Meet Meatstick Girl – An Exclusive Q&A with the Latest Webcast Legend


On the last night of the Dick’s Run and the end of the epic 2017 summer tour, Phish graciously offered us a free webcast so everyone that desired could share in the groove. During Meatstick, I was taking a couple of screenshots, as I sometimes do to create silly content down the line (weird but true). While I was intently focused on catching Trey in the midst of the glory that is the Meatstick Dance, another bright soul popped upon the screen like sunshine after stormy weather. I caught the above photo of this Phan, and quickly worked up a meme in her honor. Since then, she has been collectively dubbed #MeatstickGirl by Phans across Phish nation, as she added a bit of extra glitter to an otherwise energetic rendition of the tune. She has been honored far and wide across the interweb these past days, and deserves every bit of recognition.

Meatstick Girl was the highlight of couch tour for many that evening – Dazzling us with her spot-on execution of the dance, and her euphoric arm pump and freestyle moves, as Trey ripped into a stupendous solo after the choreographed caper was over. She reminded us that at a show we’re all players in the band, as the music plays us. Yet this is far from the first time an enraptured entity from the crowd has gained notoriety through a Phish webcast. As the term “webcast famous” is entering the lexicon of more and more Phans, Meatstick Girl will no doubt go down in the upper echelon of the webcast hall of fame. From the tuned in Nicholas Peter Orr, dubbed #Hoodboy, to the ethereal Nathan Tobey, knighted #StashGuy, and lest not forget the happiest man at The Baker’s Dozen (don’t have a name for this delighted dude), christened #CaspianGuy. All these folks are falling prey to the whims of the webcast gods, and their lives as Phans have been irrevocably altered, certainly in some ways, after their dance with simulcast serendipity.

Is this a good thing, bad thing, or does it fall somewhere in between? Luckily for us, Meatstick Girl has arisen out of the woodwork, and affably accepted a Stand For Jam invitation to participate in a good old-fashioned Question & Answer session. Initially I provided her with ten questions, certainly covering her newfound notoriety, but also encouraging her to dive deep on other issues concerning all things Phish. Then I came up with one last question, turning this epic Q&A all the way up to eleven.

 The full complete Meatstick Girl - Fast forward to 2:26 for the part that made her webcast famous! Thanks to Joel Mazur & Mike Gregory for helping to curate this video!

Introducing (drum roll)………….Heather Craig! Heather wanted to take her time with these questions, felt empowered by the platform, and simply did not want to phone it in. Upon receiving her answers, she commented that “these questions struck many chords with [her] and [her] internal relationship with this magnificent music” – The spirit with which she attacked these queries and her articulately animated answers m̶e̶a̶t̶ mete that out…

Stand For Jam (SFJ): How does if feel to be webcast famous? Did you have any sense the camera was trained on you at that moment?

Heather Craig (HC): I had no idea the camera was on me, but when you’re down there, you always know there’s a possibility of being seen. I think that’s one of the great things Phish gives us all – the ability to be truly ourselves even when presented with the possibility of being observed by hundreds of thousands, whether it’s on the webcast or in the thick of the crowd. What we’re talking about is one of the most terrifying feelings – putting your freest self out into the world without any sort of reassurance of being accepted, but I feel that as long as you’re accepting of yourself, you’re open for whatever the moment asks of you. There’s this internal rhetorical question constantly being asked when I’m at shows: Can you let go of everything that’s holding you back and simply be with us right here for this small moment in time?

SFJ: With Hoodboy, Stash Guy, Caspian Guy, and now you, Meatstick Girl, how do you feel about Phans picking up on these webcast moments, making memes and making folks Phish famous? Is this an invasion of privacy? Where do you think the line should be drawn or if there should be a line at all?

HC: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”

I feel if happiness comes from making these memes, I’m all about it! Once the moment was over, it became etched in time and unchangeable. It’s no longer who I am – it’s who I was, a past moment. I personally don’t feel that it is an invasion of privacy. If I were a more reserved person who still wanted to be close to the source within the first 5 rows of the stage, I feel actions could be taken to ensure you don’t end up on the screen. One way could be to walk up before the show starts and introduce yourself to the staff and ask them nicely to not record you, or you could always wear a hat or get silly and rock a handmade mask to cover your face. If you don’t mind being further from the stage, then usually you can have a more private experience.

SFJ: How many Meatsticks have you experienced live? When was your first Meatstick? What does it take to master the Meatstick, as you have done? What’s your secret?

