen and has returned to live there with his family. A native of Indianapolis and father of two, Jackson graduated from Indiana Academy and received a basketball scholarship to Indiana Institute of Technology. In college, Jay studied criminal law but began to dive deeper into his passion of music which had started as a hobby in high school. Jay soon started a family and decided to leave school.
The music never stopped, and Jay reunited with his brother in Kalamazoo where they began to carve their name into the local open mic circuits. As things picked up it became harder to keep a regular 9 to 5, and there was money coming out of the music gigs that Kalamazoo had to offer. So Jay made music his business. With his creative ingenuity overflowing he reached out to his community, founded the Last Gasp in 2015, and later began to hand-pick artists to join in the endeavor of creating what is now known as Last Gasp Collective.
It wasn’t until I met up with Jay a few days after seeing one of his shows in May that inspiration hit. We were catching up, reminiscing about our early high school days before he moved to Indiana, and discussing where our current aspirations were taking us. Jay spoke of his goals with the band, and I shared that I had recently taken a shine to writing comedy. During our conversation, Jay spoke with me about a project idea he was working on. The amount of passion and focus that he spoke with lit a fire in me to act on my own aspirations.
"So I’ve been trying to keep things fresh as far as the band's local performances, and I was thinking of doing a theatrical rendition of a few collaborative songs," Jay told me. "The thing is, they’re just songs strung together on stage unless I can have someone tell the audience what’s going on. You have the perfect narrative voice to do just that, and I kind of wanted it to be fun for everyone… would you mind narrating?"
Inspired by the trust of an old friend, who just happened to live in the exact same neighborhood as me 10 years ago, I agreed to help. Edison is more than just a neighborhood in Kalamazoo, it’s a community. The same community that I grew up in playing basketball with Jay on my team. Now there is this ideal we carry that community is an act of fellowship, belief in common attributes, interest, and goals.
Inspiration reared its head once more for me to reach out to my community, and the word began to spread about the upcoming concert. The word grabbed the attention of another Kalamazoo resident, Joshua Jackson, who previously worked in Edison alongside me. When he heard of another upcoming show he decided to go. "My roommate knew about Last Gasp and had suggested that I should go to one of their shows. It’s crazy that it took me a few months to get out and catch a show because I think that they are a phenomenal local talent! Since I heard that I had another friend in the show I wanted to come out and support, and seeing the synergy between the band, Jay, and Nick you can definitely tell that they have their own sense of community and family."
Jay credits a lot of his artistic inspiration to his community and living in the Edison neighborhood. Jay adds: "I love living in an area like Edison because it’s the perfect mix. I mean I love that Kalamazoo gives me the big city feeling, but you also get that small town feeling living in Edison. I used to live in a small town for awhile before I moved to Indiana, and it was a place where everyone knew each other and had that sense of community and love which I feel here."
The band is very active between booking shows both locally and outside the Kalamazoo area. "I have never felt the amount of support (that) I do here. My neighbors around me follow the band’s media and I can often hear people buzzing (about the music, or) seeing a flyer at the store." Jay also understands that sometimes Edison can have a negative reputation. "Bad things can happen anywhere, and I don’t think people should live within a false reality. I have had my family here for the last two years, and I feel like this is a safe place for my two girls. The neighborhood is very supportive of one another, and its REAL things that happen in REAL life that inspires good music."
The band plans to continue to focus on branding themselves, focusing on the love, support, and community that comes from making a home in Kalamazoo. Jay has made it his mission to ensure that Last Gasp Collective will be a self-sustaining label. That way everyone in the band can pursue their own musical endeavors separately, and the group can continue to operate and inspire.
For more information of Last Gasp visit their website here