Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey will release their 21st album Race Riot Suite on August 30th. Conceived, written and arranged by the band’s lap steel guitarist Chris Combs, the recording is a long form conceptual piece that tells the tragic story of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. JFJO’s core line-up, which in addition to Combs includes Brian Haas (piano), Jeff Harshbarger (bass) and Josh Raymer (drums), is accompanied by a five-piece horn section featuring Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Peter Apfelbaum (tenor and baritone saxophone), Jeff Coffin (tenor saxophone), Mark Southerland (tenor saxophone) and Matt Leland (trombone). The album was produced by Costa Stasinopoulos and recorded at Tulsa’s legendary Church Studio less than a mile from where the riot happened.
In 1921, Tulsa was home to a powerful and affluent African-American community. In one of the largest racial conflicts and cover-ups in American history, massive race riots resulted in the death of hundreds of black Tulsans and the destruction of the entire Greenwood city district, including “Black Wall Street.” With jittery melodies, propulsive rhythms and swirling improvisations, JFJO reflects on one of the least understood atrocities of the Jim Crow-era. As the Race Riot Suite unfolds, however, the music ultimately offers light amid the darkness, celebrating the resiliency of community and offering a prayer for the terrible mistakes of the past to never again be repeated. Through the process, the album becomes part of a long lineage of jazz recordings to bring awareness to civil rights issues.
“We felt obligated as Oklahomans to shine a light. What played a big part in the creation of the suite was that it wasn’t talked about in Tulsa or taught in schools. So it’s kind of this weird looming thing around a really comfortable middle-class suburban community,” explains Combs. “As a Tulsan, there was this weird darkness that was still looming. It wasn’t talked about. It was deliberately covered up by the local government and press. The idea came from me as a jazz musician and a Tulsan having an emotional reaction to what I learned.”
JFJO debuted Race Riot Suite in its entirety with a live performance at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center this past May. They will embark on a U.S. tour to support the album’s release in the Fall. The band performs at Festival International De Jazz De Montreal on Friday evening.