The early years... (1974 - 1992)
Brian Roy Haas was born in Kansas City, MO, March 18 1974. After a brief run through Kansas, his parents, Steve and Nancy settled in Tulsa OK by the time Brian was four. It was this new close proximity to Paula Haas, Steve's mother, and Brian's grandmother, that led to Brian starting piano lessons at age 5. Paula Haas had been a nationally touring jazz organist/pianist and was one of the most hired and respected musicians and music teachers in the Tulsa region. She had often noticed that Brian would clap along with music and beat on pots and pans in time. She recommended piano lessons to Steve and Nancy and Brian's parents agreed. At first, it was a struggle to get the hot headed young Brian to sit still and focus. But gradually, the power of the wooden spoon (which Nancy wielded with prowess) and the young lad's own curiousity won out. The method of instruction was called the Suzuki method. This style of teaching classical music comes from Asia and stresses ear training over learning from written music. This was fine with Brian, who always had bad eyes and found learning by ear much easier than reading all those spidery little notes. From the beginning, learning this music by ear seemed natural and sometimes fun to Brian who immediately began winning every local and regional competition he entered.
Nancy always used a notebook at lessons to write down the entire piano lesson almost verbatim. This allowed her and Brian to actively practice information from the lesson during the next week of at home practice. Nancy's concept of piano lessons was that they were a way to teach Brian discipline. During the early years, Nancy sat by and practiced with Brian each and every day. She would sit at the right elbow or left elbow; always with the notebook out, making sure real improvement was happening. The wooden spoon made sure that Brian didn't get tired or sloppy. These early years (age 5-15) saw Brian practicing piano about an hour a day, every day, except for Christmas Day and his birthday. If Nancy couldn't be there in person to listen to the practice session, the only way the practice counted as "real", was if it was taped and carefully reviewed later by Nancy. Says Brian, "I remember mom coming home from errands and listening to my entire one hour practice session while she cooked food in the kitchen, this happened all the time!".
The first big turning point came sometime during Brian's 15th year. Nancy informed Brian that ten years was enough, and she wasn't going to monitor piano practice anymore, or make him take lessons. Brian was elated! He immediately stopped playing classical music and taking classical lessons and started studying blues, jazz and pop music with a local Tulsa area working musician. Says Brian, "Classical competitions always made my nervous and I always forgot big sections of pieces; I won them because I would just improvise a bit in the style of the composer until I remembered where I was in the music. I would just fake my way through!". Brian remembers Jazz and Blues seeming like impossible giants at age 15 and there was another problem....."I couldn't read music!", remembers Brian, "All the jazz chord charts seemed amorphous and all the suzuki method ear based learning had left me without any ability to sight read music; I knew music theory and always made As on my theory tests, but I couldn't really put the theory to use when the page was in front of me. I was always asking my new teacher if he had these new tunes on cd or tape and that I would work on it at home; he got suspicious and made me learn to read music!". This was a confusing time for Brian, but at age 15 he started gigging out with this older musician/teacher at country clubs and dinner parties. This first taste of professional "jazz" gigging never left Brian's mouth!
Insecurity quickly won out; all it took was a few negative comments from older players and listeners to frighten the confused 15 year old back into the world of classical music. Brian started studying the classics again with Dr. Roger Price, a professor of piano and composition at the University of Tulsa. "Roger saw my potential for making a living playing classical music and he took me under his wing," says Brian. "Suddenly the world of classical music seemed romantic and fun to me again. Jazz had felt that way until I tried to play it, but the open endedness of it scared me at the time." Now 16, Brian began practicing and studying the classics with the fervor needed to win the big competitions. He kept a practicing diary and averaged 8-12 hours of daily practice from age 16-20. It was during this time with Dr. Price that Brian began composing daily. "My favorite thing to do on the piano was always just improvising. As a kid, the wooden spoon would keep my focused on the Beethoven or Chopin, but after the allotted hour, I would improvise until I felt satisfied and have fantasies of doing the improvisations in front of lots of people! Improvising always felt simple and natural and much easier than playing other people's music, but I didn't know it was valid as music until Dr. Price's encouragement." Dr. Price informed Brian that many of the greatest compositions of the repertoire were just improvisations that the composer would remember and write down; Dr. Price encouraged this method for Brian's own composing and suddenly the floodgates opened.
At age 16, Brian won the regional concerto competition and was suddenly doing 9 nights in a row playing Beethoveen's 2nd Piano Concerto with the Tulsa Philharmonic in front of thousands of people. "This was the first time I got an inkling of what it might have been like to play classical music for a living....I was extremely nervous and scared....I had a bad diet during this time in my life and was already prone to nervousness (Dr. Pepper all day long); but playing in front of that many people had me literally shaking. Some of the performances turned into full on free jazz explorations as I forgot huge sections of the piano part. This led (3 years later) to the formation of the award winning jazz combo The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey......During those 3 years before jacob fred started, I practiced way too much and got a bad back and healed it with yoga and breath and decided I better focus on jazz if I wanted to live. So here I am! (I wrote all the other stuff up top too but couldn't keep up the act!) thanks for reading this whoever you are!- **Brian Haas**