The future is bright and exciting for Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (JFJO), who have recently wrapped up the finishing touches on their latest release One Day in Brooklyn.
For over fifteen years, JFJO has been serenading the senses of a diverse and eclectic group of loyal fans. While they have worked through a series of personnel changes over the years, their latest line-up is unquestionably high on talent and humbled in their approach to making some of the most intricate and seamless music heard today.
One Day in Brooklyn is built heavily on strength and posterity, yet is filled with spontaneity, imagination, and creativity channeled between each of the gifted musicians (Brian Haas – keys, Chris Combs – guitar, Matt Hayes – bass, Josh Raymer – drums) that make up the band. Honest Tune recently tracked down founding member Brian Haas to speak with him about that day in Brooklyn, their extensive upcoming tour, and the latest incarnation of JFJO.
Honest Tune: Let’s talk about the upcoming tour that’s coinciding with the release of the new album One Day in Brooklyn. By the time all is said and done it will be just shy of 35 shows right? Are you guys psychotic or just really that amped about the new album?
Brian Haas: I think with in-store performances it is getting close to 40 shows, maybe 36? The new line-up is super inspiring and inspired. We have been touring pretty constantly since January. One Day In Brooklyn comes out September 1, then we leave [the next day] for about two months of straight touring. We will leave town with ten new songs that just came together during the last two weeks of rehearsal.
When we aren’t touring, we rehearse almost every weekday and it is fun and hard work. This band has a powerful work ethic and the music seems to be pushing us into inspired action; thus all the shows. We are very excited about the new EP and also the new LP that we will start working on in the Winter.
HT: Is there a sense that opening this extensive tour back in Oklahoma (where the group was first formed in 1994) kind of brings things full circle?
BH: Sure. We love debuting new songs here in the fine state of Oklahoma and shows in the region are always a great way to start a tour. We are just happy that we get to play Tulsa in the middle of the tour to get some red dirt on our shoes.
HT: This is a new era for JFJO. What is different about this era? How has the band evolved through the line-up changes?
BH: Over the years there has been lots of personal evolution, which in turn impacts the musical evolution. The band members have serious love and respect for each other, everyone feels super comfortable, like family, so yes, this feels like a new era for sure. The music is better, feels better and sounds better because everyone is comfortable with each other on and off the stage.
HT: You guys have had the opportunity to open for some amazing musicians, Steve Kimock and the great Al DiMeola among them. What will it be like opening a string of shows for Mike Gordon?
BH: We are very excited. I have hung with MG on a personal level and he is truly a beautiful person and musician. He is one of the greatest, most imitated cats on earth on bass. We can’t wait to learn some of his shamanism.
HT: Like many bands, you will be playing Halloween during your fall tour. Will you don a musical costume? If so, anything you care to tease the readers with about any plans for at the Halloween gig?
BH: Yes, the force will be with me…big time.
HT: Going back to starting out in Oklahoma, I take it there was little in the way of an underground jazz scene in Tulsa; so I imagine there was a lot of self taught interpretations of jazz music. Did that ironically help you carve out your own niche and unique style?
BH: Actually, that is a common misconception about Oklahoma. We came out of an amazing underground jazz/music scene with serious players. George Denny, Sean Layton, Steve Pryor, Dead Clown, Dwayne Jones, Peter Tomshany, Freak Show, Pimp Cocktail, Secret Society, Bunnies of Doom, Baby M, The Illegitimate Sons of Jackie-O, David Kelley….way too many people and bands to name here in Tulsa alone, not to mention the rest of the state. All these people and bands had their own unique sound and style and we were always encouraged to find our own voice. We always felt like we were creating a new language that was influenced by what was being spoken around us.
HT: With the new album releasing practically mere hours before the tour gets kicked off, what can fans expect to see at a show? Certainly the focus material will be from the new EP, but will you segue way that with old material or will you play the album from start to finish as you have done at times in the past with your last record Lil’ Tae Rides Again?
BH: The focus of the tour is the new material and the six songs from the EP. As I mentioned earlier, we have ten new songs that will be ready to go next week, plus other new themes that will be the focus of our improvisations.
HT: Have any of the new tracks off One Day in Brooklyn been played before a live audience before? If so, how drastically has the music evolved since coming out of the studio?
BH: We were playing the material from the record for months before we recorded the EP, which is why we were able to do it in one day. The songs sound very, very different from when we recorded them in April though.
HT: Will you be maintaining focus on the way the songs sound off the album or will there be plenty of room for improvisation with the brand new material?