HC: I’ve experienced Meatstick live 9 times (9 times? 9 times.) *Bueller, Bueller* 😛 My first one was at Dick’s 8/31/12, when they spelled Fuck Your Face, an unbelievable show to recall! Whew! Anyway, I was shown the dance by a friend but never practiced it before going to the show. I remember standing in the crowd, around Page Side soundboard area, and I was singing along and a guy next to me says, “Nice! You know the Japanese lyrics, but do you know the dance?!” I think he then tried to teach me, but suffice to say, we both needed practice. Fast forward through a few years of taking out the Meatstick to Grand Prairie 10/25/16 where I followed Mike’s choreography, and from that moment the Meatstick dance became a movement my body would know how to recreate. I’m a student who has a great teacher. The secret to many things is silliness, and surrender truly is the trick. Phish has given me that insight, and I try to hold on (but never too tight) to that intention every time I walk away from one of their shows. So lighten up, and bury the Meatstick! 🙂

SFJ: In that moment, what were you thinking, if anything at all? Phish obviously brings you immense joy – What is it about this band and community that takes you to that point of euphoria?

HC: What I’m concentrating on at Phish shows is connectivity – less of a single thought and more of an emptying of mind, expectation, restraint, and turning my attention to everything I can soak up out of every little moment. Becoming a sponge or empty vessel – I let the music course through me, allowing it to undo any tensions I have mentally, physically, or emotionally. They’re my connection to source, a connection to my Self. Each passing year we all undergo trauma to the mind, body, and soul – kinks that need to be worked out through our own preferred method, and Phish is my way of release. The community of Phans is, of course, a beautiful support system as well that feeds my flame. I’ve gone to many shows alone and have felt completely at home, safe, and loved in a crowd of strangers. To then dance with them for 3 hours forms a bond that is hard to match elsewhere. Then to have all these people you’ve met and befriended across the nation, it’s like starting a fire from tinder pieces.

Alpine 2015, Night Two, Lot. The Harry Ladies (They really wanted a Harry Hood that night, and in their excited state kept saying "Haaaaarryyyy, Haaaarrrryyy!" in Heather's ear)

SFJ: When, where, and how did your love affair with Phish start?

HC: A friend gave me a copy of Island Tour ’98 and said with a smile, “To get you hooked.” Not thinking much of it, I gave it a listen on my way to work. 4/2/98 Stash 13:22 made my eyes water and ears fall in love. The contrast of the chaos to the bliss was too easy for me to relate to. I didn’t want to leave my car. I didn’t want to go in to work, and I like my job! I wanted to sit there and listen to them for another moment…and another…and another… I was enchanted. After that, I listened to everything I could get my hands on – live and recorded – and started attending shows as often as possible. “Was it for this my life I sought?” 💓

SFJ: As a community, I’d say we’re nine parts love & light, and one-part stuff that’s troubling. Whether from the nitrous scene, to tarpers, GA etiquette, or the rising awareness of female Phan harassment, as a Phan yourself, is there any particular trend that concerns you in the Phishaverse today? Any ideas on how to rectify the issue(s), if there’s any issue(s) at all?

HC: This is an unfolding view of what happens when people are set free. It’s difficult to find the balance when people have different moral codes within that freedom. Without paying close attention, greed, overindulgence, and disrespect of all kinds seeps its way in through unseen cracks and decides to stick around for a while beleaguering equilibrium. What each of us can do to rectify these happenings is to observe the choices we each make and ask our freest selves within us if this is the environment we are truly wanting to foster. In regards to sexual harassment at shows, when it involves another person’s safety and comfort, being courageous and speaking up when we see disrespectful behavior around us is a huge step we can take and a responsibility we all have. We can’t force a change, all we can do is lead by example towards a more healthy, loving, and wholesome community.

SFJ: What’s your favorite thing about Phish?

HC: My favorite thing about Phish is how they bring hundreds of thousands of people together for a live experience and how they concentrate our attention for extended periods of time. For many of us, they are a form of meditation to guide us to our individual interpretation of freedom and happiness, so we can take that freedom and happiness and spread it around when we leave the shows. We take them and their lessons with us, that is an absolutely incredible accomplishment! It’s how minds are opened, it’s how change becomes workable.

SFJ: If you could ask one band member one question, who and what would it be?

HC: Trey, may I live in your pocket?

Seriously though, the band has been answering many of my unspoken questions since I began to pay attention – most of the questions came in forms I wouldn’t know how to pose succinctly or verbally, but I feel there’s already a healthy conversation that happens between artist and audience/audience member.

