Band with Elizabethton musician receives Grammy nomination

Published 9:12 am Monday, January 25, 2016

Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy

The words funky, methodical, mystical and capricious do not begin to describe the myriad of musical styles at play when the Grammy Award-winning band Snarky Puppy takes the stage.
The group, with Elizabethton-native jazz trumpeter and pianist Justin Stanton, has been nominated for its second Grammy this year for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. The 2015 album, “Sylva,” was produced in conjunction with the Dutch jazz and pop orchestra Metropole Orkest, for whom this is the 17th Grammy nomination.
Stanton has been with the band for nine years which began in 2004 at the University of North Texas, but his musical career began right here in Elizabethton.
His parents owned a record store, and he began taking piano lessons as a kid. He then studied under Band Director Rick Simerly at T.A. Dugger Jr. High, and subsequently under Band Director Perry Elliot at Elizabethton High School. While studying music at East Tennessee State University, his passion for jazz unfolded, and he spent his college career feverishly perfecting his skills.
ETSU Professor David Champouillon, his primary teacher, said Stanton took to heart all of his suggestions which included continuing to play piano, becoming “fundamentally sound” on the trumpet before attempting to play jazz on the trumpet, and playing at every opportunity that presented itself.
As a testament to dedication to the art of jazz, Champouillon cited Stanton’s work as a founding member of the faculty jazz group the Jazz Doctors, as well as playing in the Johnson City Symphony, playing solo turmpet in the One O’Clock Lab Band, as well as in churches and for free. Besides Snarky Puppy, Champouillon said Stanton performed with New Zealand singer-songwriter Gin Wigmore on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, The Ellen Show, and also as the backup band for America’s Got Talent.
“Justin Stanton is the kind of student that comes along once a generation,” said Champouillon. “He is the kind of student that any professor longs to have. Lots of other schools wanted him, but he chose to come here, and it was a great fit for him. We played a small role in his success. He is one of the most hardworking, passionate, dedicated students I’ve ever had. I consider him a colleague and a friend; he is proof of what that hardwork and dedication can do.”
Stanton left ETSU to pursue his masters in jazz at University of North Texas, where he joined Snarky Puppy.
“Jazz” does not come close to describing the band’s genre. Stanton described it as jazz-based funky music with elements of R&B and world music, with pop sensibility. He said it has Brazilian influence and harkens back to the eccentric style of Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters.
“We all play everything,” Stanton said. “We all have different backgrounds, so it ends up being really diverse and going a lot of different directions.”
Not only do they almost literally play everything, even dabbling in country and rock, but the band has performed on every continent, produced 12 albums and maintained a tight touring schedule all the while.
“We burn the candle at both ends and have been for quite some time,” he said.
They produce an average of one album per year, and the next, “Family Dinner Volume Two,” comes out in February.
“The idea of Family Dinner is to collaborate with different vocalists, because we are primarily an instrumental band,” said Stanton.
A song from Volume One featuring vocalist Lalah Hathoway called “Something” earned the band its first Grammy in 2014 in the category of Best R&B Performance.
Collaborating with vocalists is just one example of the versatility of the band, which began as a group of students performing locally with a heavy emphasis on modern jazz. Then some musicians from Dallas, Texas, joined, bringing with them backgrounds in R&B and gospel.
“So the band became another thing and started touring regionally,” said Stanton. “It grew and grew, and one by one everybody started migrating to New York.”
The majority of the band is Brooklynn-based now and has been for the last six or seven years, Stanton said. The band roster includes between 25 and 30 people but on the Grammy-nominated album, 12 performed.
The album “Sylva” was recorded live at the Energiehuis in Dordrecht, Netherlands. It was composed and arranged by Metropole Orkest chief conductor Jules Buckley and Snarky Puppy bassist and band leader Michael League.
Snarky Puppy members met a member of Metropole, the largest full-time ensemble in the world, while recording the album “We Like It Here” in 2012 in Holland.
“He came to a recording set — all of our recordings in the past had been live, in-studio — and met with our band leader Mike. They started talking and within two days, it was in the works,” said Stanton. Within two years, they were rehearsing and recording an album together.
On “Family Dinner Volume Two,” guest artists will include the legendary David Crosby, jazz and folk vocalist Becca Stevens, afro-pop singer/songwriter Salif Keita, Peruvian singer/songwriter Susana Baca, saxist Jeff Coffin of the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band, and others.
On top of being up for its second Grammy, Snarky Puppy was named Top Jazz Group of 2015 by Downbeat Magazine as well as being awarded Dallas City Music’s Best Jazz Group for years.
Currently, Stanton is writing music in Zürich, Switzerland while the band is not touring.
The 58th Grammy Awards will be presented on February 15 in Los Angeles. For more information on the band, visit

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