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Take Five with Black Tie Brass

Ryan McNulty By

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About Black Tie Brass:

Black Tie Brass is a horn driven jazz funk band. Lead by Ryan McNulty, most of the band met at college in New York and have been playing together since 2008 and formed BTB is 2013. We released our first self-titled album after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014. We combine some of our favorite funk tunes with arranging pop songs in our own way along side our own originals. We want to keep you dancing and singing a song when you walk out. Our second album was released on January 19th, 2019. "Mostly Covered" has been a long time coming and is the culmination of years of growth. Black Tie Brass has been the backing band for numerous acts from Nick Tangorra to Robbie Rosen to Sal "The Voice" Valentinetti. BTB arranged, produced, and performed on Sal Valentinetti's "The Voice" EP which hit #1 on the iTunes and Amazon Jazz chart and Billboard Jazz chart. "The hunger of youth, the talent of experienced young musicians and their ability to meld together a truly unique, 21st Century jazz sound that would make the old school jazz Jedi council proud." —Neon Jazz

Instrument(s):

Black Tie Brass is made up of trumpet, saxophone, drums, bass, keyboards, and trombone.

Teachers and/or influences?

Some of our major influences are the RH Factor and Snarky Puppy. Roy Hargrove was thinking decades ahead with his sound and it was a real loss to the musical world with his passing a few months ago. Lettuce really informed our funk and made us realize that the idea of a long solo isn't dead with modern audiences so long as you keep it FUNKY. So much has gone into creating our instrumentation such as the great Art Blakey horn section of Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, and Wayne Shorter.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I played my first ska show. I was 15, at my high school, and up on stage for the first time playing music that wasn't classical or big band jazz. My first girlfriend was at the show and all of my friends at the time thought it was so cool. I thought to myself, "Alright, this is freaking awesome, where can I do more of this!?" That caused me to delve deeper into trombone and finding music that resonated with me and what I could sink my teeth into. Soon I stumbled on Fred Wesley and funk and jazz took control. After that I knew this is what I meant to do.

Your sound and approach to music:

My sound is definitely in your face. Without a singer, instrumental music can easily slip into smooth jazz or cerebral music. Not that either of those are a problem, we just create a brand of music made for a party and made for you to sing along with. Our live show is made to be loud, aggressive, and unavoidably infectious. That being said, we also have songs that make you bop along such as our new original tune, Sunshine. I wrote it about my dog and tried to capture the joy of her running around. Humans don't operate only in one lane so why should our music?

Your teaching approach:

Our teaching approach is to give you the jazz bug. To make you realize that jazz isn't dead and that it isn't some dissectible frog that is only to be studied. Jazz was dancing music. Somewhere along the way jazz became something cerebral and seemingly unapproachable to the non-jazz cat. We try to fuse those two worlds into a danceable heady blob. SING, DANCE, TRANSCRIBE our solos, but above all make it enjoyable to all people.

Your dream band:

Oh man this is a hard one and is going to get me in trouble. My dream band would probably be James Jamerson on bass, because you can't be more perfectly funky than that. Adam Deitch of Lettuce on drums because that man has the biggest ears. He directs the band and builds it up to some amazing peaks but still keeps such a deep pocket that you need a trail of breadcrumbs if you want to get out of there. Bobby Ray Sparks on keyboard, organ, or anything else he wants to play. That guy just has the funk residing inside of him!

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

The Paramount in Huntington, NY is our favorite venue. We have performed there with numerous acts and as ourselves. The crew there is like family. You walk in and it is all daps and hugs, we joke around on stage during soundcheck and they get us sounding our best no matter what. The energy of being that close to a crowd of 1000 people each time we perform there is invigorating and reminds each of us of how this music can touch people. Our worst experience was a show we played in NYC at a small club in the Village. There were four bands on the bill, the band before us didn't even show up! So we get on stage, our people come in. It is only nine audience members total. Our trumpet player was so late to the show that he double parked outside the venue, runs inside to play our set, then goes back outside to his car and doesn't get a ticket! Which in New York City is quite an accomplishment. Our greatest experience was our album release show on January 19th. It was our first album in over four years. We PACKED OUT C'mon Everybody in Brooklyn. Over 100 people in there and the crowd sang along so loud that you couldn't hear the band. We are three horn players, drums, bass, and keyboards, and we were amplified but yet we were drowned out by the crowd singing along to "Billie Jean." It was an amazing experience and an unforgettable night.