Heather at Dick's '16 - Swingin' Dick's - rocking super appropriate head gear! - Photo Credit: Michael Howard

SFJ: Request time: Name a song you’ve been chasing, but have never gotten?

HC: Bye Bye Foot or Shafty. There are so many I haven’t caught yet that I would love to hear live, but I know each one comes in its own time and place and if you go around expecting and wishing, you may miss many magical moments being gifted to you right then.

SFJ: If you could sum up this whole Meatstick Girl experience in three words and/or a phrase, what would they be?

HC:

Three words: “Shocks my brain!”

Phrase: After Meatstick, you chop wood and carry water.

SFJ: Any causes or charities close to your heart that you’d like to give a shout out?

HC:

🐠

So other than the happenstance of being caught on camera, what makes Meatstick Girl and her webcast cohorts so unique? I believe we see ourselves in these isolated moments, and in turn make these folks Phish famous to celebrate US! For those that get it, we have all been enraptured in the frenzied excitement of a Meatstick Girl moment, or worn the face of stupefied awe while a song was peaking, just like Hood Boy. Heather framed it best when she quoted The Beatles verse above – “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Trey told us “The Walrus was Jimmy,” yet perhaps he was really saying the Walrus is us all!

Before she was Meatstick Girl - Heather in all her glory soaking in the beauty that is TAB at Red Rocks - 5/31/17 - Photo Credit: Miles Chrisinger

Thank you to Heather Craig, aka Meatstick Girl, for wholeheartedly throwing yourself into this Q&A! You’ve not only awed us with your dancing, but now your prose.

Answers by Heather Craig, 
Questions & Paragraphs by Russell S. Glowatz

 

Copyright © 2017 Stand For Jam™️

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Freekbass Talks ‘The Band Is Bond’ Before Its Brooklyn Bowl Launch

Since the early days of movie projection, prior to the advent of “Talkies,” music has been irrevocably fused with film. Some soundtracks have served to move us more brightly than others, as is the case with the James Bond franchise, and its accompanying music that has spanned six decades and counting. With such a bountiful collection of themes and title tracks, it only took a little inspiration to send self-described James Bond junkie and bassist extraordinaire, Freekbass, off running with a project solely dedicated to recreating and expanding upon the James Bond musical universe. The Band is Bond, a brand new ensemble, aims to harmoniously transport us into the secret agents world with a dash of thrill, intrigue, and improvisation.

For their inaugural show at the Brooklyn Bowl on February 16th, Freekbass has assembled a stellar troupe of players that are uniquely inclined to tackle the Bond catalog with vigor and grit. The genre spanning group largely resides near Freek’s home base of Cincinnati, and with the core of the group bounded by geography, these purveyors of song have put rehearsal on the front burner, tackling the vast Bond catalog whenever time will allow. This attention to detail will make for a confident showing as The Band Is Bond hits the storied Brooklyn Bowl stage mid-February.

Freek’s first recruit was Jennifer Hartswick, who serves as a beyond perfect fit, chiming in on those female heavy vocal leads that are the signature to many a Bond theme, while providing that essential brass boost on trumpet. Next Freekbass called upon Razor Sharp Johnson, of Bootsy’s Rubberband, and P-Funk fame, to man the keys. The Band rounds out with one of Freek’s friends and collaborators, Jyn Yates on drums, Nicholas Gerlach (Turbo Suit) playing the Tenor Sax, and TSLY, occasional Freekbass coconspirator, on guitar. The Band Is Bond’s spiritual player, is Ken “Big Bamn” Smith, Freekbass’ longtime drummer and confidante, who tragically passed away in an automobile accident earlier this year. Bamn provided direction for The Band at its inception and was slated as the original drummer. Surely he will be on everyone’s mind at the BK Bowl performance.

Prior to this first show, Freekbass was kind enough to take some time to talk The Band Is Bond, the inspiration behind its name, and losing Bamn. After reading the interview, make sure to click the link at the bottom, and get your tickets to The Band Is Bond at the Brooklyn Bowl on February 16th. And don’t forget to “dress to kill” as Bond themed regalia is highly recommended!

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Russ Glowatz (RG): First off, let me offer my condolences to you over the loss of Big Bamn.

Freekbass: It was a shocker man. I’m starting to finally get my head a little bit above water. We’re on the road traveling in dangerous conditions all the time, so the most ironic part is it happened when we were home. He was such an amazing cat. As tight as we were onstage, we were offstage, so I really appreciate your sentiments.

RG: This past month has really been something else in respect to the passing of legendary musicians. 

Freekbass: Oh yeah I know man. 2016, especially January. I’m glad it’s February, hoping this month is a bit better.

