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Jacob Jolliff Band Prepares New Album, Headlines Wichita-Area Festival

Jacob Jaloff.jpeg
Courtesy photo
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The Jacob Jolliff Band headlines the Doug Daze of Summer festival Saturday.

Now in its second year, the festival’s lineup includes performances from Fast Food Junkies, Unfit Wives and Pretend Friend. The performances will be held at 4214 N. 143rd St. outside Wichita.

Jolliff, who releases a new album Aug. 5, is no stranger to the Wichita area.

In 2012, he claimed the National Mandolin title at the Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield and spent time on the road with Yonder Mountain String Band, making at least one Wichita appearance during his five-year tenure with that outfit.

More recently, he has performed a number of dates with banjo great Bela Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart and will spend time on the road with that group and the Jacob Jolliff Band until this autumn.

Jolliff recently spoke with KMUW about all of this activity and more.

Interview Highlight

Your music taps into that line right between jazz and bluegrass.

I grew up playing bluegrass. I played a lot of bluegrass gospel, played a lot of music with my dad. Then, in college, I played with Joy Kill Sorrow, which is on the fringe of bluegrass. But I’ve been into jazz since high school. It’s definitely part of what I work on, then it seeps into my bluegrass playing, which is pretty progressive.

You attended Berklee College of Music and when people think about that place, they tend to draw into two categories — jazz or progressive, Dream Theater-type music.

When I started at Berklee a bunch of roots musicians started around the same time. Good friends of mine — Dominick Leslie, Alex Hargreaves, Sierra Hull. Sarah Jarosz was at New England Conservatory. It definitely gave me a lot of room to work on what you want. I did work on some jazz there, but it was mostly working on mandolin and bluegrass, and there were lots of great jam sessions and hangs.

It’s interesting because it seems like the mandolin has more visibility than it did 15 years ago. I feel like there was a banjo renaissance at one point, where a lot of young players figured out that there were more string options than bass and guitar.

A lot of that is in the wake of Chris Thile. There’s definitely a generation of great players. I’m sort of one generation younger than him. But there’s a lot of great players younger than me that are influenced by him, but they’ve gone back and checked out older players, too.

You mentioned the other day when we were exchanging emails that you were in the studio. Are you working on a new album or were you doing a session?

I'm putting out an album that comes out August 5. It’s basically a bluegrass record with my group. But the gigs this summer are vaguely CD release gigs. It’s a combination of instrumental stuff and some traditional bluegrass and some covers, but it’s sort of a representation of what my band does when we’re playing live. Kind of hodgepodge. About half is heady mandolin instrumental stuff, and then enough other stuff to give people a break from that. So that record’s coming out now, but I was in the studio last week recording another jazz record. It’s kind of a strange project. It’s bass clarinet, mandolin, and snare drum. Jazz standards.

I guess we're out of that period now where we’re moving beyond those conversations from 2020 about whether putting out records is the right thing to do. It seems normal now.

The main reason I wasn't working on any records in 2020 is that most of the music I play is ensemble music. There was nothing I was particularly interested in recording solo. If I can't be with my band, or some other sort of project, then yes, it’s not really gonna happen. I did play on one movie soundtrack, I guess, which was like a remote thing.

For whatever reason, I'm just sort of in a phase of my life where I'm trying to put out a lot of records. I don't know how much actual professional momentum it creates, but it gives you at least the feeling that you're doing something. I also just like putting stuff out and the best way for me to write a bunch of tunes is to have the studio dates on the books that I have to have them done.

The best way for me to work on these eight jazz standards, in a really intense way, is to have decided we're recording them in a month. I kind of liked the focus that just comes from it. And then it's nice to have the actual product out there. So people can you see what you can do and what you're into these days. But I think the process itself is just as valuable to me as the actual completed thing.

I'm such a jazz guy, and going back you hear some of these records in the ‘60s and realize how prolific some people were. John Coltrane would do four albums in a year or something as a band leader, but then he’d be on another four as a sideman. So, you can look at a year [maybe] 1965 and really hear him ascending.

It’s crazy, man. In some ways I think it was easier back then to put out a lot of records, because records actually made money. I’m lucky if I even recoup on most of my records. But back then — or not even that long ago, because when I was a kid my dad and I would put out records and they would make money — [you could make money]. Now, as a professional musician, leading a band, [record sales] are not a super significant source of income. I sort of pretended, as an excuse to make them, [that they could be]. It’s easier to make them — or it can be — because having really nice gear at your house is more possible than it was 60 years ago. But if there’s no one to buy records, I don’t know. I don’t know which is easier.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.