Following the music forward
There was a time when kids graduating from high school, promising to stay in touch with dear friends, often found life interfering with those efforts. Social media has made maintaining such connections much easier, but these days if you want to find proof of how many Fort Wayne graduates keep in touch with their high school buddies, you need look no further than some of the city’s most popular bands.
Case in point: Jafunkae. Initially a trio of musicians – guitarist Patrick Mathews, bassist Daniel Gomez and drummer William Heingartner – who wanted to keep playing jazz outside of their efforts at South Side High School, the group began to stray into other forms of music. Mathews said his influences ranged from bands like Led Zeppelin to the Doors and the Allman Brothers Band. Heingartner, also a Zeppelin fan, brought Santana and Black Angels influences to the fold. All three were serious about jazz and funk fusions when vocalist Dave Ealy, whose own background is an eclectic blend of musical interests, brought the band together and took them in a new direction. Ealy’s love of everything from Kansas to the Beatles, B.B. King to Otis Redding, Michael Jackson to local mainstay Todd Harrold added even more depth to their sound. They all agree that “things came along really quickly when we all started playing together.”
Each Jafunkae member is comfortable on stage, and as a unit they enjoy opportunities to play around town. Their first time taking the stage as a group was at a South Side talent show, where they were able to put their unique fusion of sound together.
“My favorite part of performing is feeling the energy off the audience and surprising ourselves with new ideas in improvisation and jamming,” Mathews said.
That improvisational approach has allowed them to merge a diverse but cohesive blend of sounds. They say they’ve moved from a jazz group into a jazz/reggae sound leaning toward some rock ‘n roll and now define themselves as “psychedelic soul.”
As the musicians prepare to record their first full-length album, it is still playing live that excites them, evidence that music programs in our schools can not only introduce kids to performance but can instill remarkable comfort with it.
“Feeling the music in the moment and showing an audience what the band has been working on always makes me excited to play more,” said Heingartner.
As the singer and frontman for Jafunkae, Ealy particularly enjoys the spotlight and the thrill of taking any stage.
“My favorite part about playing live is getting to perform in front of people,” he said. “I love the limelight and being on stage, displaying the music and the way I feel about what I create. It’s my biggest dream, and now I get to live it. No one can truly understand how passionate you are about something until they see it. I love showing how passionate music makes me.”
First appeared in the December 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.