A tribute to Louisville musician Matt Jaha

Matt Jaha, an incredibly talented and versatile local musician who played in numerous bands, passed away April 15 at the age of 37. Jaha, who played multiple instruments, was known for his work in punk and hardcore acts such as Coliseum, Black Cross and Nixon. He also volunteered and worked at The Healing Place. Below, several of his bandmates and friends pay tribute to him.

Ryan Patterson [cousin, bandmate in Coliseum and Black Cross]
“I was 5 years old when Matt was born, my first cousin in our close-knit family, and just one year younger than my brother, Evan. All my memories of family birthdays and holidays involve Matt, along with endless other times visiting and playing as kids. Matt was not yet 21 when I asked him if he knew anyone that would be right to drum for a new band I was starting. Unbeknownst to me he was also an incredible drummer and volunteered to fill the position himself. I’m so glad he did. We called the band Coliseum and took off on a whirlwind of touring and recording, Matt’s energetic, tasteful-yet-ferocious drumming driving the band forward. He was the drummer on Coliseum’s first album and the Goddamage EP, the latter being an early-career high point for the band and it seems to have been an important record for people in Louisville and around the world. It’s been reissued many times and is still mentioned to me regularly, 15 years later. Music was in Matt’s DNA in a way that these tributes can only touch upon. His time in various bands was only part of the picture of a person who loved fiercely, dreamed intensely, felt acutely, hurt deeply, smiled brightly and burned with a radiant mix of passion, talent, wit, intelligence, pain and joy. I love him and mourn his loss immensely.”

Evan Patterson [cousin and bandmate in Black Cross]
“Matt’s progressive ideas and creative thought patterns couldn’t keep up with his day-to-day life. At all times, he had a list of plans, or even better, a heart filled with dreams. His frustrations with the world are what inspired his gift, power and talent. When Matt contributed, we were all stunned.”

Bryce Shell [friend and bandmate in Five Hours]
“Matt and I began playing music together when we were in sixth or seventh grade. He was such a good lead guitar player and the most talented musician I’ve ever played with. Before Matt joined Five Hours there was really no structure in our songs. We would spend many hours practicing in either his parents’ or my parents’ basement. I remember going to ear X-tacy with Matt on a regular basis and he would buy 10 or 20 CDs, most of them bands that neither of us had ever heard. If I were to name bands that influenced Matt in the Five Hours days I would say The Police, Operation Ivy, MU330, The Suicide Machines, Iron Maiden, Elvis Costello, Gwar. But if you were to look through his collection, you’d probably find a record store of diversity. I have so many great memories of Matt. There were many times that he made me laugh so hard that I couldn’t function. Matt taught me how to play a traditional ska beat on the drums. He taught me how to play barre chords on guitar. One of my favorite memories of Matt is how he would always sprint, with a huge grin on his face, to an instrument right before we were going to start practicing. The world is a better place because of his talent, creativity and enthusiasm. I’ll miss him a lot.”

Steven Sindoni [friend and bandmate in Pusher]
“Matt and I have been through quite a few phases of life together. From carrying a swagger that can only come from being in young punk and hardcore bands in our 20s to both of us having to crawl out of our separate dark holes we had dug for ourselves in our 30s.  All of which were done in a way only Jaha could manage — with a tireless desire to search and learn. Whether it be a riff, school of thought, music, love, friendship or just the desire to go get a coffee, it was all done with an urgency that only he could bring. I’ll miss both his smile and sneer that could change a room. I’ll miss never getting around to his book recommendations. I’ll miss him picking me up for meetings. I’ll miss his music.”

Matt Haas [friend, bandmate in Nixon, Garland Watts]
“Jaha once picked up a guitar in my first apartment and played a classical arrangement of the ‘Wood Man Theme’ from ‘Mega Man 2’ and it’s still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Matt knew how to be in phase with people musically in a way I could never figure out. Any band he touched was immediately better; every arrangement smoother, every song more interesting. Every musician he played with — sometimes begrudgingly and with the gnashing of teeth — got measurably and undeniably better. Pushed people to their limits. Didn’t take excuses. Dealt with my tantrums when I couldn’t hear with my normal human ears what he could. His contributions to music make up a good portion of the vibrations in your bones, and is in more of your memories than you probably realize. From the things he was and was not credited on, he was literally everyone’s favorite band. Genre, instrument; doesn’t matter. Matthew Jaha is your favorite band.”

Tony Ash [friend, bandmate in Coliseum, Nixon]
“I met Matt on the day I showed up at Ryan’s house for the very first Coliseum practice. I remember being blown away and kind of impressed that they had just gone on a road trip to Illinois to buy a drum kit specifically so that Matt, who was Ryan’s cousin, could be the band’s drummer. I also recall being a little skeptical. Looking this guy over and thinking, ‘OK, kid (me being the wise old age of 24 at the time), so drums aren’t your main instrument, but you bought a kit, so now you think you’re going to be the drummer? OK, sure, we’ll see.’ Well, this guy, who was barely old enough to legally be in a bar, got behind the drums and rocked the living shit out of them, effortlessly. That’s just what Matt Jaha would do. He could pick up any instrument in the world and immediately make anyone else who played that instrument look like a chump. I’m 100% positive he took some satisfaction in that ability, but he wasn’t ever malicious about it. He would challenge you to think outside of the box, to leave your comfort zone in the rearview mirror and force you to be better at what you did. No musician in Louisville ever played in a band with Matt and didn’t improve, or at least broaden their horizons a little. Make no mistake, it could be totally maddening. It could make you want to smash your bass into splinters and walk away from it all. It could cause you to see shades of red previously unknown to mankind. Trust me. But whatever cool song, riff, or what-have-you ending up coming of it was always worth the sanity you sacrificed.”

Brendan Johnson [friend and bandmate in Aphids and Garland Watts]
“Matt Jaha was a people watcher’s dream. Never have I seen someone be able to command a room with the fewest actions. Whether that be with his way of spinning a tale, a feat of musical prowess or just that damn smile that will forever be etched in my brain, he just had it. But, he also used that to be a compassionate friend who was willing to stay behind that extra few minutes to check in. With a world becoming so used to cold interactions, he always preferred it warm with a shot of espresso. Thank you for the times you just called instead of texting. Thank you for pushing my mind to bend words to your musical contortions. Thank you for that smile. Every room will seem more dim without it.” •