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THE Family Business : Michael Jackson’s Nephews Put Music on Hold as They Fine-Tune Baseball Skills

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There they were, bigger than life. More colorful in their sequined costumes than a fireworks display and twice as explosive.

The Jackson 5 in concert, singing and dancing and inciting gleeful pandemonium among audiences across the globe.

While most fans savored the excitement of the Jacksons’ nifty dance moves and their Motown sound, brothers Taj, Taryll and T.J. committed it all to memory--every step, slide and musical note.

“We’d go home the same night and we would replay the whole concert, switching off parts and stuff,” Taj said.

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Adoring fans in living rooms across the country have been emulating the steps and sounds of the Jackson 5 since the group burst into popular culture in the early 1970s. Until the group’s breakup in the mid-'80s, Taj, Taryll and T.J. Jackson were among those imitating art.

But, unlike other fans, they were privy to private lessons from the famous quintet. They are the sons of Tito--the second oldest of the original Jackson 5--and Dee Dee Jackson.

Their names alone beg for marquee lights, and their boyish good looks, pleasant dispositions and ability to carry a tune would seem to make them highly marketable--especially among teen-age listeners.

So with uncle Michael Jackson serving as their No. 1 mentor, how come they aren’t as popular as say, Boyz II Men or New Kids on the Block?

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Because unlike their famous uncles, the Jackson trio’s biggest hits have come on a baseball field, while their music careers are, well, on deck--which is just how Dee Dee Jackson wanted it.

From T-ball to Little League to varsity baseball at Buckley High, the Jacksons have continued to flourish in one of America’s favorite pastimes.

Dee Dee, who met Tito when they were sophomores at Fairfax High and married him two years later, assumed her sons would gravitate toward the music industry. And they did throughout their youth. But, Dee Dee wanted her children to experience a typical American childhood. Baseball helped achieve the goal.

“I wanted to keep them busy, keep them active,” Dee Dee said. “I wanted them to understand what it’s like to play with other kids and how to work with other people.”

Tito and Dee Dee, who separated three years ago and divorced in 1992, always have been active in their sons’ baseball careers. Tito coached and Dee Dee, who also coached one season, is the quintessential team mother.

Their efforts paid off. Taryll and T.J. are the top hitters at Buckley, a Southern Section Division V school. Taj, a former Buckley baseball standout, is an assistant coach at the school.

Taryll, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, is a three-time All-Delphic League selection who is batting a team-high .565 and leads area Southern Section players with 18 runs batted in. He’s the “kind of player that can play anywhere in the field,” according to Coach Rick Weber.

Taryll has played every position but catcher this season, but he is at his best on the mound. The left-handed curveball specialist, who sports a 1.67 earned-run average, has 36 strikeouts in 21 innings and has walked seven.

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“When he’s on the mound, we’re a completely different team,” Weber said. “People think we can win when he’s on the mound no matter who we’re playing because they have that confidence in him.”

In a nine-inning complete-game performance last week against St. Genevieve, Taryll (1-2) had a career-high 16 strikeouts but lost when a teammate made two throwing errors in the final inning. Taryll isn’t at all impressed with the strikeout total but he is proud that he threw 128 pitches and still had his stuff.

“I think the more I throw, the stronger I get,” Taryll said.

T.J., short for Tito Joseph, is a 5-foot-9, 140-pound freshman. He is batting .409 and also is a pitcher (0.78 ERA in nine innings), but his defensive skills bring him the most praise. Injuries have forced T.J. into catching duties recently, but he is normally the Griffins’ second baseman.

Taj, 19, who graduated from Buckley in 1991, is the first Jackson to attend a university since Joseph and Katherine Jackson moved with their nine children to Los Angeles from Gary, Ind., in 1971.

Taj is majoring in television production with a music minor at Loyola Marymount, which may seem a bit inverted, but for good reason. He thought it would be helpful to learn how to work a camera so he can handle the music videos he and his brothers plan to star in and produce.

Taj enjoyed an outstanding baseball career at Buckley and was known for his intense competitiveness. “Taj is the most competitive of all of them,” said Weber, who coached Taj in his senior year. “If we lost, no one talked to him on the bus ride home.”

Win or lose, baseball provided the brothers with some of their fondest memories. But all three have always looked forward to a future of syncopation and keyboards, not balls and strikes.

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“I think about playing baseball in college and stuff,” Taryll said. “This is fun for me. But all the work and dedication I’d have to put into baseball, I’d rather put into music, to be honest.”

Music careers appear imminent for the young Jacksons. Although they have not yet signed their own recording contract, they appear on the soundtrack, “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” from the television miniseries that aired last year.

In their first effort together, the Jackson trio, whose musical group is known as 3T, wrote and sang “You Are the Ones,” a 110-second tribute to their paternal grandparents. The sound is distinctly Jackson. 3T also sang backup for their uncle Jermaine Jackson on “Dream Goes On,” which also appears on the soundtrack.

Not a day goes by, the Jacksons say, that at least one of them isn’t writing or developing music for the group in the mini studio in their Sherman Oaks home. Music is not a hobby for the Jacksons, it is their life.

Although the trio acquired ample musical knowledge and training during the fanfare of the Jackson 5 era, today it is Michael Jackson that serves as 3T’s biggest inspiration.

Taj, Taryll and T.J., who are very close, protective and supportive of one another, almost glow when they speak about their uncle Michael. They speak to him as often as twice a week. Michael is their confidant, teacher, motivator and friend rolled into a man they frequently refer to as their idol--both as a musician and role model.

“If I couldn’t tell anyone something, I’d go to him first,” T.J. said. “He’s like the one I tell. He always tells us, ‘If you have any problems, anything, call me.’ ”

As busy as the pop star is, he always finds time for his nephews, although he draws the line at attending games, perhaps for obvious reasons. When the Jackson trio was on winter break from school last December, Michael took them with him on tour for 10 days to Japan.

“I talk to my uncle Michael more than my other uncles--as strange as it sounds,” said Taryll, whose room is full of Michael memorabilia. “I’m a big fan of my uncle. I mean, I would be out there with those screaming fans, I think.”

Michael has been a welcome influence, according to Dee Dee. Hard work, dedication and commitment are the values her sons have gleaned from Michael, who encourages his nephews to take turns singing lead to avoid the pressures and resentment sometimes bred by thrusting one musician into the spotlight.

“Working for what they want and what they believe in, that’s what Michael has done for them,” Dee Dee said. “If they could be half of what their uncle is, I’ll be satisfied.”

But, the ambitious young Jacksons are aiming a bit higher. Taryll, like his brothers, wants to be bigger and even badder than his uncle.

“Anything’s possible,” Taryll said.

Uncle Michael told him so.


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