RG: You’ve previously mentioned that you considered Bamn a brother. How did that tight relationship reflect upon the music you both made together?

Freekbass: Bass players and drummers always have that special relationship anyway, because of the fact that we’re kind of in the rhythm world together, but him and I especially. Our families would hang out together off the road. I grew up as an only child, and as musicians we have a tendency to put walls around ourselves a little bit, and as an only child that adds to it. And Bamn was one of the first people that I fully fully trusted. He was one-hundred percent real.

When someone’s really close, and you go on the road with them for a little while, once in a while you start to see a little chink in the armor, and you’re like “oh, okay.” But everything about [Bamn] was so genuine, and I feel like I could really trust him with anything, my whole life. Even when I sit here and talk about it, it almost gets me choked up, because in some ways I don’t let myself get too close to people, and he was one of these people I did.

He pushed me too a lot. He pushed me to be better, and look higher, and anytime I’d say to him “that we’re gonna do this, this year,” he’d want to take it to a higher level. He’s a real special person, and David Bowie’s got one heck of a drummer up there in heaven right now.

RG: Without a doubt. And I’m sure you’re going to take with you the sentiment of “What would Bamn do” as you go forward. 

Freekbass: That’s it! Even as I’m putting together my new band right now, he’s totally in my mind, that I’m really gonna take it to another level with him in mind.

RG: Focusing on the new project, it’s really heartening to see you push forward with the Brooklyn Bowl show that’s coming up on February 16th. I imagine Bamn wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. So with that, what was the spark that inspired the creation of The Band Is Bond? 

Freekbass: I’ve always been a huge James Bond fan since I’ve been a kid. I’ve always been enchanted by the the gadgets, the storylines, and the music. Especially the older James Bond movies, the ones from the sixties. That first time period, that whole kind of Mad Men, skinny ties, and Art Deco looking era. And what kind of spawned it, I was actually listening to Pandora and a James Bond tune came on, and I thought “man, it’d be really cool to redo these songs.”

And with the James Bond thing too, my mom likes James Bond, my grandma likes James Bond, kids that are fifteen, sixteen years old like James Bond, so it really spans so many generations. It’s not just in a timeframe. I think the first James Bond movie came out in ’63, and they just had a brand new one that came out this year, and I think that’s because of the timeless aspect of it. You have such a timeless character, and the music is so timeless as well, so I thought it’d be a really cool idea to interpret those songs.

Not twenty minutes later I called up Jennifer Hartswick. She was really into it. And especially to have a female singer, since so much of the soundtrack has female vocals for a good chunk of the music, she was the first person I thought of, because she’s one that can handle those kind of vocals. And that’s how everything kind of started, and then we started putting musicians together, and here we are today.RG: While delving into the different decades and eras of Bond, I’ve noticed that the music always has this contemporary appeal, yet it simultaneously is paying homage to a sound that’s completely authentic to the James Bond universe. The sound is wholly unique, and whether the music came from the 60’s or the modern era, it’s being tapped into. How would you characterize that sound?

Freekbass: Right. And that goes back to the timeless thing I was talking about when the idea of the band came together, because whether it’s the song that Adele does in Skyfall, or going all the way back to Goldfinger with Shirley Bassey in 1964, you could almost replace those songs in either era and they would work. There’s harmonic things that show up in every era. You know the original James Bond theme, from Dr. No, which is the one everybody knows about, has a kind of treble-ized guitar sound. That kind of harmonic structure, you’ll hear it in all the songs, they kind of stick those into every theme song. That half-step, kind of semi-dissonant, definitely that early 1960’s spy movie mentality thing, even if you’re doing a ballad, or more of a rock tune, they kind of have that sensibility about them. And again, just like you said, there’s this bridge between times.

There’s a few exceptions that stand out. There’s one of the songs we’re doing from The Spy Who Loved Me by Carly Simon, and that’s almost like a seventies soft rock song, which is different. But the majority of the sound [fits that sensibility], even “Live And Let Die” by Paul McCartney, that’s another one we’ll be doing, I think, at the Brooklyn Bowl, is such a sick song, and a lot of people don’t think that’s a James Bond theme song. Everyone knows that’s a Paul McCartney song, but it’s actually a theme song from the movie.

So ideally what we’d like to do is get a bunch of shows under our belt, do some festival dates, and then put out an album of original songs influenced by the James Bond soundtrack. And a pie in the sky thought is to have The Band Is Bond actually do the theme for one of the James Bond movies in the future. That would be a long long term goal. You never know what happens when you put something out in the universe.

