Don't get me wrong Haas is not combining these motifs in his music simply to make a musical appeal for tolerance. He is not preaching from his piano pulpit. Nor will anyone who hears his band ever think Haas chose these musicians for their varied ethnic backgrounds. They have the chops and the credits to stack up with any jazz all-star band. Haas has simply found a compositional voice that allows him to meld his musical and life experiences into a vibrant and coherent whole, and he's chosen bandmates who can make that voice really sing.
The result is jazz that is by turns as sassy as a teen with attitude, as heartwarming as a family reunion, as sophisticated as modern classical music, and as accessible as 1920s dance tunes. Haas is solidly in the jazz tradition and yet has created a unique sound out of his family legacy. Only Haas could start playing one of his soulful jazzy compositions, based on a traditional Hebrew folk tune, and then segue seamlessly into John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" and make you believe the two have always belonged together.
Jeff Haas brings his quintet to the Firefly Club on Saturday, June 5.
[Originally published in June, 2004.]