10 Fingers: Snarky Puppy

by Ella Campbell

Allow me to explain what a “10 Fingers” post will be: we ask musicians ten fun and and quick questions, and most of the time they will be the same 10 for each artist.

    On a brisk Tuesday night in Detroit, a few friends and I checked out the band Snarky Puppy. If you aren’t hip, I highly suggest you get hip to this “music for your brain and booty.” The venue they played at, Cliff Bell’s, is in the heart of Detroit, smack on the Fox Theater’s backside. Usually a hub for straight ahead and organ jazz, the place was transformed into a disco-jazz-booty-funk-fusion dance club for a night. Not physically by any means, waiters and bartenders were still darting around tables, but spiritually, Cliff Bell’s was on a different level. The disco ball on the ceiling finally felt at home, as people squeezed between tables and each other, attempting to find room to dance.

After the show I caught up with Mike League, the leader, bassist, composer and producer for Snarky Puppy.

1. What is your favorite booty music? Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
2. What is your favorite brain music? Debussy string quartets
3. What do you call the music that you play? At this question, Mike threw up his hands and sighed. Then, after a thoughtful moment his eyes lit up and he said “Instrumental!” If you’ve peeped any of their videos that we’ve posted here on Back Beat you’ll understand – you can hear a little bit of everything in their music. Literally, everything.
4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? “The Beatles, Led Zepplin, James Brown, Stevie Wonder …” He paused to see if I still wanted more answers, but I got the gist. Anything that you recognize in his playing is probably from whoever you think it sounds like, and he’s probably been listening to them for a while.
5. What was the first record you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Oscar Peterson: Live at the Blue Note (This guy knows what Jazz Girls want to hear!!)
6. What song was stuck in your head today?You Don’t Know How It Feels” by Tom Petty
7. Name five musicians that you’d like to see perform in a dream-band, alive or dead, any genre: The first two he gave me with no hesitation. “On bass, James Jamerson.” (Again, he knows the answers we want to hear! Detroit!) “On trumpet, Louis Armstrong. On piano…” He stopped. “This is a good question!” After thinking a bit more, almost slipping a jazz piano name out there, he caught himself and said “Mozart on piano. On guitar, Jimi Hendrix and on drums Jason “JT” Thomas.” Hold up. Let’s review that.
Trumpet: Louis Armstrong
Guitar: Jimi Hendrix
Piano: Mozart
Bass: James Jamerson
Drums: Jason “JT” Thomas
Pardon my French but, dat shit cray.
8. Favorite basement album? First, I must define what a basement album is: everyone chillin’ in the basement, smoking or drinking whatever, (or not!) Just. strait. chillin. His answer? No hesitation. “Voodoo.” Mike, on behalf of all Jazz Girls everywhere, we praise you.
9. Most profound moment in a private lesson? “Well, it wasn’t in a lesson, but a lecture with Johnny Vidacovich.” Vidacovich is a drummer from New Orleans who believes that the music is always there, and we are bodies lucky to be participating in the music. The music is bigger than us, it is bigger than being good or being sad. “Therefore, why, when we ‘don’t play well’ do we get upset? And why, when we do play well, do we develop egos?”
10. Who is a young artist we should be looking out for?Gabe Morales, a thirteen year old guitar player who has a mastery over his instrument unlike anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Next I talked to Robert “Sput” Searight, the drummer from Snarky Puppy. He was a popular man to talk to. I stood off to the side for a while, patiently waiting for my chance to rap with him. After a few minutes of not even being glanced at or recognized for wanting speak, I knew I had to bust through the circle of dudes surrounding him, with my nerdy pad of paper and blue pen, and demand his attention. (Why did I pick a blue pen?! I couldn’t see a damn thing that I was writing!) At my mentioning of writing for a Blog about and for women involved in jazz, he cocked his head to the side and looked at me quizzically. At my mentioning that we enjoy his music, he understood why I was talking to him.

1. What is your favorite booty music? Black Eyed Peas and Will.I.Am
2. What is your favorite brain music? Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
3. What do you call the music that you play? “Jafunkadansion. Jazz-funk-dance-fusion.” How appropriate, Sput.
4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? “Gospel music. I grew up in the church.”
5. What was the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Donny Hathaway: Live (this is also one of Shirley’s favorite albums!)
6. What song was stuck in your head today? “Our music. The songs that we performed tonight.”
7. Name five musicians that you’d like to see perform in a dream-band, alive or dead, any genre: This question stumped Sput for a second, so I told him that Mike chose Louis Armstrong and Mozart to be in the same band and he jumped at it, “Louis Armstrong! Yes. Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Herbie Hancock on piano.” I cued him: drums? “Buddy Rich, and Eddie Van Halen.” Bass? “Oh right. I haven’t named a bassist? Jaco.” He looked like he wanted more so I asked him what else he wanted to say “Well, I want an organ. Jimmy Smith.”
Stop. Rewind. Review:
Trumpet: Louis Armstrong
Piano: Herbie Hancock
Drums: Buddy Rich
Guitar: Eddie Van Halen
Bass: Jaco Pastorius
Organ: Jimmy Smith
… That’s right. He cheated. He named six. 😉
8. Favorite basement music? Radiohead
9. Most profound moment in a private lesson? “My teacher told me to play everything I knew in twenty seconds. And I did. And I felt great about it.  But I remember, while I was playing, my teacher was actually covering his ears. Then he told me to play it all again, and play it quietly. And I couldn’t.”
10. Who is a young artist we should be looking out for?Cleon Edwards. He is the drummer for Erykah Badu, and not many people seem to know about him.”

Content, I found my friends again and we blew off some steam before heading out. We collected our things and went outside, where, at one o’clock in the morning, it was brighter outside than it was inside of Cliff Bell’s. (No wonder I couldn’t see anything I was writing). Near the entrance, a man was sitting alongside the wall playing “Wonderwall” with his guitar, and his voice was incredible. We paused to listen for a moment. Music is everywhere, and as we stood outside near a steaming manhole with the lights of the city to our backs, we made plans to come back to Detroit on Friday. Not only to celebrate the birthday of a fellow Jazz Girl, but to see the Robert Glasper Experiment. We’ll see if I can weasel my way into talking to those guys as well. If anything, there will at least be a review of the concert.

So, Ladies, articles to look forward to include: Shirley’s review of Snarky Puppy’s show and of the Robert Glasper Experiment’s concert, and a Clifford Brown transcription by our editor Sweetie McJivin.

Unfamiliar with the Robert Glasper Experiment? Check them out here.

Swing sisters, swing!


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