RG: That’s a wonderful goal. You guys are reaching for the stars on that one, and based upon your collective abilities, it’s totally possible. 

Freekbass: I’m sure there’s a lot of politics and stuff involved with that kind of thing, but in paying homage to such a great library of music, hopefully some people that are involved in that world might like what we’re doing.

RG: There can be a fine line between replication and reinvention. In covering songs from the Bond canon, how will you skirt that line going forward. I’ve listened to “You Only Live Twice,” your rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s original, and while it seems The Band Is Bond stayed more or less true to form with that song, I imagine you may let loose on other things. 

Freekbass: Definitely. We’re kinda walking that tight rope with that too because with a song like “You Only Live Twice” we kind of played with some ideas in the studio, but that one felt so conducive to just represent it similar to the way it was. But for a good chunk of these songs, when we’re rehearsing they’re already taking on a new personality with all the players we have involved. We thought about getting in the studio immediately and trying to do a bunch of tracks at once, but then we thought, “hey, let’s get some shows under our belt first…like six months from now, these songs may have a whole different sound.” Definitely the idea is to stretch these songs out and try to let everybody give their personality to them, there’s no doubt about that. You’re gonna see a lot of that on the debut night at the Brooklyn Bowl.

RG: Looking forward to it. I will be there will bells on! I don’t know if I’m going to have a Bond costume though. I gotta think about that. 

Freekbass: Yeah! That’s another cool thing about that show. It’s not just for the band, but we’ll be able to create this whole world for the audience too.

RG: Audience involvement absolutely gets that whole synchronous vibe going, having everyone show up in their favorite Bond getup. Now, to round this out, what’s your favorite Bond movie, if you could name one?

Freekbass: Up until last year I would’ve said Goldfinger hands down. Sean Connery. But man, Skyfall was so good. That rivaled. I was a little nervous when they hired Daniel Craig as the new Bond, but I’ll tell you what, he has really taken it to another level. It’s almost like how when they redid the Batman series over the last few years and went a darker route with it. Because James Bond, he’s essentially an assassin, and Daniel Craig really plays up that side of it, and the writing of Skyfall was so good. So if you held me down I’d say Goldfinger, but man, Skyfall is a darn near close second, if not a tie.

RG: Lastly, unrelated to James Bond, what makes you tick? What’s that driving force that gets you out of bed each morning to do what you do, and to do it so well? 

Freekbass: Without sounding cliché, just the music. Whatever projects I’m involved with, whether it be The Band Is Bond, my own group, or others. I have a side group with DJ Logic, and Steve Molitz called Headtronics that we do sometimes, and it’s always about that. That’s definitely the inspiration to get up and do it. Because you have good shows, and bad shows, you have a lot of traveling. The stage part looks glamorous, but half the time your at gas stations drinking bad coffee. The music is the one stabilizing force that will get you through each day and get you to the next gig for sure.

RG: Thanks so much for your time Freek! Super psyched about the Brooklyn Bowl show on 2/16, and for everything you and The Band Is Bond does down the line as well!

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>>>Follow this link to grab your tickets to The Band Is Bond‘s inaugural live performance at the Brooklyn Bowl on Tuesday, February 16th.<<<

>>To keep up with The Band Is Bond (news, tour dates, media, etc.) head to their Facebook page here.<<

>Stay tuned on all of Freekbass’ projects at his website.<

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Introduction & Questions by Russell S. Glowatz

Q&A: The Chase Brothers Talk ‘Jazz Is Phish’ and ‘The James Brown Dance Party’ Before Heading Out On Tour

JazzIsPhish1
Jazz Is Phish at The Brooklyn Bowl, 12/19/2015, Photo by Chason Heins

The Chase Brothers, Adam (Drums) and Matthew (Guitar), have been making waves as of late with two exemplary tributes, Jazz Is Phish, and The James Brown Dance Party. Both bands take the songs of their inspiring namesakes to new and exploratory levels. In each ensemble, with the Chase’s at the helm, the target is to traverse the tunes of these legendary acts, while creating an environment conducive to dance, elation, transcendence, and an all around good time. With Jazz Is Phish (JIP), the Phish catalog is used as a starting point to roundly reinvent the songs. In The James Brown Dance Party (JBDP), Adam and Matthew assemble a different All Star cast of musicians for each respective show, and through varied collaborations, the classic James Brown repertoire shines uniquely each and every time. In the end, while the road travelled reveals divergent scenery, both bands leave you with a similar lightness in your step that we all seek through live music.

