Friday, June 12, 2009

The Plastic Sax Interview With Brian Haas of The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

One of today's most compelling and forward-thinking jazz-oriented acts, The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, performs late shows Friday and Saturday night at Jardine's. Plastic Sax conducted an interview with the band's keyboardist and co-founder Brian Haas.

Plastic Sax: I've been enjoying Petting Sounds, your new solo piano album. Given its title and other connections to The Beach Boys, I expected to hear obvious echoes of "God Only Knows." Instead, it's more like Erik Satie. Are you able to showcase your background in classical music at JFJO shows?

Brian Haas: Indeed I am, though the extent depends upon the material of that tour, and even varies from performance to performance. I used to practice classical piano incessantly, at age 16 I was performing Beethoven at the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa, and so in a lot of ways that classical edge is an inseparable piece of my playing. Many sylistic elements rear their head throughout a performance with JFJO. Also, currently JFJO is working on some reinterpretations of Beethoven's 3rd and 6th symphonies. Between that and Petting Sounds the classical background I have is more in the limelite than ever before.

PS: Do you feel that your musical eclecticism- your range includes classical, bop, swing and covers of rock songs- hurts or helps the appeal of JFJO? Or is it- as I suspect- a moot point because your creative vision gives you no other choice but to play all kinds of music?

BH: Great question. As a whole I'd like to think it really helps us, bringing in elements of music that interest and turn on a wide range of demographics. It's great because we can find a fan in some of the strangest places. For instance often a cover tune, by The Beatles, or The Flaming Lips, will bring on many people who might be hesitant to dive into a 'jazz odyssey'. Conversely people like to be able to label things, and when a band like JFJO sounds different every album, every year, every tour, well, people aren't alway comfortable with that change. Luckily we have an incredible fanbase of humans who like to listen.

PS: The remix promotion for "Tetherball Triumph" was incredibly cool. Did any of the submissions surprise you? If software like ProTools and GarageBand existed when you were a kid do you think you'd still have become a "proper" musician or would the technology have seduced you into pursuing performance and composition from a different direction?

BH: Not necessarily surprise me, but definitely made me smile, or do a double take at least. It's quite likely I'd still be playing the piano, but it's also quite possible I'd be playing DJ sets all over the globe!

PS: Petting Sounds is available as a free download. Several JFJO recordings are also available online for no money. What's your philosophy on giving away music? Do you and the band perceive recorded music more as a promotional tool than as a means of earning income?

BH: I think it is a genius incarnation of creative capitalism. Since we released those albums in the past six months, we have had lots of great growth. Our email list for instance, went from about 6,000 to 16,000+ contacts. The music and our message is finding more and more people every day, and that's what it is all about. That and jazz millions, which is why our next album One Day in Brooklyn is a an EP that we are actually selling. There is definitely a balance, but the free dissemination of music has really worked well for us by increasing our fan base, and thus bringing out more humans to our shows.

PS: One of the pet theories I espouse at Plastic Sax is that the future of "jazz"- at least in terms of a viable American audience- lies with the jam band fans. The people who remember jazz as popular music- be it Stanley Turrentine or Glenn Miller- are dying off. Yet many kids who are otherwise into rock bands like String Cheese Incident are also interested in progressive instrumental music- in other words, music like JFJO's. What's your take on this?

BH: JFJO has long been championed and ingrained within the Jam world. We are extremely grateful for our ability to appeal to such a wide range of people. We're also blessed to have found a niche inside such an open minded community as the jam scene.

PS: You played the inaugural Arkansas version of Wakarusa last weekend. How was it?

BH: Incredible. The Arkansas location is in the middle of some gorgeous country. I have hiked, camped, and canoed in the region many times, and our last album Winterwood was recorded in Arkansas, so the location really spoke to me. JFJO played a crushing set at the festival, with an incredible turnout and reaction to the new quartet lineup. I hope the festival continues to thrive in Arkansas for years to come.

PS: Can you share any inappropriate stories about your fellow Oklahomans The Flaming Lips? Since this interview is for a humble jazz blog, you're safe to fire away.

BH: Haha, I love the Flaming Lips, and wish I had some inappropriate stories I could share.

PS: You've previously played Jardine's in Kansas City. Do have any special connections to the club or to Kansas City? Are there any last-minute instructions or warnings you'd like to share with your fans in Kansas City?

BH: We love KC! The show last January was sold out before we got into the city. Our good friend Mark Southerland is a legendary human from KC, and will be joining us both evenings as special guest. Get your tickets early!

Can't get enough? The Star's Steve Paul also interviewed Haas.


punkyjunk said...

very well done and extremely interesting. more interviews!

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks, PJ. I'm up for doing more interviews. In this instance, the artist's manager reached out to me. That's all it took...

punkyjunk said...

amazing, isn't it? i usually have to go chase the management down to help them get the PR wheels moving for their artists. it's as if they just don't consider that a valuable part of their job...i don't know. it's strange.

Unknown said...

Happy In Bag what is your email address?

Happy In Bag said...

It's posted in the upper right hand corner of this site, Dominique: happyinbag 'at' gmail 'dot' com.

WLIB said...

Nice interview, Bag! Does this mean you've resolved your ambivalence about jam bands?

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks, Lee.

If you wanna call JFJO a jam band, then, yes, I'm down with that scene.

I've been known to listen to Umphrey's McGee for pleasure and I'm glad that I saw The Dead shortly before Jerry passed.

It is, as they say, all good.