Jaimoe bringing Jasssz to the Big Tent
08:37 AM, Jun 26, 2013
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If you goWhat: Jaimoes Jasssz Band, part of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
When: 8:30 and 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Big Tent at Gibbs and Main streets.
Cost: $20 cash at the door or free with club pass.
For information: RochesterJazz.com.
Jai Johanny Johanson takes the phone call while at his desk job. “My desk,” he says, “is my drums.”
Jaimoe is how most people know him. Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band is his latest endeavor, playing Wednesday in the Big Tent at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
“If you don’t get adventurous, you stay in the same spot, you don’t really grow,” he says of this new band. Even if that growth takes Jaimoe back to where he was in the first place, before Duane Allman heard him playing on a soul record. When Allman heard that record, Jaimoe says he asked one question: “‘Who’s the drummer on that? I think he’ll play in my band.’ “
That’s how Jaimoe became the first musician recruited for the band being assembled by Allman, a young but already well-established session guitarist. It would become The Allman Brothers Band. Playing blues-infused and jazz-inspired Southern rock is what got Jaimoe into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But he was already playing in impressive circles before all of that happened, recording and touring with Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.
“That’s one reason I’m able to process a lot of different music,” he says. “I played with anybody. Joe Tex, a lot of people who didn’t have their own bands.” Sam & Dave, too, all of the music anthologies claim, although Jaimoe begs to differ. “I don’t know why they keep saying that,” he says.
Jaimoe is self-deprecating about some of these experiences, talking as though he didn’t get them right to start with, and still doesn’t quite get it.
“A lot of people at the highest level, I never listened to,” he says. “It was hard for me to listen to a whole lot of stuff. It didn’t get there for me. Al Green, who’s maybe my favorite male singer to me, Al Green sounds like a saxophone player.”
Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band pulls all of that together, a recycling of ideas. Except Sam & Dave. Tucked among the originals on the band’s 2011 debut album, Renaissance Man, is Tony Joe White’s soulful “Rainy Night in Georgia,” blues icon Sleepy John Estes’ “Leaving Trunk” and the Allman Brothers Band ballad “Melissa.”
“It is American music,” Jaimoe says. “The word ‘jazz’ means funky, slick, sharp. It don’t just mean tinkity, tinkity, tinkity.”
Born 68 years ago in Mississippi, Jaimoe learned the drums in the traditional way of young men, by banging on stuff with sticks.
“I’d find a record, play along with it till I figured it out,” he says. He never learned to read music, which really isn’t that surprising. Many musicians can’t read music. “If I used my ears and looked at a piece of music, I could figure out what’s going on,” he says. “Reading music is good for training, getting things done in a hurry. It doesn’t teach you nothing about feeling.”
He says he still practices in the same way, by playing along to records, learning along the way.
“I used to think playing funk was like playing samba music,” he says. “Surprise, surprise. I was in for quite a few surprises.”
Increasingly, histeachers were the best in the business. And everyone seemed to have a little hand in everything. Jaimoe played in Aretha Franklin’s rhythm section in 1965. “She a hell of a piano player,” Jaimoe says.
And Otis Redding: “He was just so open, he loved everything. He was a master of feeling and time. He played some drums, he played enough to record his own record if he wanted to. He played enough piano, enough guitar to play on his own record,” Jaimoe says.
“It was enough to get the idea of what he had in his head. He would say, ‘Just play this,’ and he would play a note. And once the horns played it, it made more sense. A lot of the other musicians, they couldn’t believe it, that he could be so uneducated and still communicate those sounds,” he says. “I wish he could play in my band now; he would love it.”
Life as an Allman Brother has been a complex juggling act, with the band plagued by drug use and the early deaths of Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley. Jaimoe left and/or was dismissed from the band a couple of times himself, playing with the jazz-rockers Sea Level, and even finding himself descending into poverty for a while.
But life has settled for Jaimoe, now living in Connecticut. When not involved with the Allmans or his own band, he relaxes by watching movies: His favorite actors are Humphrey Bogart and Vin Diesel. And reading, particularly music biographies. Most recently, Skydog: The Duane Allman Story. “There’s a lot of stuff in there I didn’t know anything about,” he admits.
Jaimoe and Duane Allman knew each other for only three years before Allman was killed in a 1971 motorcycle accident, just as Jaimoe hadn’t played with Redding long before he died in a 1967 plane crash.
These are sadly brief encounters as are many creative transactions, phone numbers passing in the night. Musicians are networkers “I gave him your number.” “OK, man, great.” That’s how Jaimoe remembers a lot of these things happening. Many of these contacts never went anywhere.
One that did, from Percy Sledge’s business manager. “He said, ‘Hey, man, I got something I want you to hear,’ and he gave me an armful of records,” Jaimoe recalls. “There was Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Hendrix, The Rascals’ greatest hits. He said ‘Listen to these. I’ll be back in a couple of days to see how you like ‘em.’
“I put the earphones on. It was unbelievable. To me, rock was always so loud, you couldn’t tell who was playing what. When I heard Hendrix, I said, ‘Man, that guy is playing jazz.’ “
He liked it, but Jaimoe was still focused on one thing now, even when he got the call from Allman. “I said, ‘Man, I’m going to New York to be a jazz musician, playing for all these stars. If I go home I’ll end up borrowing money from my mother like all those other guys.
“Duane and I met. I set my drums up in the studio. The first day I played, I never thought about being a jazz musician again. It was as close to playing jazz as anything I’d ever heard,” Jaimoe says.
Jaimoe’s record collection, filled with Miles Davis, was as big an influence on the band as anything else. “Bitch’s Brew, that’s all we listened to,” he says. “Duane’s favorite record was ‘All Blues,’ his second-favorite was Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things.’ We listened to some Rashaan Roland Kirk, Tony Williams Lifetime. The Dead, some of The Band. But mostly it was Miles and Coltrane.”
“Dreams,” he says of a song from the Allman’s 1969 debut album, “is basically a taste of ‘All Blues.’ I played the exact same drum part that Jimmy Cobb played on ‘All Blues.’
“We were recycling stuff that we heard. And people think that we’re great.”