New radio program links jazz, other musical styles


It's showtime in Studio E. A short, balding man with a thick black mustache pops on headphones in the radio booth and leans toward the microphone as a bouncy tune &

one of his compositions &

plays in the background.

"Welcome to Jazz Connections," he says in a silky, inviting baritone. "This is Jeff Haas, your host for this hour of music exploring the art form of jazz and its connection to classic rock, R-and-B, blues, folk and more."

The show is a twist on the standard jazz format. It's not often jazz radio shows intersperse Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" or Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changing" with the trumpeting of Miles Davis and John Coltrane's sensual saxophoning. Can Thelonious Monk peacefully coexist with The Police?

Absolutely, Haas says. The premise of his new weekly show on Interlochen Public Radio, about 200 miles northwest of Detroit, is that common threads run through many musical genres, and exploring them will enhance the listener's appreciation for the music, the composers and performers &

and the culture that produced them.

Using public radio as a classroom runs in Haas' family. For more than 40 years, his late father, Karl Haas, hosted "Adventures in Good Music," a syndicated program that aired on hundreds of stations in the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico and elsewhere.

The elder Haas, a Peabody Award winner and the first classical music broadcaster named to the Radio Hall of Fame, died in 2005. His 59-year-old son, who was trained as a classical pianist before turning to jazz in his youth, hopes "Jazz Connections" also will gain syndication and a nationwide audience.

"My dad's philosophy was, let's make this music accessible to anyone and everyone," Jeff Haas said. "My goal, and it's a lofty one, is to sort of extend that vibe of accessibility, engaging people on an emotional level with great music."

His idea of seeking links between works that, at first glance, would seem to have little or nothing in common was inspired partly by Duke Ellington's response when asked to define jazz. The only two categories of music that matter, Sir Duke proclaimed, are "good music and music that isn't good."

"Most people don't commonly associate jazz with other types of music but in reality all popular music in this country comes from jazz," said Rob Smith, director of jazz studies at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, about 120 miles northwest of Detroit. He's a trumpet and sax player who often performs with Haas.

In one radio show, Haas moves seamlessly from Debussy's beloved "Clair de Lune" to a performance by Bill Evans in his "Live at the Village Vanguard" sessions, featuring jazz pieces with chordal voicings based on French impressionist harmonies. Another features a recording of Police rockers Sting and Andy Summers performing "'Round Midnight," a Monk jazz standard.

"At first I was wondering if I might be boxing myself in, maybe I would run out of connections in a year or so," Haas said. "But the possibilities are really endless &

someone was influenced by someone else, or covered one of their tunes, or shared the same mentors. So many different avenues to explore."

His quest for connections extends to his own jazz compositions, beginning with his first album, "L'Dor VaDor &

Generation to Generation," which blended Jewish, black American and European traditions.

But for Haas, seeking common ground through music is more than art for art's sake. A peace and civil rights activist whose maternal grandparents died in Nazi concentration camps, he considers music a tool for building bridges across racial, religious and cultural divides. Since 1996 &

the year "L'Dor VaDor" was released &

the Traverse City resident and his Detroit-based jazz quintet have conducted more than 500 "diversity workshops" in public schools.

"It's amazing," Haas said. "The music engages people, opens hearts and minds, on a level that you couldn't effectively do through words."

He wants to convey a similar message with his radio program &

without getting preachy.

The shows consist mostly of the musical selections themselves. Haas speaks up just enough to introduce them and explain how they're linked.

It's is a radical step for Interlochen Public Radio, which has mostly classical format, with a couple of hours of jazz a week. But general manager Thom Paulson expects little, if any, negative feedback from listeners.

"I'm sure there will be some hard-core classical music listeners who won't be interested in Jeff's show. But most of our audience came of age listening to the Beatles and Elvis and ABBA and Mancini in the '60s and '70s. My guess is they'll have a more inclusive attitude than their parents did about what makes great music."

Haas hopes so. He'll be inviting his audiences to suggest ideas for future Jazz Connections programs &

which may broaden his own horizons.

"I bring my own musical biases to the table, and the opportunity to produce this show has helped me address them," Haas says. "It's really about the challenge of keeping an open mind."

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