“Music Opens Hearts and Minds to the Possibilities of a Better World”: An Interview with Jeff Haas

Many people in Michigan might be familiar with the name Karl Haas. He was a beloved radio personality in the Detroit area who shared his admiration for classical music with his listeners, and whose legacy lives on today in the music of his son, Jeff Haas. Jeff is a jazz musician, but what makes his music so unique are the many cultural influences he includes in his music, not only from his father, but from all areas of his heritage.

This Sunday, December 8th, Jeff Haas and his quintet are having a special performance at Wharton Center to celebrate Karl Haas’s 100th birthday and to remind all of us why his father was so important to Michigan’s musical history.

Wharton Center: Tell us in your own words what your father, Karl Haas, meant to the world of music.

Jeff Haas: My father passionately LOVED classical music! He produced and hosted the longest running syndicated radio show in radio history. The program, which began on WJR in Detroit in 1959, was called Adventures in Good Music, an hour long daily broadcast about classical music. My dad’s passion for classical music was contagious and his  engaging and down-to-earth focus on the sometimes highbrow subject of classical music became so popular, Adventures in Good Music went into syndication in 1974. By the 1990s, his show aired on over 600 radio stations in the US, Australia and New Zealand as well as all over the European, Russian and Asian continents via the Voice of America. Arbitron ratings from the late 1980s & 1990s indicate an average daily listenership of 3.6 million people not including the Voice of America broadcasts.

In 1991, my family went to the White House for a special ceremony honoring my dad with the Charles Frankel Award for promoting humanism through the arts (photo above). My dad was the only classical radio show host ever to be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame  in 1996. He was one of two broadcasters to receive multiple Peabody Awards for broadcasting excellence. The other recipient of multiple Peabody awards was Edward R. Murrow.

It was a classic hardworking immigrant story as my father left Nazi Germany in 1936, immigrated to Detroit with a couple of bucks in his pocket and got down to business in the Motor City. His first job was an elevator operator in a downtown department store. He soon began teaching piano at the Netzorg School of Piano located on Cass Avenue in Detroit. My dad was the music director and organist for Temple Israel, first at the DIA and later on Manderson Road in Palmer Park, a post he held for 23 years.

My dad, with a lot of help from my mom and some key friends and family, founded the Chamber Music Society of Detroit in 1944. In the early years, the concert series took place at the DIA. My father was president and resident pianist for 25 years. The CMSD is now celebrating its 70 season of presenting the best chamber music groups in the world.

In 1953, my father gathered the 250+ members of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit in the DIA auditorium. He wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the CMSD by commissioning Samuel Barber, one of the premier 20th century American composers. But the cost of the commission was $3,000, a ton of money back in those days. Members of the chamber music society contributed what they could, $5 or $10 or whatever. Samuel Barber agreed to the commission. I remember walking down the street in Detroit and people coming up to my dad to ask if ‘their piece’ was done yet. Barber’s Summer Music for woodwind ensemble premiered to a packed house of people wanting to hear ‘their piece.’

Just one of many, many examples of my father following his instincts and looking out for both the music and the community. And BTW, Barber’s Summer Music is amongst the most revered composition ever written for woodwind quintet. And every time it is recorded, credit goes to the Chamber Music Society of Detroit for commissioning the popular work.

My father LOVED classical music and spent his entire life engaging anyone and everyone in his passion for the art form.

WC: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a musician?

JH: My father used to say he came to the realization that he wanted to be a musician while sitting at his mother’s side as she played Beethoven. He was 5 or 6.

I fell in love with Judaic music when I was an infant crawling and tettering around the organ loft at Temple Israel where my father played the organ and directed a full choir with soloists. I loved the music at my temple!

I fell in love with classical music shortly thereafter and began my classical piano studies with my father at age 5. I was a socially awkward kid who found a haven at the piano.

But like many famous musicians from Duke Ellington to Artur Rubinstein and many not-so-famous performers before me, I was very young (11 to be exact) when I first noticed a line of attractive women waiting to meet my dad after one of his performances. That’s when I made my decision to be a musician though it was a very deep love for the music that took me down that path.

WC: What did you learn from your father’s role in music and how did it influence you?

JH: In addition to being my teacher, mentor and taskmaster, my dad’s role in the development of the cultural scene in the Motor City provided me with an early life full of wonderful learning experiences – both as a young developing musician and a future arts organizer and radio host.

A random list of some of my favorite pearls of wisdom from my father. I heard many of these on a daily basis:

Music can heal the world.

Always surround yourself with great musicians. That will force you to work hard and grow as a musician and a person.

OK, now that you know the notes, it’s time to make music with them.

Did you practice today? How about practicing some more?

Let the music dictate what is next on your list of things to accomplish.

Music opens hearts and minds to the possibilities of a better world.

WC: What can audiences expect to hear and who is performing with you?

JH: My quintet is Marion Hayden (Detroit) on bass, Sean Dobbins (Ypsilanti) on drums, Laurie Sears (Traverse City) on saxes and flutes, Chris Lawrence (Grand Rapids) and me at the piano (photo of quintet and of me above).

I love this quintet! It is my second long-term quintet, the first (1995-2004) featured the legendary trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Rob Smith. The current quintet has been together since 2004. It is the group of great musicians that I take into public schools throughout Michigan for our Building Bridges with Music workshops.

The 100th birthday tribute concert will include original music that I wrote for my dad as well as a composition called “May the Words” that my father arranged in the mid 50s to put the 19th Psalm to music and I wrote a bridge for the song in 1991. You will hear Beethoven, Thelonious Monk, Mendelssohn and Dave Holland and lots of my music. My original music is a confluence of my love for all things jazz, R&B, classical and ethnic music. The program includes clips from my dad’s popular radio show as well.

The program also includes a 20-minute video tracing my father’s journey from Nazi Germany to the Motor City and beyond.

WC: What are you most excited about for this performance at the Wharton Center?

JH: The opportunity to honor my father and his legacy on the occasion of his 100th birthday with my own compositions performed by my chums, some of the most talented cats around, and in the beautiful and acoustically honest environs of the Pasant Theatre. Who could ask for anything more?!

WC: The MSUFCU Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center is bringing your “Building Bridges with Music” diversity and bullying prevention workshops to Waverly Elementary School and Pattengill Academy on Monday, December 9. Tell us more.

JH: Building Bridges with Music began in 1995 and we have since conducted our diversity and bullying prevention programs in over 600 Michigan schools for almost 50,000 K-12 students. It is a very effective program that utilizes my original music as a springboard for a very interactive discussion about the importance of open-mindedness about music and people, especially people who come from different cultures, races and backgrounds. Building Bridges with Music is an engaging and very personal method of addressing the issues around bullying and prejudice. Each of the band members talks about their personal experience with bullying, prejudice and hatred.

Check out this video clip:


And our website:


Check out our show page to learn more about this special December 8 performance and for tickets to celebrate the 100th Birthday of Karl Haas with the Jeff Haas Quintet! http://www.whartoncenter.com/events/detail/jeff-haas


Written by Stephanie Archambeau

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in At Wharton Center, Events, Performing Arts, Q&A, Wharton Center News

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