Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band
The back cover of Renaissance Man—the first studio album by the sensational septet Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band—includes a brief dictionary description of the phrase: “a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.” For more than four decades countless millions have been wowed by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jaimoe’s drumming expertise with the mighty Allman Brothers Band but now, with the release of Renaissance Man, several new dimensions of this iconic musician’s supersized talent emerge for the first time.
And that’s just the way Jaimoe likes it. “No one thing determines what I am or who I am,” says the world-class artist originally known to Allmans fans as Jai Johanny Johanson before changing it legally to Jaimoe. “Why stick yourself in one little hole? After awhile you get tired of it. When I go onstage, it’s like the first time I’ve picked up a pair of drumsticks—there must be that challenge. When I don’t feel like that anymore, it’s time to find something else to do.”
Renaissance Man exposes multiple new avenues of expression for the iconic sticksman that tie together his numerous musical interests. Its 10 tracks run the gamut from classic soul and blues to the sizzling Southern Rock that the Allman Brothers Band put on the map to the jazz referred to so cryptically in the band’s name (historians will note that jazz was originally spelled jass in its infancy). Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band consists of —in addition to Jaimoe on drums— the incredible Junior Mack on vocals, guitars and Dobro; David Stoltz on bass; Reggie Pittman on trumpet and flugelhorn; Paul Lieberman playing tenor and alto saxophone and flute; Kris Jensen on tenor, baritone and soprano saxes; and Bruce Katz working the Hammond B3 organ and piano. The band came together after Jaimoe was introduced to Mack at one of the ABB’s legendary shows at New York’s Beacon Theater.
“Gregg Allman’s assistant was telling me one night that ‘Junior Mack is a hell of a guitar player and singer,’” Jaimoe recalls, “but I’d never heard of him. I asked Junior if he had anything I could listen to and he handed me a CD. One day I called him and asked if he’d like to get together and play a gig, and I asked the guy who was doing the sound to record it.” Jaimoe was so impressed with the results that he later released the set as a CD, Live at the Double Down Grill 1/28/06. Although the initial lineup was somewhat different than the horn-heavy band of today, the Jasssz Band’s chemistry was already apparent on tunes ranging from the Meters’ “Cissy Strut” to Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” to a stunning reworking of the Allmans’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” A second live release, Ed Blackwell Memorial Concert 2/27/2008, continued to chart the band’s progress as they burned through everything from John Coltrane’s “Impressions” to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
But Renaissance Man takes Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band to a whole other level. Recorded in Hoboken, N.J.’s Water Music studio, the album features more well-chosen covers—this time Sleepy John Estes’ blues staple “Leaving Trunk” and Tony Joe White’s great soul ballad “A Rainy Night in Georgia”—but also showcases the songwriting skills of the Jasssz Band’s members. Mack is responsible for no less than four of the album’s songs, including the paint-peeling opener “Dilemma,” while keyboardist Katz, bassist Stoltz and hornman Pittman each contribute a track. Allmans loyalists will also be stunned by the new arrangement that the Jasssz Band has given to the ABB’s touchstone hit “Melissa.”
Says Jaimoe, “We wanted to do as much original music as possible but at the same time we wanted to do a few things to reach out and grab people, and Junior does that tune as a bossa nova. That’s why I wanted to do it. It’s got a good groove. Music is about getting an idea and seeing how many different things you can do with it.”
For Jaimoe, that sentiment pretty well sums up his entire career. Born in Mississippi in 1944, Jaimoe came up, as did so many Southern musicians at the time, playing the soul music circuit. One of his first big breaks—and one of his most treasured recollections — was touring behind the legendary R&B trailblazer Otis Redding. “I learned so much from Otis,” Jaimoe says now.
In 1969, a few years after his experiences with Redding, Jaimoe found himself in Macon, Georgia, where he was introduced to a young hotshot guitarist named Duane Allman by record execs Phil Walden and Jerry Wexler. “I guess they figured that a long-haired hippie and a strange-ass drummer would be good together,” Jaimoe says. Along with Duane’s younger brother Gregg on keyboards, second guitarist Dickey Betts, and an exceptional rhythm section that included bassist Berry Oakley and Jaimoe’s 40-plus-year drum partner Butch Trucks, the Allman Brothers Band was soon on its way to immortality.
The Allmans’ place in rock history is set in stone—in fact they will receive a special merit award from the Grammys this winter—but at the moment Jaimoe’s excitement is directed toward the Jasssz Band. “We’re not gonna guide it this way or that way,” he says. “We’re gonna let it go and we’re gonna tag along for the ride. It’s improvised music and it’s American music. That’s why it’s Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, because improvised American music is jazz.”