Chris Combs of JFJO to be guest composer in Swiss festival
BY JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 6:49 AM
Learn more about local musician Chris Combs and follow his travels at his official website.
By almost any gauge, Tulsan Chris Combs is awfully young to be a featured musician at an overseas music festival.
Combs, 29, was asked be a guest composer for the Jazzwerkstatt Bern festival in Switzerland.
Most recently, Combs authored the acclaimed "Race Riot Suite" for his band, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. The piece tells the history of one of the worst race riots in American history, when Tulsa's black community was burned to the ground in 1921.
"We were playing that on tour in Slovenia," Combs said, when the band met one of the festival's organizers. "He reached out to me in August and invited me to be a guest composer."
It's billed as the Chris Combs Large Ensemble, but it's a lot more than that. Fifty minutes of music will include four large ensemble pieces and three-string quintet, with all-original music.
He left earlier this week to meet 11 musicians for the first time, all who will be playing his music. JFJO bandmate and bassist Jeff Harshbarger will be a welcome friend.
"I'll be joined by 11 Swiss musicians I've never met before," he said. "I've been sending them sheet music for the last few months."
Before the festival, he'll play in Paris, take a tram to Switzerland, have one private rehearsal, then one public rehearsal with the group before his music debuts to a world-class set of colleagues and jazz fans on Friday. Afterward, he'll play a few gigs in Zurich, Switzerland, before returning home.
Combs joined JFJO in 2008 and shortly thereafter started writing his "Race Riot Suite." He adds a distinctive sound to the band, founded more than 20 years ago, as he plays lap steel guitar.
"Playing with Jacob Fred put me in the path of opportunity," Combs said during a recent telephone interview. The Bishop Kelley High School grad also performs with local bands Gogo Plumbay and Archer Trio, and he sits in with Tulsa blues icons including Steve Pryor. There's also the Chris Combs + Josh Raymer Duo, with JFJO drummer Raymer. Then, there's the Elaborative Collaborative, which is a free-for-all of music and musicianship.
Somewhere in there, he finds time to write. This spring, he'll also embark on more tour dates with JFJO and "concentrate on writing" with that band, as well.
For his Switzerland festival debut, "They pushed all artists to do something we wouldn't normally do." So he decided to write for strings.
"I've never done that before," he said. "Am I nervous? No. Not really. OK. Yes, but in a good way. I'm eager to hear how all of this will sound once we're all together.
"I wrote the 'Race Riot Suite' in a similar way - sending sheet music to the players beforehand."
Luckily, "things have always sounded better live than in my head. ... The music takes on a life of its own when individuals play it together. It gains its own personality."
Plus, he said, he doesn't expect foreign languages to get in the way.
"Somehow, music speaks every language. It's going to be crazy. There will be musicians there from every corner of the globe, but we'll all understand each other. Music has a way of doing that."
When explaining how to play a part to overseas colleagues, he compared part of his ensemble piece to Coldplay, Charles Mingus and Led Zeppelin.
"The funny thing is, they totally get it," he said, then laughed. "It's amazing how much we have in common."
If things go as planned, his piece will be released as a live album later this year, he said.
check with venues for times and cover charges
March 2: Archer Trio at Frank and Lola's, 200 E. Second St., No. 1, Bartlesville
March 7: Archer Trio at The Colony, 2809 S. Harvard Ave.
March 8: Archer Trio with Freakjuice at Treehouse Tulsa, 1738 S. Boston Ave.
Original Print Headline: Tulsan featured at Switzerland music festival
Jennifer Chancellor 918-581-8346
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's Chris Combs works between takes at Church Studio while recording Combs' composition "The Race Riot Suite" in 2011. He's now composed an ensemble piece that he'll debut this week at a festival in Switzerland. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World file