There are two good reasons why vocalist Jonathan Roll calls his first Jazz Depot show American Voyage.
First, he intends to take the audience with him on a journey from the jazz era through soul music and beyond. "Music can be a tool to help navigate through history just as it can be something for our enjoyment," he says. "This will be a road trip through music."
Second, the West Coast-based Roll has recently begun a musical voyage of his own.
"I'm on an extended visit to this region of the country," he explains. "I'm going to head back to L.A. in a few months, but right now I'm on a road trip, a musical road trip. After this, I'm heading down to Austin, New Orleans, and Nashville before making my way back to L.A. I hope to record an original song in each city. So since this is my first big show on the trip, I thought we'd call it American Voyage."
Although he's been based in Los Angeles for the past five years or so, Roll grew up "all over the world," he says, thanks to a father with a military career. His link to northeastern Oklahoma, however, stretches back to his very birth.
"My grandparents have lived in Bartlesville for as long as I've been alive, so I've been visiting Bartlesville for about three decades now," he explains. "It's really been home base for me, because I didn't really have a hometown when I was growing up."
One of the big musical influences in his life has been his grandmother, Narnie Roll, a well-known jazz pianist and longtime supporter of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Thanks to her, he became aware of the Jazz Depot and its programs, including the weekly jam sessions, which he's been attending for a while now.
"My grandmother is classical jazz music and standards, vocal and pop," he says. "She's my link. But the more I've hung out at the Jazz Hall, the more instrumental jazz I've heard, rather than just vocal, and that reminds me of the music I love, soul music, which is maybe more of a cousin to jazz. So I'm going to do a show that incorporates a lot of the music I love, but also traces a little bit of musical history, from the time before soul up to now. I really dig how composition has changed, how songs have changed, and I hope to impart some knowledge between the songs we do."
He points out that some of the musical ideas and even the chord progressions from classic soul numbers have been reused, sometimes with different songs crafted atop old foundations. For instance, he says, the late Amy Winehouse and her producer "really breathed new life into old tunes; we're going to do a medley that goes from Marvin Gaye to her.
"Another thing I really dig is taking tunes that aren't from the soul era and rearranging them into soul tunes," he adds. "So there are a couple of tricks we have up our sleeves for the show.. There's a great series of rock songs that Paul Anka had a guy arrange like old swing tunes. So we're going to play one of those, and we will do something similar by picking a song that's not soul and turning it into a soul tune."
He's had some practice doing the latter. Back in Los Angeles, he and his group took Britney Spears' hit "Baby One More Time" and gave it a James Brown-style arrangement.
"It had the right lyrics," says Roll with a chuckle.
Sunday's audience can also expect a few of what he calls "less-familiar tunes from the soul era," including Stevie Wonder's "Travelin' Man."
"I think he did that one back when he was in his young twenties," Roll notes. "It's a nice tune I think people will enjoy, it's a simple tune, and it speaks to the whole road-trip idea."
His band for Sunday's show includes Tulsa bass legend Bill Crosby, a longtime family friend; drummer Jonathan Haywood, Mingus Award-winning member of the Tulsa Jam'Bassadors; and keyboardist Aaron Henderson of Darell Christopher & the Ingredients, recent Oklahoma champions of the 12th Annual Blues Challenge.
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.
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
through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.