Watching and listening to Cliff Jackson directing the church choir on Sundays, I sometimes forgot how famous he is.
Jackson took early retirement from serving as vocal coach at the University of Kentucky in 2011, expecting to blend in with us commoners and to hide his gifts under a basket.
That was never to be.
Even though he became as dependable as a comfortable pair of house slippers, his musical prowess at church could never be denied or undervalued.
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His retirement lasted a whole semester before he produced a concert featuring some of the students he had coached at UK. Bitten, he started playing for a few recitals and lessons for the students.
Last year, Everett McCorvey, director of UK Opera Theatre, asked Jackson to return, working in the opera department and stage productions only.
"I enjoyed working here," Jackson said of UK. "I needed a job and I wasn't totally out of shape. I had been practicing."
Jackson was never musically out of shape, but now he is back in full swing. He will accompany soprano Karen Slack for a concert Friday that will benefit the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington at the Downtown Arts Center's Black Box Theatre. The concert is billed as an intimate club atmosphere, complete with wine and food catered by Alfalfa.
Slack and Jackson are featured because they are based in Lexington and because they are superior musicians, said Richard Young, executive director of the Chamber Music Festival.
"This is very unusual thing for us," Young said. "It is an amazing opportunity."
Slack, he said, is a "fantastic artist who hasn't really performed in Lexington." She has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and throughout Europe. She appeared in the 2010 film For Colored Girls and recently performed the title role of Tosca and as Leonora in Il Trovatore for the Arizona Opera.
She has also performed with the Latvian National Symphony, the Alabama Symphony and the West Bay Opera.
Slack and Jackson will be performing everything from traditional vocal pieces to Puccini, spirituals and Gershwin. "It's a pretty diverse program across the board," Young said.
That suits Jackson, who comes from a diverse musical background. He graduated from Oberlin College, but not before getting kicked out for a semester for academic reasons.
"I wasn't a very good student," Jackson said.
All he wanted to do was play music while someone sang. That wasn't what music appreciation was about.
So he switched majors to piano when he returned to Oberlin and fell under the guidance of a teacher who urged him to move to New York to audition for the master's program at the Manhattan School of Music.
"My mother didn't want me to go to New York, but she didn't stop me," Jackson said. "A lady told my mother his talent is too good to come back here. The world needs to hear him.'
"I say that with all humility. I can't take any claim for that. We have to get God in this article."
Not only did he get into the master's program, he landed a job playing at a church in Brooklyn.
Perhaps the church jobs helped him hone his mastery of being able to anticipate when a vocalist will sing each note. Perhaps it was accompanying classical singers.
He has served as pianist for internationally renowned artists on stages such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden. In 2008, Classical Singer magazine named him Coach of the Year.
Jackson lived for 10 years in New York and five years in Miami before McCorvey lured him to UK in 1992.
"When I got here and saw the Singletary Center and Commonwealth Stadium, I knew I would come," he said, adding that he's not a sports fan but that the stadium represented a college town, and that's where he wanted to be.
Between now and May, Jackon's dance card is full, starting with the benefit concert, followed by rehearsals and performances of The Tales of Hoffman by UK Opera Theatre, and 10 to 12 student recitals thereafter.
And I'm sure he'll play the organ and the piano at Wesley United Methodist Church on Sunday mornings as well.