While I could ramble on in perpetuity touting the merits of each of these acts, luckily for us the Brothers Chase were kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions. Their musical upbringing, the origins of each project, legacy, choosing collaborators, and more is discussed. So with an aim towards better understanding the motivations and aspirations of these two talented brothers in the prime of their musical lives, enjoy the following Q & A. When you’re done, get your tickets to JIP and JBDP to see these siblings of song tear it up at a venue near you in the upcoming weeks! (Find tour dates and ticketing links listed after the Q&A.)

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1. For someone completely unfamiliar with Jazz Is Phish or The James Brown Dance Party, what would be your pitch to pique their interest?

Matthew Chase (MC): Both projects take a fresh approach to performing music. They combine players from different generations and backgrounds (music and life) to come together and create a unique take on familiar music. The pitch would be slightly different for each band since one is a rotating cast and the other is a set lineup that features special guests.

For the JBDP it’s an easy sell since everyone loves James Brown and his amazing music. Add an All Star cast including players from the original James Brown Band and a high-energy dance party set and there you have it!

Jazz is Phish is a very intriguing idea since the framework was already laid down by the Jazz Is Dead Project. Although Phish and the Grateful Dead have very different audiences, there is some crossover and most Phish Fans have heard about Jazz is Dead. So when they hear the name “Jazz is Phish” they already have some preconceived notions as to what it’s about. We honor that idea by transforming Phish tunes into instrumental arrangements turning the vocal melodies into “jazz heads” regardless of the style being traditional jazz or not.

I would ask someone if they heard of Jazz is Dead first then explain. Jazz is Dead took the Grateful Dead’s large 6-7 piece band and interpreted the music as a 4 piece with guitar, bass drums, and keys. We are interpreting Phish, a 4-piece band, with a seven to 9-piece band including a full horn section. This creates an entirely different dynamic and opens up the music to several different styles and feels. The idea of both groups, Jazz is Dead and Jazz is Phish, is not to play the music in a traditional Jazz setting but to open up the endless possibilities of an all instrumental version of these popular tunes regardless of style or genre. You have to see it for yourself because you never know what you will get!

Adam Chase (AC): When I am talking to my friends about The James Brown Dance Party and about Jazz Is Phish, I get excited about how I feel lucky to have two incredibly fun projects.

With the James Brown Dance Party, we are bringing together the old school players that toured with James Brown with a variety of All Star players from the funk, jazz and jam worlds. All of the musicians share a love for the music and since we are bringing some of the best players available, including musicians from Sly and the Family Stone, Snarky Puppy, Trey Anastasio Band, Kool And The Gang, The Saturday Night Live Band, Trombone Shorty, Galactic, Lettuce and more, we are able to create epic performances that move everyone in the room. Since every time we do a run we have a different lineup of players, each performance is unique, albeit steeped in the deep funk of James Brown.

With Jazz Is Phish, I love it because you don’t have to like Phish to love the project. Of course, if you do love Phish it’s that much better. The music is re-imagined into a large ensemble setting, where horns replace vocals and the nuances change to reflect a sound that respects the genius of the compositions as written, while introducing flavors reminiscent to the fusion of Herbie Hancock and the epic sound of Charles Mingus. The show is high energy, explorative, horn heavy and super funky!

2. Where did the idea to put on tributes such as these originate?

AC: As a musician that attended music school, I was frequently transcribing solos and studying recordings of other players. Frequently in various jazz combos, we would put on shows that were full records or well known pieces composed by the musicians we were studying at the time. I always enjoyed the process. When I was in a full time touring original band, I would frequently put tribute shows together in my hometown when I wasn’t on the road. It was a fun and allowed me to explore different music and learn different things to apply to my original music.

One of the tributes I put together then, was the James Brown Dance Party. At that time it was built around the players in my original band, which included my brother Matthew, Elise Testone, Ben Markowitz, Aaron Levy and myself. After the original band broke up and the core was no longer together, I thought it would be fun to reintroduce the project as something that a lot of musicians could share in, as so many musicians love the music. Inspired by Everyone Orchestra, I decided to re-launch the project with a revolving cast of players. We sold out our first show and haven’t looked back since.

