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Published: 2011/12/30
by Randy Ray

Jaimoe: 21st Century Renaissance Man

RR: Cool. Renaissance Man. How did the ideas for the debut studio album start?

JJ: It started when the guy that is Gregory’s assistant/valet, Hewell Middleton, known as Chank, told me about this guy and asked me if I knew Junior Mack. I said, “Junior Mack? No, I don’t know him.” He said, “You don’t know Junior Mack? ” I said, “No, man.” He calls me Frown, so he says, “Frown, Junior Mack is a hell of a guitar player. He plays slide and this and that and the other and the rest of it.”

So, one night, Junior Mack comes to the Beacon. Chank said, “Hey, Frown, come here, man. I want you to meet Junior Mack. I said, “Hey, man, how you doin’? You got anything I can listen to, any CDs I can listen to?” He said, “I’ve got one right in my pocket here.” He pulls it out and gives it to me. He was accompanied by, basically, what was Dickey Betts’ band. They did a gig together, and he recorded it. That’s what he used for his CD. It had Dave Stoltz on it. Dave is the bass player in my band. He also had Matt Zeiner and Mark Greenberg, who was one of the drummers in Dickey Betts’ band. He had two drummers in that band. Dave, Junior and Matt are on the first CD I did, Live at the Double Down Grill in Avon [Connecticut]. Matt is the keyboardist on there, and Kris Jensen [saxophone] who was in [Dickey’s] band, and is also on Double Down.

When we did that gig, it was like no rehearsals or anything. I called this guy, and I said, “I want to rehearse my band, but I want a dress rehearsal.” He said, “O.K.” I said, “I want
to play and I don’t want to disturb your business, but if there is people in there, tell them we’re gonna be jamming and rehearsing, so we don’t run nobody off.”

Halfway through the gig, we take a break. I said to Junior, I said, “Hey, man, you play different.” He said, “Different?” Junior’s like this. He acts like when [someone] acts like they want to know something, they kind of like look stupid. (laughter) He had this look on his face like he was surprised. It was like he was glad that I paid him a compliment and he was surprised, too. I said, “Yeah, man, you play different.” He said, “How is that?” I said, “You play different than Warren. You play different than Derek. You play different than a lot of cats. Not just white boys, but black boys, too. Only one person have I heard play similar to what you are playing and that is George Baker.” George was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he was Marvin Gaye’s musical director for 12 years.

I hadn’t heard anybody play like that since I left Mississippi, and that was 1968. I had never heard nobody play like that. Everybody played blues, but a lot of it was so over whatever with rock stuff until it wasn’t that interesting. The only reason it wasn’t that interesting was because it was something that had been developed by only a few, a few had become pretty close to mastering it, like Hendrix, and like Duane and Betts did.

Freddie Hubbard is a trumpet player. When Freddie Hubbard started playing funk things into his Bebop licks, he really wasn’t that good at it because he didn’t really know how to get to tie that thing together. He tried, and, sure, he got better later on, but I never heard anything where I thought he had achieved what he tried.

So, that was the first live CD, Live at the Double Down Grill.

The second one [ Ed Blackwell Memorial Concert ] was at a church in Middletown. It had to do with raising money for an organization that my friend had going on. And I tell ya, it’s the most different thing that I’ve ever done in my life, playing that concert because it was like a real jazz concert, man, with a few bands that used to have featured singers—Joe Williams with Count Basie’s band, singing “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Junior sings “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “People Get Ready,” because he wouldn’t sing anything else in that church. Junior has been in a men’s vocal group that sings spirituals for 25 years. He goes to church damn near every Sunday. He’s a very religious person.

Now, we come to the third one, the debut studio album, Renaissance Man. We started the day that we opened at the Beacon last year. I think it was March 10 because I went in the studio about 10 o’clock in the morning. We got one or two down, and I had a 3 o’clock rehearsal at the Beacon Theatre. So that’s basically what has happened with all of that. Dave Stoltz and I have been playing since December 17, 1990. That is basically when I moved to Connecticut with my now wife, Catherine. She put a bunch of those guys together, and Dave was the bass player. Dave and I have been playing together ever since on pretty much every gig that I’ve played in Connecticut. One of the things I was trying to do was I was trying to pick out the musicians who could play and go in as many directions as I could go in. Dave was one of them. And the rest of it didn’t really start until around six years ago when we recorded Live at the Double Down Grill. Kris Jensen. I’ve known Kris for 20 years. We’ve done quite a few gigs together.

That’s about it for everybody that I’ve been playing with for that long that’s in the band, Jaimoe’s Bebop Band, and that’s what it was. It was no [Jaimoe scats a chunky thick rhythm]…it was none of that stuff, man. It was like Bebop. And a lot of people liked the band: “Hey, you’ve got to take that band on the road, man.” And I was like, “Wow, man, you can’t take no band like that on the road. It costs money. You have to pay people.” Because I didn’t have a vocalist, and, to me, you either play some raunchy stuff, man, or you have a vocalist. So I finally got a vocalist in Junior Mack.

This Renaissance Man. I wasn’t going to call it anything, except Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. And Junior kept going, “You need to have a name.” And I said, “Why does it have to have a name? It’s Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band.” I can think of a number of records that didn’t have a name, per se, and it was whoever the artist was. Junior said, “Why don’t we call it Drifting and Turning [second track on the album]?” I said, “Eh.” I thought about it, and he called me back up a couple of days later and asked, “What are we going to call the album?” I said, “You want to call it Drifting and Turning, go ahead and call it that.” My wife was sitting there, and she said, “Why don’t you call it Renaissance Man ?” And I went, “ Renaissance Man ?” The only thing I could think of when she said “ Renaissance Man ” was Rod Steiger (laughter) with the tattoos all over his body. So I thought about that for a couple of days, and Junior went to Paris with somebody, some people he had recorded with, and they were getting ready to print up the cases for the CD. I e-mailed the cat and said, “Man, change it to Renaissance Man. ” I went online and looked up Renaissance Man, and saw what it meant, and I said, “That’s a perfect name for it.” So, my wife was right about that one. My daughter did the cover on the CD. The black writing in the beard is my daughter’s signature. She hadn’t even signed the thing, and I said, “Put your signature on there.” (laughter)

We are a jamband, too, yes, and we play jazz, which is American music. We haven’t gotten any hillbilly in there yet, but we play just about everything. I guess as soon as we get that Hank Williams, Sr. tune down, I guess we’ll be hillbilly: chili bop, billy gumbo, we got somethin’ somethin’ somethin’ down on the bayou. They said the Allman Brothers invented Southern Rock. Well, shit, what is that? (laughs) You know? The alto saxophone player that was really hot in the 40s that did those songs about the chicken house— fried fish, Friday night, the chicken house, and all that stuff—that is basically what he was doing. So I don’t know what this is about the Allman Brothers inventing Southern Rock. Shit, it’s been around since all of us have been in our parents’ salt, if they had any. (laughter)

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