Favorite venue:

The Paramount in Huntington, NY is our favorite venue. We have performed there with numerous acts and as ourselves. The crew there is like family. You walk in and it is all daps and hugs, we joke around on stage during soundcheck and they get us sounding our best no matter what. The energy of being that close to a crowd of 1000 people each time we perform there is invigorating and reminds each of us of how this music can touch people.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

My personal favorite recording is Night Moves. That song came together so fast as a composition and the energy on the track is different for us. When recording the album, this was the first song we tried to record and the first take we did is the one on the album. Our next take was just as an insurance but the energy in the first take was right on the money. Aaron Nevezie of Bunker Studios did an amazing job with the production on the whole track. It is a true combination of our live, one take motto and expertly crafted production to bring out the hipness of the solos.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

My first jazz album was Mingus Ah Um. It was the craziest place to start. Mingus' vocabulary is so impressionistic. The solos were so lush with such intense language. This album is still one of my top five of all time.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I think we are making instrumental music fun again. Smooth Jazz took away some of that hipness and party atmosphere from instrumental tracks. We are here to put more horns center stage and make you want to sing along with our songs.

Did you know...

There is a recording out in the world of our first recording session. It was done with four microphones for four musicians. One mic on the drum kit and it was the first time I met the drummer. It was in my parent's basement and we banged it out in about 45 minutes. Three songs. I think five takes total. That recording is no longer readily available. But it might still be on the internet.

CDs you are listening to now:

Children of Zeus The Story So Far (First Word Records); Tom Misch Geography (Beyond The Groove); Brasstracks For Those Who Know (Brasstracks); Bruno Major A Song For Every Moon (July Records); Sons of Kemet Your Queen is a Reptile (Verve).

Desert Island picks:

Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um (Sony); Snoop Dogg Doggystyle (Death Row); Soulive Up Here (Soulive) Robert Glasper Experiment Black Radio (Blue Note); Snarky Puppy Groundup (Groundup)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Jazz today is an odd topic. People will say "Jazz is dead," but what killed jazz? Death by schools and analysis? Death by lack of innovation? Or death by marketing? I think a lot of these factored into the downfall of jazz from where it was in popularity in the '50s and '60s. Jazz today isn't called jazz but it exists hidden behind all that is harmonically interesting. Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Robert Glasper, Common, J Dilla, Lofi Hiphop, Phish, jam bands, progressive metal, and so much more has been influenced by jazz and assimilated into their genres. The only constant with jazz is change. Jazz has left the bebop era behind. Now jazz can make you dance, thrash, analyze, head nod, or quietly sip coffee. Jazz today is thriving but not if you are looking for the next Charlie Parker.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

DANCE! Groove! Connect! Don't expect people to sit there while you apply the Coltrane matrix to five choruses of "Autumn Leaves"! NO ONE CARES! Make it relevant to their life and yours! You listened to hip hop all the way into the jam session then you call a 12 bar blues? Play what is in your heart! There is an audience for straight ahead "classic" jazz. But that is not the only audience for jazz. Look at the jam band community, 30 minutes of improvisation with hip licks and people LOVE IT. CONNECT! Meet people half way.

What is in the near future?

We are going back into the studio in the next few months with new songs. We will record a couple and put them out soon. We also are going to be touring extensively in the summer. By May we should have a brand new show ready for everyone!

What's your greatest fear when you perform?

That we won't connect with the audience. Even if we are having fun on stage but it doesn't hit home for the audience, we aren't doing our job. That can happen in so many ways. Song choice, interaction, solo length, volume of performance.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Moonlight Sonata" all three movements or J Dilla's "Donuts." Beethoven knew how to bring out true melancholy in his compositions and Dilla wrote his amazing masterwork while he was sick and dying. He asks the existential questions to a boom bap beat especially "Stop," It is beautiful.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

Oh man it really changes all the time. I actually write most of my music in the shower. All of the melodies I have every written were made in the shower except for one which was written while I was driving.

By Day:

I am a full time musician. I teach private lessons but the rest of the band is about half music teachers and one IT professional! We want to play music we love instead of worrying about a paycheck.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

I would be an auto mechanic. I have always loved cars and making things work. I worked on heavy machinery for a few years such as tractors and forklifts. I love making things with my hands. It also is very calming to do something so formulaic like changing a tire or putting in a new starter. You just follow the steps and get the result you want, most of the time. Music is rarely like that.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Benjamin Franklin. That dude was brilliant. He wrote so many world changing documents and invented so many things we still use today. I would love to hang out with him. Definitely Mr. $100 bill.

If I had one superpower, what would it be?

Definitely teleport. But without the limits of Nightcrawler. More like the instant transmission of Goku. You know? Late for a meeting, boom, not anymore. Want to grab a snack from the fridge, boom, you won't miss any of the game. Forgot your mouthpiece while at a gig an hour away, kablam, got it. Best superpower ever.

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Black Tie Brass
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