Jazz Is Phish was an idea I had been considering for a number of years before I ever got it together. As someone that grew up on the music and was so inspired by the band, I had a passion for the material. I often found myself turning on friends to their music. I had a lot of musician friends that were from very different backgrounds and Phish really wasn’t their style. Regardless, I made them listen to some of my favorite compositions; Fluffhead, Reba, Guelah Papyrus…while not every musician loved the style or lyrical content, every one of them appreciated the compositions, musicianship and challenge the music presented. It occurred to me that if I could create a project that presented Phish’s music in a re-imagined, instrumental setting, there would be an entirely new audience interested in the material while also appealing to the legion of enthusiastic Phish fans (like myself) that were already out there. It all came together after a performance I did with Jeff Sipe. We were discussing various projects we had done, when Jazz Is Dead came up. At that point, I realized that Jazz Is Phish needed to exist, especially in a year that saw the Phish and Dead communities come together with Trey Anastasio’s participation in the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well performances. I decided to assemble a mix of musicians that included those that grew up on the music, and those that had never listened to the music before.

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The James Brown Dance Party at The Cutting Room, 1/31/2015, Photo by Vikas Namblar Photography

3. The music of James Brown and Phish is adored by folks, young, old, and in between. What about their music do you feel gives it this cross-generational appeal?

MC: Both of these artists have extremely different music. James Brown’s music is simple with a tapestry of complexity in the layers, but always delivers high-energy, extremely fun tunes that appeal to anyone regardless of age! Phish music encompasses a huge variety of genres and hybrids of styles with amazing tension and release. The music Phish creates makes it possible for several entry points into their unique world. There is something for most people whether it’s long progressive compositions, quick funky numbers, or a secret language within their improvisation. Their amazing live performances, huge fan-base, massive venue settings and cutting edge light show makes the live experience undeniable for anyone old or young.

AC: For James Brown the appeal is that it is so badass and funky that no matter who you are, how old you are, or where you come from, the funk is undeniable. His ballads and his upbeat songs alike are well crafted, filled with intricate layers, straight ahead and topped with memorable melodies and amazing vocals. For Phish, the appeal is the unique aspect of the band. It is a group that for many, opens the door to a new way of looking at music. The classical influences on the compositions, the jazz theory infused improvisation and the playful quality of the songwriting are masterfully done in a way that rarely comes together so well. The closest thing to the experience of Phish, in my opinion, is the music of Frank Zappa, although I find the music of Phish to be far more accessible to the non-musician.

4. The James Brown Dance Party is constantly rotating musicians. What type of preparation goes into getting each respective ensemble seasoned for the stage?

MC: As Music Director, I try to provide anything necessary for the players to feel comfortable with our arrangements. We provide charts and notes when necessary. We strive to play with the best players in any given region we are performing in which makes it easy since they know how to prepare and are true professionals. Often we only need a quick rehearsal and sound check to work out some intros and endings. James Brown music is also widely known and performed. I don’t think you are allowed to buy a saxophone without learning some James Brown…

AC: We put in the time on the front end so that in some respects all the musicians have to do is show up for soundcheck and we are ready to go by showtime. Finding the right musicians is key. Musicians that know and love the music, are willing to shed on the songs and the charts, and come prepared, are who we seek out and what makes the performances so tight. It doesn’t hurt that at each show we try to include musicians like Fred Thomas, Mousey Thompson, Leroy Harper Jr. and Jerry Poindexter that had played with James for years and bring the authenticity to the group.

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5. With these projects, where and how do you draw the line between replication and reinvention?

MC: With The James Brown Dance Party we try to play things close to the tapes but still allow our high caliber players to improv and extend sections. We also adapt things depending upon the vocalist.

Jazz Is Phish is a complete reinvention of Phish music. We may keep the style the same as the original but the fact that half of our band didn’t listen to Phish until this project makes even those renditions stand apart form the original. In Jazz Is Phish we are comprised of Jazz, Funk, Gospel, Soul, R&B, and Pop and Rock musicians each bringing their own flavor to the music. Which was by design. Having only a few players familiar with Phish keeps the overall sound fresh yet familiar.

AC: The James Brown Dance Party is not about replicating or reinventing. To replicate James Brown would involve someone trying to BE “James Brown” and in my opinion, nobody can BE “James Brown”. He was a one of a kind performer and trying to replicate him, to me, would be sacrilegious. It’s more about loving his music and getting well known musicians to express themselves through soloing and grooving on the tunes. We perform the songs true to form for the most part, but we allow space for the amazing musicians we have to let loose.

With Jazz Is Phish, we are completely reinventing the music. While some songs are closer to form than others, each song takes it’s own shape through, if nothing more, the collective influences of the players involved. As many members were not familiar with Phish coming in to the project, there are no preconceived notions of how the songs should be. That combined with the fact that all of the vocals are replaced with horns and strings, each song feels completely fresh.