BH: We push each other in a serious way every night so the songs are never the same twice. We always find new ways to take risks.
HT: This is your first record with new bassist Matt Hayes. How does his style differ from Reed? I understand he plays upright bass exclusively?
BH: Yes, he only plays upright. He plays in a very melodic way, and in some ways is very influenced by Reed. He also has his own voice at a very early age. He is 23. He and Raymer (drums) are the best rhythm section that JFJO has ever had because they occupy so many roles within the ensemble, almost limitless roles. Hayes has an ability to stretch constantly without losing the thematic concept of the song. He is always playing and reflecting the song’s melody on bass in a very subtle way, no matter what is happening. He and Raymer sound like they are having a conversation no matter what is going on in the music and they always include the rest of the band in their conversation.
This keeps the improvisations and the energy very kinetic. Raymer, Hayes and Combs have played in a trio together since Raymer moved back to Tulsa to join JFJO. They have their own language that comes out of JFJO and is also their own. I have been learning their language and it is improving me in all ways. Hayes style is happy, grateful, and humble. His style is a direct reflection of his spirit and who he is. Everything Hayes does is an expansion of the JFJO language and I am very honored by that.
HT: How was the recording process for One Day in Brooklyn? This is the first time all four of you have recorded together, correct? How was the writing process? Did the new members input change your approach? Is there a particular track off the album that you think really speaks to you or really highlights the current lineup?
BH: No, this was our second time to record. Three days before in the same studio we recorded our interpretations on Beethoven’s 3rd and 6th Symphonies, very rough demos and a very long day; then we played some shows and came back three days later, more relaxed and ready to have fun with our new repertoire.
The two JFJO originals on the new EP were composed quickly at our rehearsal space in Tulsa. The new line-up composes very well with each other. This is also the sign of a new era, lots of teamwork in and out of the rehearsal space and on and off the stage. "Country Girl" and "Drethoven" are the highlights for me, but really the whole record stands out. Only six songs and they are all great and unique.
HT: So let’s talk about your influences, classic and modern, historically for you and currently. Since you truly bridge the gap and are transcending musical eras, how do you integrate the past and present musical influences?
BH: The integration takes care of itself through practice alone and together as a group. All of the great music since time began has much in common; great music always tells a story. JFJO has always been just as influenced by classical music as any other music – I can’t get it out of my system. From age four to twenty I practiced classical piano almost every day. When I was fifteen I started practicing eight to twelve hours every day. I wanted to enter the 1997 Van Cliburn competition – I think that was the year – and I did nothing but practice classical music for five full years. I have been programmed, permanently, by this music.
Now, it is everything from Madlib to Prokofiev, Willie Nelson to Bach, all music speaks to the band and myself. We have been working on Beethoven since December of last year and so his 3rd and 6th Symphonies are coming out in everything we do, but we listen to so much music, the integration is a constant thing.
HT: Was there anything you were listening to in particular leading up to the album that influenced the finished sound?
BH: Bob Wills and Common.
HT: For a band that seems to have such a deep classical jazz foundation your fan base within the "jamband" scene seems to be continually growing despite stretching further and further away from that typical "jammy" sound. What is it about your music that you think is appealing to those more jamband-inclined fans?
BH: Our crowd is one of the most diverse I have ever seen, though I’d say that we have never had a "jammy" sound. We just play music that appeals to a wide variety of people. What we play is our own dialect that comes from the amazingly diverse jazz language, which basically covers all styles of music. How somebody hears it is up to them.
JFJO sounds like a different band from night to night. We are equally comfy at Yoshi’s and The Blue Note and Wakarusa and 10k Lakes. I love that about JFJO.
HT: Given your immense respect for classical jazz, you are still beyond able to burst out at any moment with complete unadulterated and reckless abandon at the drop of a hat. How do you walk the fine line of respecting classical elements and remaining fresh and authentic?
BH: I have been improvising at the piano since I was four years old. I just get lucky at this point, or I don’t. I don’t think about it at all, I am completely void on stage; it all just spills out, for better or worse. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so influenced early on by Jerry Lee Lewis and sometimes I love it. I am an honest person so I just sit at the piano or Rhodes and try and tell my story – nothing else is really happening. I don’t respect classical elements of jazz or anything else onstage, that shit is for the practice room. I try and get a little better every day.
HT: What are your upcoming plans beyond the tour?
BH: We are debuting our interpretations of Beethoven’s 6th and 3rd Symphonies next year with a fifty piece orchestra at this brilliant classical festival called OK Mozart. We’ll be recording it for our new record company, Kinnara Records…..I can’t wait!