Jazz guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. is a man with a long, long list of greatest accomplishments.

As a well-respected studio player, Jackson has backed A-list musicians from all genres, many during the peaks of their careers, including Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross and the Backstreet Boys.

His guitar skills have made him an integral part of the television programs "America's Got Talent" and "American Idol," one of the most watched shows in the history of the small screen.

Tucson fans, who can see him perform at the JW Marriott Resort & Spa this Saturday, might know Jackson best as the talented jazz player who rocked the roof off the resort during the Tucson Jazz Society's annual New Year's gala. The artist has six solo albums under his belt and a seventh on the way.

"Some people might say it is luck and some people might say it is fate," Jackson said of his career in a phone interview last week from Los Angeles. "Music dictates that you don't wear any hat too tightly. You stay flexible and you allow God to reinvent you."

Jackson, a California native, began early in the entertainment industry. At 6 years old, after being discovered on a game show, the young performer was already well on his way to becoming a child actor, making cameos on shows such as "Good Times," "Mayberry R.F.D." and "Cowboy in Africa."

Acting was fun, Jackson said, but as he grew older his tastes began to shift toward music, particularly guitar.

"I was 16 and thinking about going into electrical engineering," Jackson said. "Around that same time I began thinking to myself, 'I might want to try music for a bit.' My dream was to become a studio musician."

Thanks to his guitar instructor, Gary Bell, a well-known accompanist with the Fats Domino Band, Jackson got his chance. Bell would recommend him to buddies in the industry for studio gigs and live performances. Soon Jackson was the guy to call upon when you needed some hot guitar work to accompany your sound.

Jackson was in high demand. His talent can be heard in some of the greatest recordings to come out of the 1980s and '90s.

"It's hard to say which artist was my favorite to work with," Jackson says. "It could be Ella Fitzgerald. It could be Quincy Jones, Patti Austin, Whitney Houston, George Duke. It was interesting getting to work with Steely Dan. They are kind of like a musician's band."

Despite his recognition as a man behind-the-scenes, nothing has boosted Jackson's popularity more than his time on Fox's "American Idol."

Season after season, Jackson's musical skills have accompanied the show's youthful competitors as they've belted out popular tunes in front of millions of home viewers.

It is not uncommon for Jackson to get face time on the program. In Season 7, for example, he performed a lengthy solo on camera as the final four contestants sang the Steely Dan tune "Reelin' in the Years."

Jackson got his gig on "Idol," and on other talent search shows, thanks to "Idol's" music director, Rickey Minor.

"You don't just audition for this job or fill out an application," Jackson said. "I worked with Rickey in Whitney Houston's band. I was going to replace Whitney's guitar player for five months. I ended up staying on for five years. We became friends. When Ricky started directing these television-show bands, he invited me along. I get to play a lot of different music on a lot of different guitars. I am like a kid in a candy store."

Jackson is taking the opportunity between "American Idol" and the start of his gigs on "Don't Forget the Lyrics" and "America's Got Talent" to promote his upcoming solo album, "Lay It Back."

The recording will be the first on Jackson's brand new label, Branch Records, another set of ambitious projects for an already incredibly busy musician.

"I try to expand on every record I make," Jackson said of "Lay It Back." "I try to make fun records that a person can put on and say, 'Man. That was a great musical experience.' "


Paul Jackson Jr. in concert with Chuck Loeb

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, 3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.

• Cost: $30-$40 through the Tucson Jazz Society.

• More info: 903-1265.

● Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at 573-4137 or ggay@azstarnet.com.