BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
It's a warm October night in Manhattan, and whenever the
doors open at the Irving Plaza a swirling racket spills
into the street, turning heads on 14th Street and in Union
Square. A light crowd is milling around inside the Cain's
Ballroom-sized music hall. They're New Yorkers, they're
cool, sophisticated, surprised by nothing and amused by
everything. But the poker faces are falling, and the kids
are — gasp! — dancing.
"Jesus!" exclaims one young man the second he lays his
eyes on Brian Haas, who's wincing as if he's just been
stabbed and pounding out his pain on his poor Fender Rhodes
piano. "What the (heck) is his problem?" he asks. Thing is,
the man's smiling as he asks this — wonderment rather than
annoyance — and for the next half hour he hardly moves a
muscle, riveted by the sonic freakout on stage.
His girlfriend catches up to him midway through the set,
her face contorting in horrible confusion. Her little
mental label-gun is misfiring, unable to classify the data
flooding her aural inputs. She stammers for a moment, then
says, to no one in particular, "That's . . . that's . . .
crazy. My God . . ."
"What did he say? What are they called?" the man asks,
with a hint of desperation, afraid to let the moment slip
away without obtaining some kind of quantifiable
"That," I interject, proudly, "is the Jacob Fred Jazz
• • •
Back in Tulsa, just two weeks ago. The
living room floor of Brian Haas's house is lined with six
slumping sacks full of provisions procured from Wild Oats
Market. The coffee table is stacked with nutritional
supplements, organic soaps and plastic bottles labeled
"herbal liquid." It's almost midnight, and the band needs to
blow Tulsa by 3 a.m. in order to make tomorrow's gig in
Indianapolis. They've been home a day and a half.
Haas sighs. "There's still cooking to do, too," he says.
He points to the herbal liquid bottles. "That's the fuel
of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey right there," he says, in
perfect earnest. "It's all about nutrition. We eat well, we
keep ourselves healthy while we're on the road — that's what
keeps us getting along, keeps us happy."
On the dashboard of the band van is a dog-eared copy of
The Tofu Tollbooth, a book detailing the location of every
health-food store in America. Turning debaucherous rock 'n'
roll road myths on their heads, when the Jacob Fred Jazz
Odyssey boys hit a new town they make a beeline for the bee
pollen, throwing back wheatgrass shots at the juice bar
instead of whiskey shots at the beer hall.
"We're wheatgrass connoisseurs now," chuckles bassist Reed
Mathis. "We can tell the difference between sun-bloomed and
They've even written two new songs about their daily
focus: "Daily Wheatgrass Shots Burned a Brand-New Pathway
Through My Brain" and "The FDA Has Made Our Food Worse Than
"They're instrumentals, of course, but they still get the
message out about healing yourself," Haas says. "Goes hand in
hand with music, right? Especially ours."
• • •
The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey certainly couldn't be
healthier. Two years ago the band trimmed down from a
seven-piece to a trio before signing a management contract
that's kept them jogging around the country constantly ever
since. The incessant touring has paid off in supple, sinewy
new tunes — and a new recording contract. The band is
currently in negotiation with the independent Shanachie
Entertainment label for a six-CD contract.
The trio these days comprises two founding members — Haas
and Mathis — and a new drummer, Richard Haas, younger
brother of Brian. Richard joined the group in April,
replacing original percussionist Matt Edwards, who's now
making films in the Tulsa area. (The band's name comes from
Brian's CB handle when he was a tot. Alas, there is no
The two brothers have played together off and on since
grade school — in fact, the first-ever incarnation of the
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey was this trio jamming at the Haas
home after homework had been completed — and Brian credits
the "spiritual unity" of playing with his lil' bro with the
bigger and bigger crowds showing up to Jacob Fred shows
around the country.
"Richard is so simple, so primal. He comes out of that
African school of drumming where the role of the drum is to
get you dancing," Brian said in a recent interview. "It has
really freed Reed and I to get into this free-jazz
freakout, but at the same time, everybody's dancing. We've
finally mastered the best of both worlds."
The crowds are, indeed, growing. Some clubs, including
the Irving Plaza, ask all patrons who they've come to see
each night; that way they can determine whether or not the
opening act was a significant draw. At that October show,
there were 15 people who'd come especially to see the Jacob
Fred trio. When the boys returned to the same venue four
months later, the tally was 130.
"We've refused to dumb it down or do anything the music
industry has asked us to do, and yet people keep coming
out," Brian said, with no small amount of wonder at his
• • •
It's not all luck, though. The Jacob Fred formula — if
there could possibly be a construct to the band's free-form
musical journeys — takes the strength and will of Medeski,
Martin and Wood and spreads it like seedy, all-fruit jam
(organic, of course) across the improvisational landscape
terraced by jazz pioneers from Mingus to Monk. The word
"unique" is often applied lightly in music, but these
wide-eyed, intense young men fashion songs and shows that
attract all the benefits of that word and none of the
It's paying off, too — the record deal, the booking
contract with the London-based Agency Group, numerous
high-profile opening slots (most recently Tower of Power,
Mike Clark, Project Logic), an average of 200 mp3 downloads
daily from band's web site, and nominations for Artist of
the Year at the Spot Music Awards every year thus far. But
more than physical gains, these three musicians are high on
their own creative energies.
"Remember the song 'Good Energy Perpetuates Good Energy'
from the 'Live in Tokyo' CD?" Brian asked. "For the first
time, we're realizing that every single night. But then,
playing 25 shows a month from coast to coast kind of forces
your music to evolve. Really fast."
Funny thing about that old CD, too, the "Live in Tokyo"
set. It was recorded here in Tulsa — at the Eclipse, no less
— but the band soon might actually make it to Japan.
"I started noticing this Japanese couple at every one of
our shows," Mathis said. "In New York and in California, it
turns out they flew out to see us. They were flipping out,
they loved us. They said, `We've got to get you guys to
Japan.' We're supposed to have distribution (for the CD)
over there by next spring, and these are people who've
brought other bands over before. They were shocked to hear
we hadn't been before. They heard `Live in Tokyo' and
The band's current CD of new material is "Self Is Gone,"
its title swiped from a Tulsa World headline about the
disembarking of a University of Tulsa coach. Also available
is "Bloom," a compilation from the band's early albums
spanning '96 to '98, plus several previously unreleased
JACOB FRED JAZZ ODYSSEY
with And There Stand Empires, the Mad Laugh and Brad
James and the Organic Boogie Band
When 8 p.m. Friday
Where Curly's, 216 N. Elgin Ave.
Admission $7 at the door
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.