6. On a musical level, what was it like growing up in the Chase household?

MC: Piano lessons at an early age and once we were past the 5th grade we got guitars and drums kits. The best gift you can give a few imaginative minds… Our parents didn’t anticipate how loud we would get at times, but always encouraged and supported us in our passion. Our mom and sister took piano lessons as well but neither considers themselves musicians. We didn’t have much guidance in music, it was all very explorative. Our grandma was a singer and did push us to get voice lessons. We had a very large peer group of musicians and several bands were formed out of that circle including the Bridge, the Bluegrass Band Smooth Kentucky, and our old original project Black Eyed Susan.

AC: As the younger brother of somewhat of a child prodigy, and someone that was put into music lessons when I was 5 years old, I don’t remember life without music. We always had instruments in our home and as we got older the amount of instruments and musicians around continued to grow. For me, life was always about playing music and performing, whether it was in school or at home.

7. In these post-James Brown years, where does JBDP fit in respect to carrying on the legacy of the Godfather of Soul himself?

MC: We are just trying to celebrate the Legend and bring people together from different walks of life on stage and in the audience.

AC: I think the JBDP is carrying on the legacy in a great way. By involving older musicians that toured with James with younger well-known musicians from various music scenes, I feel like we are doing a part in keeping the music of James Brown relevant to new generations of music fans that wouldn’t necessarily be checking out the music in a live setting if it weren’t for the All Star format.

8. Jazz Is Phish has recently gone into the studio. Could you shed a little light on what we can expect to hear from these sessions?

MC: It’s a surprise.

AC: You can expect an incredible lineup of musicians, some of which you would never have expected to hear performing Phish tunes, performing unique interpretations of the music at a very high level.

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Jazz Is Phish at The Brooklyn Bowl, 12/19/2015, Photo by Chason Heins

9. If stranded on a desert island, and you could either have a Phish album or a James Brown album, which would you prefer?

MC: I don’t know. That’s tough. James Brown would keep me in a better mood.

AC: I think I would take the album Billy Breathes because it seems like a good album for being stranded on a desert island.

10. In relation to band and audience, what does the word ‘synchronicity’ mean to you?

MC: Reaching a moment or several moments where the music plays the band and the energy from the audience drives the music.

AC: Synchronicity is a point when the band and audience are sharing in a special moment where the stars are aligning. I think it starts with the musicians having their ears open and allowing the music to come to them rather than forcing out things to say. When you combine that with an attentive audience that is in the moment with their enjoyment of the music, something magical happens. I’d call that synchronicity.

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It’s a safe bet that if you and the rest of the showgoers bring enthusiasm and attentive ears to the upcoming James Brown Dance Party and Jazz Is Phish performances, Adam, Matthew, and their supergroup of cohorts, will no doubt bring the funk and fury to the stage, leaving all those in attendance scooping their jaws off the floor at the close. Synchronicity is their business, and leaving satisfied customers in their wake is the mission. So get synchronous. Get satisfied. Get your face melted. And don’t forget your dancing shoes!

Words & Questions by Russell S. Glowatz

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Upcoming Dates:

James Brown Dance Party
January 23 @ Asheville Music Hall, Asheville, NC (tickets)
January 29 @ Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA (tickets)
February 19 @ Howard Theatre, Washington, DC (Check JBDP site for updated ticket info)

James Brown Dance Party tour will feature members of James Brown Band, Sly And The Family Stone, CeeLo Green Band, Alicia Keys Band, John Legend Band, Snarky Puppy, Trey Anastasio Band, Lettuce, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Eric Claptons Band, Billy And The Kids, Tea Leaf Green, RAQ, Jazz Is Phish, Tenacious D Band, Breakestra, The J.B.’s, and more! (Check event listings for exact lineups.)
*Stay up-to-date with JBDP @ their website and on Facebook

Jazz Is Phish
February 10 @ Blind Tiger, Greensboro, NC (tickets)
February 11 @ Southland Ballroom, Raleigh, NC (tickets)
February 12 @ Asheville Music Hall, Asheville, NC (tickets)
February 13 @ Smith’s Olde Bar, Atlanta, GA (tickets)
February 18 @ The Hall at MP, Brooklyn, NY (Check JIP site for updated ticket info)

Jazz Is Phish tour will feature members of Giant Country Horns, Sun Ra, Snarky Puppy, Cosmic Crewe, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jonathan Scales, Raq, TV On The Radio, High and Mighty Brass Band, Easy Star AllStars, Victor Wooten Band, Strange Design, Yo Mamas Big Fat Booty Band and more! (Check event listings for exact lineups.)
*Stay up-to-date with JIP @ their website and on Facebook

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