Jul 15, 2014 - Paul Rossler's Diffident Rebel Plays Jazz Depot Benefit Friday

           One of the characteristics of the Oklahoma-spawned music known as Red Dirt is an emphasis on  strong, clear, and intelligent, relatable lyrics. While the musical component can be a melange of all sorts of styles, from folk to rock to country and blues, it usually serves as the underpinning for deeply felt observations and storytelling.

    Which brings us to Paul Rossler and Diffident Rebel, playing a benefit concert for the Ami Whitlow-Brown Fund at the Jazz Depot this Friday. Rossler and the group made quite a splash a few months ago with their first disc, Red Dirt Reggae, blending Rossler's lyrical contributions with the sounds of a full-blown, eight-person reggae band.

    For Friday's show, however, the group has been pared back to three musicians: the father and son team of Steve (trombone) and Heath (guitar) Ham, with Rossler himself on rhythm guitar and vocals.

    “It's going to be really stripped-down,” he says. “I think with some of the recorded music [on Red Dirt Reggae], the lyrics kind of got washed out by the big sound we had. So I'm trying to get back to my songwriting roots, telling stories with simple melodies and those rootsy, conversational type of vocals – not letting the notes get in the way of the song, if that makes any sense.”

    Rossler planned to feature this new sound on June 26, when the trio was booked for the Silver Link Awards Banquet given by the Public Relations Society of America, Tulsa Chapter.

    “The three of us just mesh together really well. The Hams are so talented musically, Steve just seems to know when to play notes and when not to play notes.”   

    Both Hams were also in the big-band version of Diffident Rebel, which played the Jazz Depot in  a CD release party last March. And while Friday's group is much smaller, the playlist will be similar, emphasizing songs written by Rossler along with band-arranged covers of such songs as “Take Me Back to Tulsa” and “What A Wonderful World.” Rossler expects to debut several new originals, including one called “Mr. Guthrie,” celebrating the 102nd anniversary month of Woody Guthrie's birth.

    “We've put together a set list that has a lot of real positive music,” he notes. “I've pulled out a song I wrote years ago that Tom Skinner used to cover called `A Whole Lot of Your Soul,' and I thought it was a terrific song for this show. Part of the chorus says, `It takes a little time for the weather to change/It takes a few friends every now and then/And it takes a whole lot of your soul to get through hard rain.'”

    Those lyrics, he feels, relate to the person for whom the benefit is being staged. Amy Whitlow-Brown is a special-education teacher at Jenks Freshman Academy who was recently diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Ami is now at MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston, Texas undergoing aggressive treatment for this aggressive form of cancer.  She is a wife and a mother to three young children who are also students at Jenks Public Schools.

    Ami is going to be at MD Anderson for a few months undergoing treatment.  Once she returns to Tulsa, she will continue traveling down to Houston for monthly treatments over the course of a year.  “Cancer can take a toll on a family emotionally and financially,” Rossler says. “So we wanted to do something to help Ami's family during this time.” The band is going to donate all of the band’s proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales to the Ami Whitlow-Brown Fund in hopes of helping the family ease some of the financial burden of this disease.

    Also volunteering his time and talent to the proceedings is singer-songwriter Grant Ragsdale.

    “He's a TU alumni who's trying to make it in the music business,” says Rossler. “Around the time he graduated from TU, he played a gig at the Gypsy Coffeehouse I was invited to. And I listened to him. He wrote his own stuff, and I thought it was good. So he's agreed to warm up the crowd for us.”

    “This time we're going to have more theatre-style seating than we had the last time we played the Jazz Depot,” he adds. “It's going to be more intimate. People can be closer to the band.”   

    Ragsdale is set to open the show at 7 p.m. Friday, July 18, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St.  Tickets are $10 and can be bought at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-1008.  Refreshments will be available for purchase.

        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.