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Watch Snarky Puppy play “Tarova” and “Xavi” at the Tiny Desk.
Nov. 20, 2019 | Colin Marshall — Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.
What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.
Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade. And their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel. The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after League became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy.
Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other. They’re masters of theme and variation, offering anyone with a listening ear a place to grab hold. And people do. They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.
Michael League: Bass; “JT” Thomas: drums; Nate Werth: percussion; Shaun Martin: keys; Bobby Sparks: keys; Justin Stanton: keys, trumpet; Jay Jennings: trumpet; Chris Bullock: saxophone, flute; Chris McQueen: guitar; Zach Brock: violin
Producers: Colin Marshall, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Bronson Arcuri, Jack Corbett, CJ Riculan, Morgan Noelle Smith; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Emily Bogle/NPR