An Interview with Big Beat Jazz!
By Patricia Rogers
Big Beat Jazz got their start on the Hat City stage, and it is great to see the 19 piece band come into their own. They have played a series of monthly performances featuring special guests, and this coming Friday they are joined by trumpeter Freddie Hendrix.
In an effort to get the word out about the young talent, I was able to get an interview with some of the core members of Big Beat: Allison McKenzie (vocals), Caleb Rumley (Trombone, Conductor), Ryan Tomski (piano), Charlie Dougherty (bass) and Phil Engberg (saxophone).
P.R.: How and why did you form Big Beat Jazz?
Big Beat Jazz: Big Beat was formed in June 2014 with the idea of creating innovative music that is still relatable across all audiences. The three founders, pianist Ryan Tomski, trombonist/conductor Caleb Rumley, and bassist Charlie Dougherty, are all alumni of the jazz program at William Paterson University. They started the band with a shared desire to blend their knowledge of the jazz big band tradition with elements of funk, soul, and R&B music. The idea was to focus on original compositions and arrangements that would appeal to fans of a variety of genres.
Within a couple of weeks of starting the band we made two significant additions — saxophonist Phil Engsberg was brought on as a fourth co-leader after quickly proving himself adept at writing music that fit the band's style; and vocalist/songwriter Allison McKenzie became the voice of the band. Her original compositions, energy, and interpretation bring a whole new dimension to the band's style.
How did you all meet?
We have so many members of our band — 19 to be exact! We’ve met at all different places. A good number of us are from William Paterson University. A lot of other members of the band we met at jam sessions, in other bands, and just around the NJ/NYC jazz scene.
How many members and what instruments do they play?
Big Beat is a 19 piece jazz big band. The band is comprised of 5 saxophones, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, guitar, piano, bass, drums, vocals, and a conductor. We feel very blessed to have a core group of regulars who have been with us since the band’s inception, enjoy playing our music, and continue to make the band sound great at every performance. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't still be going strong after two years!
How is Hat City Kitchen significant to the band?
Hat City Kitchen was the first place that Big Beat performed. We weren’t sure how audiences would react to our music, or how it would be perceived. After that first show, the response we got was so overwhelmingly positive that we knew we were on to something. We feel so lucky to have been performing at Hat City the last two years, and to have an audience there that continues to come back and support us. That’s what makes our residency with Hat City Kitchen so important — we get a chance to connect with this community that has been so supportive of our band and our music.
What are your favorite songs to perform?
Our favorite songs to perform vary a lot because we love to play lots of different styles of music. However, we definitely love playing anything that was composed by the late great Mulgrew Miller. He was a mentor for all the founding members and is greatly missed. Whenever we can, we try to arrange something of his and perform it in his memory.
What else would you like to add to this interview?
We’re really excited about our next performance with acclaimed trumpeter, Freddie Hendrix. We’ll be back at Hat City Kitchen with him on May 6th at 8:00 PM. Also, we released our debut EP last summer, and it sounds great! It's available at CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon, or you can pick up a hard copy at one of our shows.
Youtube link to their EP:
There is a $10 Valley Arts pledge, and doors open at 8:00pm! Be sure to make reservations at www.hatcitykitchen.com
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. StartingMasconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blogwww.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).