Special Report: The Haas Piano
Traverse City's Jeff Haas loves jazz, really he lives jazz.
Music marks everything in his life.
And now it's not just the music, but the instrument he plays it on, that means everything.
“I was sort of an awkward kid. I didn't have a lot of friends, I wasn't sociably comfortable. So I found haven on the piano bench. And it has served me well all my life,” says Jeff Haas.
A musical life that began with the strict guidance of a famously musical father, Karl Haas, a German Holocaust survivor and immigrant with a passion to share.
“My mom and dad were so grateful to be alive and to be in America and to be contributors to their community.
“At a young age I watched my dad develop the cultural scene in Detroit. My mom and dad started the Chamber Music Society of Detroit back in 1944 at the DIA. My dad's radio show started in 1959 in Detroit. And he brought in musicians and international cultural personalities into Detroit on a regular basis,” explains Jeff.
Inducted into the radio hall of fame, millions know Karl Haas from his decades on the radio. He was one of the strongest voices on the great voice of the Great Lakes, WJR, with his daily classical music program “Adventures In Good Music” and it's unmistakable opening
“You know, one of the comments I get about my dad pretty regularly is people say they have never met him but he's been a friend for most of their life.
“He was a very focused man. He told me once that if he spent his entire life studying classical music he wouldn't get to everything he wanted to learn. You certainly can't fault a guy for having that kind of focus and dedication.”
Dedication that lead to a national radio show in the 1970's. And as important as his father and his music was to WJR listeners, the Baldwin Concert Grand Piano Karl Haas played for many years sat languishing in a storage room in Detroit almost forgotten forever.
“It is a remarkable story, it is a story I couldn't have made up myself. Jim Evola, when he was down at WJR promoting this 100th Anniversary Concert we were performing at the DIA, got a tour of the facility and spotted this piano in a storage room piled high with boxes on it and looking pretty rough… asked the folks at WJR what that piano was all about, and they said well that was Karl Haas' piano, he used it during his run here at WJR from 59 to 74. Jim said what are you going to do with that piano? And they said well we're looking for a home for it, it's in pretty rough shape. So he went back to his store and came up with a plan,” says Jeff.
Jim Evola of Evola Music knew how important the Karl Haas piano was, and got WJR to donate it to him to be repaired so Jeff Haas could play it at the celebration honoring his father on what would have been his 100th birthday, and that's not all.
“The DIA concert was on a Friday. Jim said on Monday I'm shipping it to Traverse City Jeff, and it is yours.”
Even having the massive piano moved in the dead of winter to the home of Building Bridges with Music, Jeff Haas' group that teaches lessons in respect in schools using music. The piano is his.
“He would come in and ask me to slide over on the piano bench and he'd sit down and play the passage that I was working on. It would bring tears to my eyes because he was teaching me to go beyond playing the notes and make music with the notes. He would say things like 'okay now you know the notes, let's make some music with them.' Those kinds of opportunities are priceless.”
Family memories that come alive with every press of the key, every push of the pedal.
The piano reunited with the Haas family as they continue Karl's legacy.
“I think my dad would be very proud of the work that we do with building bridges with music. It is sort of carrying on the tradition that he taught me as a youth. With the same belief that this music can contribute to healing the world.”
And the promise of generations of music from an instrument that nearly slipped away.
Jeff Haas can play a song he wrote for his daughter on the piano with which his father brought good music to the masses.
“It is when I'm practicing on my own when I take the time to sit back and reflect on the history of the instrument that I really think about my dad and what he's brought to my life over the years. And I'd love for him to be here with me playing duets, you know? I'd love for him to play for my daughter. And so this is the next closest thing, is for me to play for my daughter and tell her the history of the instrument.
“It's a long and winding road for the piano, but it's found a home as Jim Evola says, where it belongs, with the family. And when my time comes to check out, it'll pass on to my daughter and I hope she'll make good use of it as well.”