DON’T give up the day job is a comment that cuts no ice with Lolita Jackson. The New Jersey-born jazz and soul singer has no intention of abandoning a 9-to-5 that over the past 25 years has included high powered positions with financial services giant Morgan Stanley and the New York Mayor’s office, where at the moment she is her department’s primary contact with the United Nations.

On two occasions during that time, keeping musicians’ hours might have saved Jackson from horrendous experiences. In 1993 she was working on the 72nd floor in the World Trade Center when it came under terrorist attack. She made her way downstairs in two hours to safety only to be on the 70th floor of the south tower on September 11, 2001 when the first plane crashed into the north tower. Again she made for the stair well and she had reached the forty-fourth floor when she felt the building being hit by the second plane. She took the remaining forty-four flights in ten minutes and escaped.

When we Skype she shrugs off these stories with the spirit of someone who survives and moves on. She has gigs coming up in Glasgow and Edinburgh while she’s visiting Scotland to chair a conference as part of her current role as Special Advisor to the Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs in New York and she’d much rather talk about singing. She’s sung in China, Japan and Australia and is proud to say that she’s appeared onstage at Carnegie Hall in New York as well as twice bringing a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

“I sing because I love it,” she says. “But I also love my work. I have a very active, enquiring mind and I love the intellectual challenge and stimulation I get from my day job. Not that singing can’t be stimulating but it uses a different part of the brain and I need that balance in my life where I work under pressure during the day and sing at night because singing calms me.”

She took up singing relatively late considering her achievements. From the age of nine she played woodwind instruments, starting with clarinet and then moving on to bass clarinet and tenor saxophone in high school. It was only when she went to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to study chemical engineering that she discovered that she could sing.

“There were very few black students at the University of Pennsylvania when I went there and I quickly discovered that the way to meet other black students was to join a gospel choir,” she says. “This wasn’t too difficult because gospel choirs didn’t have trials. If you wanted in, you were in. So there I was in the first week and the director homed in on me and said I had a really good voice. I knew I had a good ear because playing low instruments really helps with that but I wasn’t expecting to be given solo parts in a choir. Being a freshman singing solo in an 80-piece choir was a big deal to me.”

In her second year at university she joined an a cappella group and that was where she really learned to sing, she says. The same group later featured singer-songwriter John Legend and had a reputation for performing high quality, close harmony versions of Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 material.

Jackson might have emulated John Legend by going professional on leaving university but she finished her degree aged 22 with $40,000 worth of student debt.

“My parents aren’t rich so they couldn’t help me,” she says. “So I really had no option but to get a job that would allow me to start paying off my loans. But going out to work hasn’t been to my disadvantage in terms of singing. I’ve been able to pick and choose the gigs I do to quite a large extent and having a day job hasn’t dulled the sheer joy of wanting to perform.”

Having a day job also hasn’t prevented her from rubbing shoulders with some of the jazz singing greats, including the recently departed Jon Hendricks, of the legendary vocal jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Hendricks gave Jackson pointers on the art of scat singing, where singers take on the characteristics of instrumentalists as they improvise.

“I’m particularly fond of vocalese, those jazz songs that weren’t written as songs as such and didn’t have lyrics originally,” she says. “People like Manhattan Transfer and going further back, King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, of course, are great sources of that. So when I got the chance to meet Jon Hendricks and ask him how I could improve my scat singing, I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a master, which he was. I mean, Ella Fitzgerald was the greatest but Jon Hendricks had been doing it for 50 years or more and I couldn’t have met anyone better. I told him I’d been singing Lambert Hendricks & Ross material back in college and I think he was quite tickled to hear that.”

Having begun her musical life playing woodwind she finds that she thinks as an instrumentalist.

“It’s not about standing out in front of the band for me,” she says. “When I sing, I want to fit in with the other musicians. I love to harmonise with a tenor saxophone or a trombone and when I listen to music I hear the bass line first. I think in colours when I’m working on a song and I’m not looking for brightness necessarily; I like the more subtle hues.”

Having a naturally low voice she tends to gravitate towards male singers. Jon Lucien and Kurt Elling, with their rich, almost cello-like tones, are favourites and among women singers she favours Cassandra Wilson and Oleta Adams due to their voices being in a similar range to her own. If she had to choose a sole desert island singing companion, however, she would choose Stevie Wonder.

“He has everything,” she says. “He sings beautifully. He writes wonderful songs that never date and he’s such a great musician, a keyboards player, drummer, a harmonica virtuoso, just amazing.”

For her Glasgow and Edinburgh gigs Jackson will meet up again with the local musicians who have accompanied her on previous visits, with Edinburgh-based pianist Campbell Normand acting as her band leader and soul mate.

“The first time I sang over there someone said I should go to the open mic session in the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh,” she says. “Campbell was leading the band that night and Bill Kyle, who ran the Jazz Bar and is sadly no longer with us, offered me a slot at the Fringe straightaway. So Campbell made that happen in 2016 and I came back last year. It’s great to be able to arrive in a town and have people you know you can work with. We’ll mix it up a bit, do some straightahead jazz and play some jazz-funk, Incognito, that sort of thing. It’ll be fun.”

Lolita Jackson appears at the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh on Wednesday, March 21 and at the Blue Arrow, Glasgow on Friday, March 23.