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Photo By Todd V. Wolfson

When Dwayne Jackson recounts his lifelong musical journey, fate flashes across the bridge of his dark sunglasses.

"When I was 3 years old, I was listening to a 45 by Stevie Wonder, and I found out that he was blind and that he was playing everything on there. From then on I knew exactly what I wanted to do."

Nearly 30 years later, the former 5-year-old church-choir drummer and accomplished high school violinist, who is blind, finds himself fronting his own local band called the D-Madness Project. Well-known in Austin for playing drums, bass, and keyboard at the same time, D-Madness takes the concept of a one-man studio band to its next level by pulling it off on stage.

"At first I thought I was doing the one-man-band thing because I couldn't get anyone else to see my vision. Then I realized that I enjoyed the control that it gave me, being able to make decisions without anyone getting in the way. That and I really like the idea that my drummer is never going to get upset and not show up for a gig."

Blending classic soul with swirls of jazz-fusion and hip-hop, D-Madness croons almost as well as he plays. Often supported by singer Willette Wallace and MC Bavu Blakes, the evocative composer crafts lighthearted jaunts through sound gardens of lush funk. As Jackson's blindness deprives him of visual stimulation, his enhanced sense of hearing lends clarity to his musical prowess.

"A lot of music loses out because of the visual aspect to it," says Jackson. "Plenty of terrible musicians get by simply because they look good. Beyond who I am or what I'm doing, I just want people to appreciate my songs."

Three years ago, Japan's DJ Krush nearly stopped in his tracks upon hearing D-Madness perform and followed suit by featuring D's bass-work on an adventurous track titled "But the World Moves On." Just as enamored by D's righteous basslines, San Antonio's Mojoe has made it a point to recruit the reluctant sideman into their fold. Tales of D-Madness wowing the likes of Erykah Badu, Prince, and Bernie Worrell with his concert antics compound his glowing reputation.

"More than anything else, it was the run of weekly Hip Hop Humpday events that really helped me learn how to improvise," he reveals. "Coming up with something new and exciting every Wednesday night was a challenge well worth the effort."

Predicting his future, D-Madness hears horizons waiting to be crested.

"Everyone seems to instantly know that I'm influenced by Stevie, but I am also a big fan of Vivaldi. The barriers that currently exist between R&B and classical music are what I'm eventually hoping to overcome. Believe me, I'm really up to something. My main thing is to try to throw listeners for a loop. Just when they get to expecting something specific from me, that's right when I want to take them to an even higher place."

SXSW showcase: Saturday, March 18, 10:15pm @ Cedar Street Courtyard

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Dwayne Jackson, Stevie Wonder, D-Madness Project, Willette Wallace, MC Bavu Blakes, DJ Krush, MoJoe, Erykah Badu, Prince, Bernie Worrell, Vivaldi, R&B

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