Elizabethton native captures 2nd Grammy

Published 9:07 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

Contributed Photo  Snarky Puppy band members were ecstatic after receiving their second Grammy Award, this time for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album with Dutch group Metropole Orkest (not pictured).

Contributed Photo
Snarky Puppy band members were ecstatic after receiving their second Grammy Award, this time for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album with Dutch group Metropole Orkest (not pictured).

Genuine love of music, dedication, and willingness to seize opportunities — these are the qualities that former Betsy Band trumpeter Justin Stanton said can make a musician successful. As a member of the now two-time Grammy Award-winning instrumental group Snarky Puppy, he’s got room to toot his horn.
On Monday night in Los Angeles, the world-renown band’s album “Sylva” received the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, which was produced in collaboration with Dutch group Metropole Orkest. “Sylva” topped the Billboard Jazz, Billboard Contemporary Jazz, Billboard Heatseeker, and iTunes Jazz charts before receiving this honor.
“We were very proud of the record and proud of what we did — you never know how these things can go, but we were really happy,” Stanton said. “I don’t think anyone was expecting it per say, but I think it was well-deserved, as were all the other musicians’ awards.”
Stanton commented on the incredible talent present saying, “There were artists that I grew up listening to and have looked up to, and it’s an honor to be in that company — win or lose.”
Various other artists’ albums were competing for the honor including “Guitar in the Space Age!” by Bill Frisell, “Love Language” by Wouter Kellerman, “Afrodeezia” by Marcus Miller and “The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter IV” by Kirk Whalum.
When reviewing albums in the category of Contemporary Instrumental expectations might be fairly broad. Stanton said it seemed like “kind of a catch-all miscellaneous category for bands when they don’t know where to put them.”
If the style is difficult to categorize, it is likely attributable to the diverse backgrounds of its musicians, which hail from the structure of university jazz, the rhythm and blues of gospel and the funk and fever of jazz and world music influences. The band self-describes its style as “raw funk and sensitive dynamics, relentless pocket and lyrical melodicism, lush harmony and soulful simplicity, and most importantly, a delicate mixture of composition and improvisation.”
In reference to its amorphous fit into standard genres and its tendency to glean techniques from various cultures, Stanton said the band’s upcoming album (to be released in May) will likely be titled “Culcha Vulcha.”
The most recent record release was Family Dinner: Volume II, which hit shelves Friday. A song on Volume I of this series earned the band its first Grammy for Best R&B Performance in 2014 with Lalah Hathaway called “Something.” The group is currently mulling over plans of recording another album with Metropole Orkest, which Stanton said seems likely.
After playing for together for more than a decade, Stanton said their habit now is to practice independently and to rehearse together, usually just before recording. If someone writes a song, they send it to everyone, and then everyone learns it and they work out fine details together, he explained.
“I feel like rehearsing is about learning to play together,” Stanton said. “We’ve played over 1,200 gigs together. We know each other so well, so there’s nothing more to learn in that way. It’s like having a conversation with a best friend, you know how it’s going to go.”
Stanton has personally made undeniable strides since he began learning piano as a child in Elizabethton, when he had no concept or even dreams of performing and touring with a band. “I had no idea what you could do with music,” he said.
Now his 12-year old band, which began as a student ensemble at the University of Northern Texas, has toured in 18 countries, performed more than 1,200 shows, and has conducted hundreds of musical clinics at colleges, high schools and middle schools around the world.
But they didn’t get their start staying in private hotel rooms with food and drinks provided. Their first tours typically did not include plans for overnight accommodations, which led to a lot of couch surfing and making friends. “It encourages you to be social after a gig, which is a good thing because connecting with people on a musical and social level are both really important,” Stanton said.
“Thank goodness it’s not like that now,” he added and laughed. “We had very, very humble beginnings, but everyone was young and nobody cared, we were just thrilled to be together playing music.”
His musical career began with piano lessons, led to playing trumpet and piano in high school, and then to enrollment in the education and music programs at East Tennessee State University.
“Well-meaning people in my life that I respected had told me, ‘You can’t perform music for a living;’ so I thought I’d get an education degree and be a band director because that’s what the people I knew did,” said Stanton.
“Then I realized there are more opportunities, and you just have to have a good attitude, build positive relationships with people and have a solid work ethic,” he continued. “These are things that apply in music and in any career.”
Stanton said if a musician has passion, drive and talent, he would encourage them to learn about opportunities available whether they are teaching, performing or other outlets.
”I don’t think you should go into it with a mindset of wanting fame or to be successful or well-known,” he said. “If you love music, work hard. And when opportunities present themselves, be open to them.”
His compass is pointing towards recording and touring with Snarky Puppy, as well as pursuing some independent ventures like recording a personal album this Fall.
Upcoming tour dates are posted at snarkypuppy.com, and the next closest performance will be at the Orange Peel in Asheville on May 25. Additionally, following a performance that was rained out last year, Stanton said the band will have the privilege of performing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in April.

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