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Golden Opportunities

January 5, 2012 By:
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Jackson Greenberg

This is the first in an occasional series focusing on young area performers with bust-out talent.

At 21, Jackson Greenberg has reached the other side of paradise.

This side isn't too bad, either.

As he looks at life from both sides now, Greenberg has plenty of mirror space left to reflect on.

Indeed, the Gladwyne resident is in a league -- Ivy and otherwise -- all his own.

The Princeton U. Tiger has already earned his stripes in the music business and is on his way to converting them to stars.

The university senior recently witnessed the world premiere of his "The Other Side of Paradise," performed and recorded by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra; got inside the musical mind of Israel -- which he has visited -- composing for the PBS film Israel Inside, shown in Florida and to be screened on El Al flights (no WHYY-TV date has been scheduled yet, but the composer stresses he'd enjoy having it programmed on his local turf); and has a score of other professional musical accomplishments that jam for shelf space at home and at Princeton.

He's already held an Oscar, presented to him by one of Hollywood's hottest music men, Alan Menken.

OK, it was Menken's Oscar and it was at a time when Greenberg was working on a special project for the composer while still in high school.

But it left an impression on the lifeline of his hand that he held it in. It felt "heavy," laughs Greenberg.

Chances are this musical Action Jackson is impressing upon others that one day he will feel it again -- and it will signal his own golden opportunity.

Of recent films out, Greenberg considers Moneyball on the money when it comes to music serving a film perfectly. But when it comes to his own career, it's not about the money; it's about the ball of working in a picture industry where his talent can be framed perfectly.

For now, the Princeton music and performance major is measuring his next steps carefully. No doubt, it's film scoring he wants to do and is already mulling major grad school possibilities for a master's in the subject.

But he has already mastered much at such a young age. His efforts have shaped up since he and a batch of fellow students formed the Shape Machine at Princeton and opened for Roots -- the current house band of Jimmy Fallon's late night TV talk show -- when the band played at the university.

How cool was that? Enough to pull up roots? "If they would have asked us to tour with them, I would have left school right then," says Greenberg.

Hold that tiger? No way -- no leash has been made strong enough to collar the creativity of a young man whose credits have rolled at the end of HBO's film The Kids Grow Up; taken on the sportin' life by composing for ESPN specials; and written for commercials.

"Writing music is a passion," he says simply and sincerely.

Say, doesn't Snapple make Passion Fruit? He's written for that company as well.

A standout student, Greenberg claims Princeton pride makes its own kind of music. "Everyone here has something besides classes," he says. "The university encourages it."

So do his parents, Joel Greenberg and Marcy Gringlas, whose own proficiency at violin and bow struck a chord with her kid early on. (Jackson is one of the couple's three children.)

Indeed, Greenberg carries some of that maternal music as memory when he takes his own bows: "There's Mom's little voice at the back of my head that says, 'Enjoy!' "

How could he not? Isn't it Rich -- there are those who might have confused him with Buddy Rich when Greenberg took to the drum set and banged it, not slowly, but professionally, at his own Bar Mitzvah. (He is adept at a number of instruments, all playing key parts in that aforementioned passion for writing.)

That was before he was asked to score his high school's theater productions and way before his study abroad jazz jaunt to London during college and that Rocky Mountain of a high invite to attend the Aspen Music Festival on a fellowship.

But there is nothing, Jackson agrees, that is more Jake than hearing one's own music read. Maestro, if you please -- and it pleased Greenberg almost more than he can say when he heard the Princeton U. Orchestra read one of his compositions.

"I left the concert hall and called my mother and said, 'I have to do that again.' "

Well, he just did; and the Skype's the limit. When "The Other Side of Paradise" was performed in Estonia, Greenberg grinned from the other side of the world: "It was 5 a.m. here and I tuned in on my computer from my dorm room and talked through Skype to the conductor.

"I feel it all came together with this piece."

Unfortunately, he says, not all could come together to celebrate. When his beloved grandfather recently passed away, a little part of Greenberg died inside, too. "He was the biggest inspiration in my life," says the student whose eulogy at Al Greenberg's funeral was reportedly as moving as his music.

"He had dreams in his life of working in Hollywood," but for a variety of reasons, chose a different path.

And if his grandson's road should ever lead to the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, where the Oscars are handed out, his late grandfather would be given kudos for his hand in helping Greenberg achieve the honor.

"I would thank him first," the Princeton progeny says of the man who gave him uncompromising support and a sense of urgency to sneak up on life and "Just do it!"

And how would his grandfather react if he were alive to witness Greenberg's golden opportunity should there be a Kodak moment in the young man's life? "He would probably forget I was on stage and be interested in talking to Steven Spielberg on the first row!" his grandson says with an appreciative laugh of the man who made life's music oh-so-sweet a soundtrack to follow.

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