KOAN COLLECTIVE HITS JAZZ DEPOT STAGE SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 14
On its surface, the content of Saturday’s Koan Collective performance sounds pretty familiar to those who enjoy live jazz: several specially arranged standards, spiced up with original tunes. A little deeper digging, however, reveals some intriguing, even audacious, content that audiences aren’t likely to get anywhere else — including a few numbers played on dual melodicas. Melodicas, once used widely in primary schools, are essentially keyboards with mouthpieces, Still important parts of some school music programs around the world, they become, in the hands of Koan Collective’s Jonah Wei-Haas and Nate Wong, offbeat instruments for jazz duets.
“We had to practice a bit at first to try to get the balance right, because not only are they harmonically in the same frequency range, they also have kind of a harsh sound. They don’t sound pretty, so making the other person sound good while he’s trying to solo was an interesting, and kind of fun, endeavor,” says Wei-Haas with a chuckle. “We have a fun arrangement of `Take the “A” Train,’ and there are also some French songs, like `La Vie en Rose’ and a Django [Reinhardt] song Nate taught me that fit with that sound, which is more of an accordion sound.
“In addition to the double melodica stuff, I’ll be playing some solo pieces in the show. I’ve taken on a project of making solo piano arrangements of popular electronic dance music songs. That sounds like a stretch, but in many ways, the aesthetic lends itself to a very classical kind of style. I’ve got some funky originals we’ll play, and Nate has a bunch of originals, too. We’ll also throw some of our own arrangements of songs we’ve grown up loving,” he adds.
Wei-Haas tends to use the word “fun” when he talks about the music created by the Koan Collective. It’s clear from his conversation that he and Wong are not only having a blast with their current shows, but that they’ve also been getting a charge out of their musical partnership from the very beginning. Both were students at Berklee College of Music in Boston when Wei-Haas, a Tulsa boy, met Wong, who hails from Hong Kong. Soon, they were making music together.
“Nate would come over to my apartment late at night, and we’d write these really silly songs on the piano,” Wei-Haas recalls. “He’d write a melody, and I’d start accompanying him, and then we’d switch, right in the middle of the song, and trade solos. It was just a fun way of writing songs together.
“Then we started playing together more, and it clicked and made sense. Musically, we understood each other, and on a bigger level, there was that camaraderie that’s really important when you play, so that you understand one another. Just having the right vibe is very, very important – being able to hang out and laugh, outside of the bandstand, I hold as very important, too.”
After Berklee, Wei-Haas moved to Chicago with the rest of the members of a jazz group, which ultimately broke up. Now contemplating a move back to his hometown, he was in the meantime delighted to reunite with Wong, who’d relocated to Fayetteville, Ark.
“He approached me a few months ago and he was like, `Man, I just realized: Fayetteville’s two hours from Tulsa. Let’s book some shows and see if we can make this happen,'” remembers Wei-Haas. “We treated it as an experiment. We did some duo shows with just drums and keys, and then we found a bassist, and the first time went so well and was so positively received that we did it again.”
For the Jazz Depot show, Wong, whose primary instrument is drums, and keyboardist Wei-Haas will be joined by the busy bassist Jordan Hehl, a fixture on the Tulsa jazz scene.
“Every time I go back to Tulsa, it’s so cool to see how the town is growing,” says Wei-Haas. “There’s always a new bar, a new spot, where live music’s happening. And the coolest part to me is that there are people at the shows. In Boston, and even in Fayetteville, that’s not necessarily true. You have to do a little more promotion and hustle a little bit. But every time I’ve gone back to Tulsa, I’ve seen people coming out and really appreciating live music. Its incredible how much of an impact the Jazz Hall of Fame has had on Tulsa’s vibrant music scene.”
The Koan Collective is set to begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at theOklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2013 Autumn Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.