Jes Grew Report

by RON JACOBS

"Jes Grew which began in New Orleans….They are calling it a plague when in fact it is an anti-plague."

–Mumbo Jumbo-Ishamel Reed

“ Jes Grew (comes) from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Topsy and James Weldon Johnson’s description of Afro-American music’s unascribed development, ? Jes Grew is a contagion, connected with the improvisational spirit of ragtime and jazz, that begins to spread across America in the Twenties. It is an irrational force that threatens to overwhelm the dominant, repressive traditions of established culture.”

— Carl Brucker from his essay on Ishamel Reed in the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, (1987)

There’s a gig that has been happening every December in Asheville, North Carolina for twenty-two years now.  Its purpose is to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit that helps people without a home to find shelter.  Its mode of operation is getting together a group of great musicians to play with their own bands and with each other for eight or so hours one night every December. 

The event is known as the Xmas Jam and the man behind the show is guitarist Warren Haynes, who plays with the Allman Brothers, the Dead, his band Gov’t Mule and several other combos.  This year’s lineup featured Gregg Allman, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Steve Miller Band, members of Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee, and Haynes’ new band simply called the Warren Haynes Band.  The music ranged from the jam-band stylings of Umphrey’s McGee to the total New Orleans funk of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; from the soulful songs of The Warren Haynes Band to the rock blues of Steve Miller’s group.  It was a joyful assembly.

If I were to choose a couple favorite parts of the evening they would be the set delivered by Haynes’ new band and the closing set from The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  The former, which was the first public performance of the group, featured five songs and most of the musicians that will appear on the group’s upcoming CD release.  The band includes the following personnel besides Haynes: Ivan Neville on keys (who played with Keith Richards and is a member of the Neville Brothers and Dumphastunk), bassist Ron Johnson, Terrance Higgins on drums, Ron Holloway on sax and blues singer Ruthie Foster.  The songs included an original called "River’s Gonna’ Rise," a heartrending version of Otis Redding’s "I’ve Been Loving You too Long" and a suitably funky version of Robert Palmer’s "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley."

How does one describe Haynes’ new ensemble?  Soulful would be a good place to start.  With Haynes weaving leads and rhythms as intricately as an ancient Chinese weaver of silk cloth for the emperors and Ron Holloway blowing melodies on a sax straight out of Memphis; a bottom provided by bassman Ron Johnson and Terrence Higgins and Neville’s keyboards, the word ecstatic comes to mind.  Just to make certain that ecstasy is the case, Ruthie Foster’s vocals bring it all together like the final stitch on the aforementioned emperors’ cloaks.  Tight describes their playing while loose describes the way they made the audience feel.

The surprise of the night was Steve Miller and his band.  For most people, Miller is probably best known for his multitude of popular hits in the 1970s and 1980s, including songs like "The Joker," "Take the Money and Run," and "Jet Airliner."  The truth is that Miller and his band were one of the original San Francisco bands from the mid-1960s.  Their first album, titled Children of the Future, is nothing short of a psychedelic classic.  The titled song alone stands up there with the Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit," the Grateful Dead’s "Dark Star," and Quicksilver Messenger Service’s "Pride of Man" as a tune that not only popularized the freak culture of the era but spoke to the ethos present during the best times of that brief but monumental moment in cultural history.

Unfortunately for those of us in the audience who remember that album, Miller did not play anything from it.  He did however, play a couple mean blues tunes: "Further On Up the Road" and "Just Got Back From Texas."  Warren Haynes accompanied him on the former.  It was the pop songs that surprised me that night.  After hearing the band open with a twelve minute version of "Jet Airliner" I will never dismiss that song again.  The entire audience was on their feet and dancing like they were worshiping St. Vitus.  The worship did not end until Haynes joined Miller and his band for their final song "Fly Like An Eagle."

After a brief acoustic interlude from John Bell of Widespread Panic, Gregg Allman and a special Xmas Jam backing band (which included Warren Haynes, former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed, Wallflowers drummer Fred Eltringham and Ivan Neville along with some members of the Dirty Dozen Brass band) took the stage.  Opening with a blistering version of his hit "Midnight Rider," the ensemble played a half-dozen more songs including the early Allman Brothers tune "Dreams," Bob Dylan’s "Just Like A Woman," and the Allman Brothers classic "Melissa."  The situation in the auditorium by the end of the set had transcended mere ecstasy. Indeed, it was something much closer to rock and roll heaven.  The version of "Dreams" with Ron Holloway’s sax solo and Haynes’ subsequent slide guitar work was the clincher in the journey to that celestial place.

Then the funksters took the stage.  Before they played a note, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band set the tone with the words:  "Welcome to Mardi Gras in Asheville, Man!"   This group, if you have never heard them, blend New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, funk and blues into an incredible dance mix that is so infectious that even the dead can’t help but move their feet when the band gets going.  Opening with a tune of theirs called "Ain’t Nothing’ But a Party," the party got funkier as the set went on.  The Temptations "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" (with Haynes joining in), followed by a song once played by Little MIlton called "That’s What Love Will Make You Do" to Little Feat’s "Spanish Moon" and on through Stevie Wonder’s "Superstition."  Every ounce of energy remaining in the Asheville Civic Center was squeezed into the funky frenzy created by this outbreak of what writer Ishmael Reed called Jes Grew in his 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo.

As the audience left the Civic Center a little after 3:00 AM on December 12th, they found that even the weather gods had succumbed to the Jes Grew.  How else would one describe the uncharacteristic snowstorm that greeted them?

RON JACOBS is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. His most recent book, titled Tripping Through the American Night is published as an ebook.  He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire