The all-star band playing Listening Room next week was featured for Local Spins on WYCE, which also debuted new music by Whorled, Chain of Lakes, Laura Rain, Pieces and more.
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The way Traverse City jazz pianist Jeff Haas sees it, he’s just a “Jewish kid from the inner-city of Detroit” raised on classical and Judaic music who now revels in the wondrous, genre-bending ways of a Michigan super-group with a diverse spirit.
His veteran bandmates in Big Fun, he said, play “with a passion and an intensity that just brings the music to life in a different way than I had ambitioned it. It just takes songs into a different realm. It gives them a life and an energy of their own.”
Welcome to Big Fun, with Haas joined by acclaimed mandolinist Don Julin, bassist Jack Dryden and Dobro player Joe Wilson of northern Michigan and Grand Rapids drummer Randy Marsh, rolling out electric and eclectic original, jazz-based music with “deep grooves, funky musical hooks, ostinatos and ethnic influences.”
“It’s an energetic band. It’s an engaging band. It’s a varied set list because we have three composers who are all contributing their original music,” said Haas, noting the group is finishing up work on its first full-length studio album set for release later this year.
“Each of us brings different musical styles and influences to our bandstand. We share some influences from Frank Zappa and John Zorn to Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk.”
Haas showed off that varied approach by spotlighting Big Fun’s live rendition of one his compositions, “Detroit Trilogy,” for this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE. Scroll down to listen to the song and the full radio show podcast, with a video of a live performance by the band here.
VIDEO: Big Fun, “Vierd Valse”
As part of a brief Michigan tour, Big Fun plays Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 16), Workshop Brewing in Traverse City on Monday (April 18) and Grand Rapids’ Listening Room on Tuesday (April 19). Get tickets, $20, and more information about Tuesday’s show online at listeningroomgr.com.
“Listeners can expect an eclectic blend of jazz, R&B, funk, Americana and Judaic music,” said Haas, who grew up listening to his dad playing organ at Temple Israel in Detroit before starting classical piano lessons at age 5.
“I’ll mix in with the sounds of instruments that are traditionally heard in bluegrass or country contexts.”
SEASONED, VERSATILE PLAYERS WITH A ‘MUTUAL VISION’ FOR ORGANIC MUSIC
All five members of Big Fun boast long and impressive resumes, playing with a who’s who roster of artists from Dryden’s work with the likes of Pat Metheny to Julin’s one-time pairing with Billy Strings to Randy Marsh’s status as a go-to drummer and co-founder of Organissimo to Joe Wilson’s nickname as “Dobro Joe,” picked up by working with Steppin’ In It, The True Falsettos and others.
Haas, whose parents founded the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, has long led various acoustic jazz groups and been commissioned to write compositions for the cities of Detroit and Traverse City, while also creating Building Bridges with Music, an anti-bullying group and program staged in Michigan schools that preaches “peace and acceptance.”
“I found my home in the jazz music and jazz culture, which was … more comfortable, more engaging, more inviting than the culture I had grown up in terms of the classical culture,” he said, adding that once he found his musical voice on piano, he “couldn’t stop writing” new compositions.
“I found that I had this sort of organic blend going in my heart and my head and in my fingers – a blend of jazz, R&B, Motown, classical music and Judaic music,” he recalled.
Diving into the music of Big Fun several years ago also pushed him into new territory.
“We got together in an electric context, which was a first for me. I had never really even owned an electric piano,” he said, noting the group’s debut album could be released in late spring or early summer.
“The band has a wonderful dynamic range, lots of good energy and danceable grooves, musical hooks. I guess we have a mutual vision for the music.”
In addition to Big Fun, this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which trains its attention on music by Michigan artists at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – featured tracks by Whorled, Chain of Lakes, Marcus Elliot Trio (this week’s musician’s pick by Haas), Laura Rain & The Caesars, Fernando Silverio Solis, The Mulberry Wolves, Pieces, Grace Theisen, Last Night Saved My Life and The Skinny Limbs. Listen to the full radio show here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (4/15/22)
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