Interview: Ryan McNulty of Black Tie Brass

Big band music is back in full swing with the added flair of funk, jazz and soul. Such music is well deserved during these times simply for the sake of getting down and dirty with it all. One such band that seems to filling in this mix of genres quite well is none other than Black Tie Brass. Members Ryan McNulty, Randolph Smith, Mike Alvarez, Jason Reese, Al Marino, Charles Jourdan and Glenn Chiarrello are masters of this new revitalization. Ryan McNulty took some time to talk about their musical adventure and how they are riding the wave of this great transition in music.

Their origin story is an elaborate one. “… I have always loved music. Then in college I found some guys who pushed me to be better. Then after college, during my Master’s, I didn’t see those guys for ten months. We finally did a gig together and it all clicked. This is what we were meant to do. We gigged for a few months but then, suddenly, over the course of a few weeks, I wrote four new songs. They all just spilled out. It was as if a dam just broke and all these melodies just fell out. I couldn’t hold them back and we decided to do an album. Since then, not a day goes by that I don’t write a new melody, sometimes five or six. So many that I can’t keep up. I honestly don’t think I chose this and more so that it is what I am supposed to do. I found some great musicians that I can collaborate with and make a sound our own.”

While the men are constantly perfecting their craft, Ryan shared a bit about his most memorable work to date. “Our first album was probably our favorite moment. It is where we really came together as a band. We recorded on two consecutive nights doing live takes of our songs. Each guy knew that there were no redos and each of us had to be giving 100% each time. It galvanized the group to be our best and it has only been getting better each month since then.”

As far as shows go, Black Tie Brass are always on the move. “We just played at Brooklyn Bowl on Sunday June 26th. It was a fantastic experience for the band. It was our first time playing at Brooklyn Bowl. For me personally it was a dream come true. Since Brooklyn Bowl opened, I knew I wanted to play there. All my favorite artists have played there: Questlove, Erykah Badu, Lettuce, Soulive, and now us! It was truly a memorable experience. On top of that, the band went to another level at the show. Communicating, trading solos, tight cutoffs, it had everything. We also premiered two brand new songs, the crowd loved them! The audience sang along to our song Sunshine and as one of the composers of the song, it could not have gone over better. It just goes to show that if you put your faith in the audience they give it right back. I honestly couldn’t have thought of a better way to have my first show at Brooklyn Bowl to go.”  

However, as all musicians will declare, touring is not without its rough patches. “Our most difficult performance was in 2015. We played a very small club in NYC because a promoter told us it would be a big show. When we arrived the club was still cleaning up from a flood the night before. One of the house speakers was waterlogged, the club smelled like mold, and on top of that no one came. We had nine people in the audience, most of them family. On top of that, the trumpet player came in five minutes after our set was supposed to start! He left his car double parked, without getting a ticket, for the whole set. At that show we played a Lettuce cover Madison Square for the first time and I think the annoyance of the turnout and venue turned into fuel because we hit that song so hard. It was just a wall of sound. I think you could have heard it note for note in the street. We salvaged the show but it was most definitely the most difficult performance.”

In regard to the musical space, Ryan shared his thoughts on it all. “It’s different, It is nothing like how it used to be. Physical albums are useless and mailing lists don’t help. You have to create buzz in a way that ten years ago did not exist. Using things like Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and Twitter are the only way to get people to look at you and check your stuff out. That is also why people of our generation are making it work. We didn’t have to change our business model to get started, this is the society I’ve always known. Carving out a niche for yourself is hard just like it has always been. Now you have a direct line of access to your fanbase. I can message any fan I want right from my phone. I can look at the pictures they take of us right on my phone. I can read tweets on stage of people reacting to my show. That is the way you make it work. It is damn hard and it is nearly constant. I wouldn’t change it for a second.”

Music seems to be their set medium for the moment. “I honestly have no plans to explore any other thing besides the world of music. I would like to branch out though into all other aspects such as producing and managing. I realized how helpful a good producer can be in the studio and preparing for your live show while watching some very bad producers work. Then you find a producer who guides you and it changes everything and that is incredibly freeing.”

Even though they will remain situated in the music medium, that does not mean that they do not hope to experiment a bit with their tunes. “… The band and I have just been talking about that. I think since our style of music, instrumental jazz/funk, is such a niche, sometimes you need a tune that will lure people in. While working on our next record, we are working on a lot of different songs and some of them might have guest vocalists but other ones won’t need them while still having that vocal quality. I can’t say much more because that would ruin the surprise!” Keep an eye out.

Not only are Black Tie Brass talented musicians, they also have a wide range of equally valuable artists to do their research on. Ryn shared a few of his influences. “… Lettuce, Robert Glasper, Snarky Puppy, Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas, The Roots, Terrace Martin, Kendrick Lamar, just to name a few. Some are so inspirational that while I am in a writing period, I can’t listen to them. They influence my writing so much that I have to extract their sound from my head. It is hard too because of course you want to listen to this great great music but you also want to be original and make your own sound.”

Black Tie Brass are not taking it slow at all, Mr. McNulty gave a glimpse of the work they are currently mastering. “Writing new songs, arranging a new MJ cover, and posting like crazy on social media. I just received a ton of new promo shots so I want to plan how we are going to use them and put them up so all our people can see it! Later on we have rehearsal where we are going to watch some footage of ourselves and dissect it like game film. Just trying to pick our show apart and see how we can make every aspect better. Then compare our show to other bands in our genre and see if we can borrow some things from them. It is a constant process of refining and polishing to make it all look as smooth as possible. Right now we are working on the next record. Writing new songs, working on those new tunes, and choosing how we can make this album even bigger and better than the last. When you make music like we do with all the improvisation and spontaneous stuff that occurs on stage we have to best figure out how to capture that on an album while still making it something that people will leave knowing and loving the melody. Just keep an eye out for updates on that next album!”  

Listeners need some Black Tie Brass in their lives. Simply put, these guys are making music that is both equally tasteful and ambitious. Their big band sound infused with their original take on classic tunes adds a special touch to it all. If listeners are on the lookout for new music to become addicted to, look no further than Black Tie Brass to satisfy the musical sensations for the summer! Catch them 

Jam On.

Photo Credit: Juliet Rose


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