True To Themselves and the Music: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
In 1996 a band contacted the Elbo Room in San Francisco requesting a headlining gig. As typical, the club requested a press packet, which the band sent. Enclosed were a biography, history and a CD, which accompanied the packet. This was not uncommon, most bands submit demos or recent releases, but this album’s title, Live in Tokyo did call attention to itself. As did the music, as the group was granted the headlining show.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey sold out the Elbo Room, which is impressive considering it was the band’s first time performing in San Francisco and not too long after it had started playing out. This was the first of many packed performances in the city. As far as the album that got them the gig, though, the band never played in Tokyo. They had not even been to Tokyo. They did, however, record the record live; in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s (JFJO) Keyboardist Brian Haas explains, “I never told them the album was recorded in Tokyo. I sent them the album and they made their own conclusions. It’s weird because we’ve played much larger venues since (in San Francisco), but the Elbo Room has never invited us back.”
Fast forward to 2001, Brian Haas (Keyboards), Reed Mathis (Bass) and Jason Smart (Drums) have been touring for 18 months, performing over 20 shows every 30 days. They have spent time all over the United States including extended stays in both New York and California. Touring in a small van and trailer, the band only travels with one other, Brian’s wife who doubles as their best advocate and merchandise guru at the venues. The four have committed to life on tour.
Brian continues, “ People in the crowd are as much part of the music as we areI think sometimes they don’t realize that if they give us energy were going to give it back 10 fold.”
The band’s shows are personable with Brian often giving explanations of songs, either how they were titled or a story about when they were composed. One highlight of a recent performance was a song titled, “Daily Shots of Wheat Grass Burned a Brand New Pathway to My Brain,” indicative of the band itself, this song moved through paths of dialogue between all three members of the band and their instruments.
Jazz is something these young musicians from Oklahoma take very seriously. All three band members are well versed in the history of the music. Each member of JFJO stands strong on the direction of their music as well as jazz music in general. Feelings that jazz has moved away from its roots, and that prearranged songs have taken from the energy jazz brings to audiences in its true form of improvisation, is common amongst all of JFJO.
One of the worst things that happened to jazz was schools started saying that they taught it. You can’t teach jazz.” Brian opines, “ You may be able to teach the language of jazz but you can’t teach people how to play it. Jazz flows from the subconscious.”
The best music is created when nobody knows what is coming next, not even the musician. The dialogue that occurs on the stage during improv is with the instrument. Not with hand gestures or even meeting of the eyes, just awareness of others musical presence. This is exactly what makes JFJO unique and exciting.
“Reed and I have been playing together for like 7 years,” Brian continues, “it’s like playing with each otherwe play games, you know almost try and fuck each other up. I’m like take this and come out with something in an odd time and he’ll come back at me as if to say take that’.”
In this day of jam music and its intricate compositions, have we moved away from the very thing that attracted us? Many bands embark on extended jams while maybe tweaking tempo or pattern. A guitar or organ solo may predominate with unvarying bass and drums. Is this improvisation? It very well may be for some, but in the musical world of JFJO the definition is much different. Instruments co-exist and musicians completely aware of instrumental presence move throughout with no prearranged formulas.
Haas reflects, “We do what we do because were true to ourselves. Like jazz, I know our music may take a long time to catch on. Thelonious Monk was not recognized until very late in his life for the things that he had been doing for years. It was hard for me to believe that it would happen at any time with what we are doing.”
JFJO plays jazz in the true sense, whatever the definition. JFJO’s compositions are mostly improvisational works that are based from a melody. The dynamics and tonality JFJO utilizes through out their shows are like those of no other band out there. This band is for real. No joke, in your face funked up beats and improvisational works of art.
JFJO recently recorded a live album. Originally the band planned to head to the hills early this year to release their second studio disc but then the decision was made to record live. The group’s manager, Eric Gerber explains, “JFJO will be putting out a live record with Knitting Factory Records. The release is due out this summer. The band felt this would be the best opportunity to represent their music at its current state."