Acknowledged as a seminal New Orleans piano professor, Tony Jackson was born in uptown New Orleans on June 5, 1876. He showed musical talents at a young age. At the age of 10 he constructed a type of crude but working and properly tuned harpsichord out of junk in his back yard, since his family lacked the money to buy or rent a piano. On this contraption young Tony was able to reproduce hymns he heard in church; news of this accomplishment soon spread around the neighborhood and he was offered use of neighbors' pianos and reed organs to practice on.
Jackson got his first musical job at age 13, when he began playing piano during off hours at a local honky tonk run by bandleader Adam Olivier. By age 15 was already considered by many musicians the best pianist in town.
Jackson became the most popular and sought after entertainer in Storyville. He was said to be able to remember and play any and every tune he had heard once, and was hardly ever stumped by obscure requests. His repertory included ragtime, cakewalks (one of his show stopping tricks was to dance a high kicking cakewalk while playing the piano), popular songs of the day from the United States and various nations of Europe and Latin America, blues, and light classics.
His singing voice was also exceptional, and he was said to be able to sing operatic parts from baritone to soprano range. Fellow musicians and singers were universal in their praise of Jackson, most calling him the greatest, and even the far from modest Jelly Roll Morton ranked Jackson as the only musician better than Morton himself. Jackson also wrote many original tunes, a number of which he sold rights to for a few dollars or were simply stolen from him; some of the old time New Orleans musicians said that some well known Tin Pan Alley pop tunes of the era were actually written by Jackson.