A rock and blues legend who had a hand in the creation of one type of American music is on his way to Wilkes-Barre, and the project he’s bringing with him expresses his philosophy on the culture’s music as a whole.
Jai Johanny Johanson, known most widely as “Jaimoe,” a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band and a father of Southern rock, will perform with Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band at 8 p.m. Saturday at the F.M. Kirby Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
The ensemble is fronted by singer and guitarist Junior Mack and also features David Stoltz on bass, Reggie Pittman on trumpet and flugelhorn, Kris Jensen on saxophones and Brian Charette on Hammond B3 organ and piano. Fusing blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and jazz into something altogether unique and stirring, the Jasssz Band delivers largely improvisational arrangements of original songs, Allman Brothers Band staples and other classics.
“We play all types of American music,” Jaimoe, 73, said in a recent phone interview. “All music, in the first place, that comes out of this country is jazz. Whether it be hillbilly jazz or bebop … it is jazz. The word jazz is a word that is slang for anything that is not repeated, repeated, repeated, or music that is expounded upon with feeling.”
A Mississippi native, Jaimoe got his musical education in the genre of the region.
“I never played jazz as it is prescribed,” he said. “I played rhythm and blues and blues, which is as close to that particular art form as you can get, because, to me, those things are just personalities (of music).”
“I played R&B and blues. I used to hate the blues, because it shows you how dumb you can be when you’re trying to learn something,” Jaimoe continued with a laugh. If you wanted to play music and make a living at it, you’d play what people wanted to hear.”
Well before the Allman Brothers Band became musical royalty, Jaimoe backed Otis Redding and other R&B stars like Percy Sledge who were associated with the soul scene in Muscle Shoals, Ala. One of his mentors was New Orleans fixture Charles “Honeboy” Otis.
“I heard that cat play, and it was unbelievable,” Jaimoe said. “The guys I had heard play, it certainly wasn’t played like that. Music is about feeling, he always told me. You can go to Juilliard; you can go all over the world. It’s about feeling.”
And that penchant for the emotive is shared by the icon’s partners in music in the Jasssz Band. The ensemble’s earliest performances can be traced to 2008, but a solidified lineup released 2011’s “Renaissance Man,” which featured nine original songs and a jazz arrangement of Allman Brothers classic “Melissa.”
The Jassz Band became Jaimoe’s primary project in 2014 after the Allman Brothers Band announced their final shows as a unit. From 2015 to 2017, he played alongside fellow Allmans drummer Butch Trucks and other longtime musical colleagues in Les Brers, but with the deaths of both Trucks and Gregg Allman in 2017, the Jasssz Band again became Jaimoe’s professional focus.
And a slightly altered lineup has the veteran drummer excited.
“I found what I need, (players) who could go in any direction. With a lot of them, I’ve been hanging on with a prayer,” he said with a laugh. “These are the guys.”
Jaimoe is particularly praising of his frontman.
“Junior is an amazing musician and person,” he said. “He’s as great as anybody. It takes years of doing what you do, not just sitting around and practicing but doing what it is you do (to contribute what Mack is able to contribute). I can hear Junior singing anything.”
The outfit, which Jaimoe says is more improvisational and raw than any with which he’s performed, kept its Allman Brothers repertoire to particular songs in the past but has recently embraced the whole catalog.
“There were certain ones we didn’t do,” Jaimoe said. “I was doing some gigs with Greggory (Allman), and we wouldn’t do songs that we thought, ‘Greggory might do that.’ Everything is on the table. Now we can play anything we want to play, but we’re not playing any carbon copy Allman Brothers songs. We recorded … ‘Melissa,’ but we did it bossa nova style. It’s cool.”