Off Topic: Jackson Allen Gets the Blues

Jackson Allen with Harmonica

Blues harmonica gives the largely self-taught Jackson Allen entree into a community of musicians that jam in clubs around the world.

Jackson Allen ’20 transforms when he takes the stage.

The shy student disappears. In his place steps Jackson Allen, harmonica-playing bluesman, jamming without inhibition. The German Studies major has entertained blues fans in the United States and abroad. We caught up with him to talk about music.

How long have you played the harmonica?

I started when I was about 14; I am almost entirely self-taught. I was originally a drummer, but drums are much more stressful, and I didn’t enjoy that as much. Harmonica is ubiquitous in blues and roots music, so it was an easy choice.

Why the blues?

My interest in blues came before the harmonica. I’ve been entranced by the soul of the music—and how it speaks to me—for about 12 years now. The music has so much soul and feeling, but it’s also oriented toward having a good time.

Where has the harmonica taken you?

Geographically, it’s taken me to cities in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and the Netherlands. It has also put me in contact with extremely talented and well-known musicians here and in Europe.  

You are an introvert at heart, but you’d never know that when you perform. What happens?

I feel alive on stage, it’s like a switch goes on when I perform—there’s no nervousness, fear or insecurity. I get a really special energy when I’m playing.

With graduation looming, what’s next for you?

I don’t have a job yet, but my plan is to move to a city with a vibrant blues scene, do music at night and work during the day. Maybe someday I’ll switch to doing music full time.

Read more about Allen, who traveled and played in Europe on a Stephen W. Keller Memorial Scholarship, in “Beautiful Life: Love, Friendship and Loss Inspire Legacy of International Adventure.”


Off Topic is an occasional feature about students and faculty members with distinct talents, hobbies and interests. Please contact us if you have someone in mind at


  • March 6, 2020