The Grand Rapids funk-rock-jazz fusion quintet relies on skillful improvisation, sophisticated musicianship and scintillating compositions to capture a crowd’s attention. Each show brings a unique vibe and sonic quality depending the band, audience and venue.
“The more cut and dry structured songs we don’t take out at all in terms of improvisation and jams,” Even if we write a setlist out before a show, which we don’t always do, a lot of times on stage we’ll pick what songs feel right or naturally transition into them,” said John Nowak, Desmond Jones’ drummer, vocalist and guitarist.
“Lately, we’ve been mixing in a sense of humor in terms of making weird or spacey noises. We’re deliberately trying to shock the audience, be as weird as we possibly can and see how they react.”
That ingenious live approach has connected Desmond Jones to thousands of fans at more than 500 shows over five years nationwide. The band also has a sprawling online archive of 300-plus shows available for streaming on their website.
“When you get a good opening act, I think that vibe is strong with the crowd because it gets people moving and ready to go. Then, we’ll come on, and we’ll rock out,” Nowak said. “We love playing The Blind Pig. I think that venue offers a certain one-of-a-kind dirty, grungy, fun atmosphere, which is where we’re also at with our music.”
Nowak and his Desmond Jones bandmates – Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals, drums), Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), George Falk (saxophone, vocals) and John Loria (bass, vocals) – will play new material and older improvisational jams from their extensive catalog of 50-plus tunes.
“We’ll be playing a wider range of things, some new songs that aren’t on any of the albums. It’s always fun because unless you’re listening to the archives or have gone to a lot of shows, then a lot of the songs will be new to your ears,” Nowak said. “Expect a lot of different feels, but definitely some improvisational jams and opportunities for dancing.”
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – Band Origins with The Beatles
Desmond Jones started building a devoted live following after playing college parties at Michigan State University as trio in October 2012. Childhood friends Nowak and Berkowitz formed an impromptu band with Bota after posting flyers around campus.
The band quickly morphed into a sextet with two saxophone players, one of whom mysteriously left the group after a couple of months. That led to the band’s classic lineup as a quintet with a moniker inspired by The Beatles’ 1968 hit, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which features the character of Desmond Jones.
“Isaac and I were both in our dorm going back and forth over Facebook Messenger about potential band names. We’re like, ‘Let’s just think of an obscure Beatles reference,’ so I suggested Desmond Jones,” Nowak said. “That just came from brainstorming and giving a tribute to one of our favorite bands. We get a lot of emails starting with, ‘Dear Mr. Jones.’”
The band also credits Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Phish, Miles Davis, The Band and Led Zeppelin as major influences on their sound and live performance. With original music to complement the group’s sound, their sound is centered on melodic guitar riffs, groovy bass lines, funky drum beats and smooth saxophones.
All Together Now – Life in the Studio
By 2014, Desmond Jones had released two EPs, including the seven-song “Thick Cuts,” to showcase their captivating mix of rock, funk, country, rockabilly, jazz and Americana. Last October, the band released their self-titled, full-length debut album with eight original tracks recorded at Inmuso Studios in Lansing. All five members wrote and contributed songs to the album.
One of the band’s favorite tracks, the Berkowitz-penned “Gold ‘Til the Grave,” opens the album with Falk’s saxophone creating seagull-like noises while drifting along the ocean on a pirate ship. Desmond Jones recorded the song at East Grand Rapids High School in the band room and included Nowak dropping chains in the background to create a seafaring effect.
“Each writer and member brings his own interpretations and influences to the group, and we mix it all together to come out with this very broad range of music,” Nowak said. “We have a different vocabulary for each song because we all have our different strengths.”
Desmond Jones is currently writing and recording songs for their second studio album, which will feature more of a country and Americana folk sound compared to their previous efforts. With each album, the band becomes more comfortable recording and experimenting with an eclectic mix of tempo changes, time signatures and instrumentations in the studio.
“We don’t want to stick to one thing because we feel our audience is captivated by the genre and sonic shifts, and we are too as musicians,” Nowak said. “Each album is a little different, a little fresher, but also a little easier to record than the one before.”
The Long and Winding Road – Touring Continues in 2019
Besides recording their next album, Desmond Jones also will play a pre-New Year’s Eve show at the Kalamazoo State Theatre, 404 S. Burdick St. in Kalamazoo, on Dec. 29 with Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers and Basic Comfort. Then, they will tour the Midwest in January and head east in February and March.
Nowak credits a growing local and national fan base, which includes a self-organized street team and Jonesies Facebook group, with cultivating the band’s future.
“We’re engaging directly with our fans, and they’re engaging directly with us,” Nowak said. “We’re all contributing to this greater effort, which is so much bigger than what we’re trying to do as individuals, as a band or as a business.”
Desmond Jones with Pajamas
Doors 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13
The Blind Pig
208 S. First Street in Ann Arbor