Jammies XIX: An Interview with Dutcher Wright Snedeker

posted by Matt Jarrells on 02/07/2018

February 7, 2018

The 19th Annual WYCE Jammie Award is THIS FRIDAY.

There will so much to take in on the Showroom stage - from award presentations to high-profile performances by May Erlewine, organissimo, Afro Zuma and many other West Michigan luminaries. Meanwhile, over on second stage in The Intersection's Stache venue, young West Michigan jazz lion Dutcher Wright Snedeker will hold down keyboard responsibilities in accompaniment of three acts (Hannah Laine, Justin Avdek & The Underground Circus, and Hannah Rose & The GravesTones) and as band leader of first-time Jammies participant Blushing Monk. I spoke via email with Dutcher about this Friday's big show and his plans for the foreseeable future.

Matt Jarrells: Hey, Dutcher. Thanks so much for taking some time to talk music and life today!

So, first, we’re curious about your origin story - where your passion for music came from and your first attempts at music.

Dutcher Wright Snedeker: So at an early age, my parents exposed me different styles of music. I remember riding in my dad's car listening to Ray Charles, The Stray Cats, Harry Connick Jr, classic crooners (Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, etc) and Stevie Wonder. I also remember drumming along to the radio on trips to the beach my Grandpa, a habit that I still do to this day whenever I'm listening to music. Seeing this habit and my love for listening to music, my dad told me that I would start lessons on an instrument in the 2nd grade, and that I got to choose. I initially chose drums, but after one lesson being bored playing on a practice pad (I wanted to jump on a drum kit), I moved toward piano. I think it made sense based on what I was listening to growing up. 

So I took lessons with Greg Booth, who I definitely credit with pushing me beyond the comforts of a normal young student. After flying through the Alfred music method, I was started on Baroque and Classical repertoire. After years of studying with him, I started with Gregory Ballard, a local musician who also dabbled in composition and first got me playing some arranged jazz pieces on top of a more focused classical repertoire. After his unexpected death towards the end of middle school, I studied with Aviram Reichert, a fiercely passionate musician who pushed me even further beyond my comfort zone and established the musical foundations that would lead me to play more in high school, form groups with friends and play in my 2 years of not having him as a teacher (he took a job at Seoul University), and ultimately pursue music at a college level. While studying with Giuseppe Lupis, I was introduced to a wider variety of classical music repertoire and was pushed to play in more ensembles and projects. This was a fully realized obsession with music, as I was spending full days and late nights in the music building playing, practicing, writing, recording, rehearsing, and loving the variety of options I had as a performer. I also took some jazz lessons and played in combos with Michael Drost, who even allowed me to help host a weekly jam in Grand Haven for a year and half. After graduating, in my gap year I worked as a choir accompanist for Allendale High School, which gave me a taste of what working in a school environment in a teaching role could feel like, and while I wrapped up my first year I got an offer to study at WMU for my Masters, which I am wrapping up this semester.

Since my dad's side of the family are all musicians, I continue to have a lot of guidance. I have an uncle who is a Symphony oboist with a Masters, an uncle with a dual Masters/Doctorate professor at CWU, another Doctorate uncle doing everything from performing to composing to recording, and grandparents that still do music in their 80s, with my grand still teaching piano (she actually taught current WMU Masters student/Grammy award winning pianist/vocalist John Proulx). So my passion for music comes from a combination of growing up in a family of musicians that loved sharing music, a lifelong education from various teachers learning how to play and appreciate the piano to engage further with music, and the mentors/friends/collaborators that pushed me in late high school to go on to college and then further on to graduate education. Another passion comes from the desire to solely work in music, whether that's performer (the bulk of my income), working in sound (a recent venture of the last year and some), or whatever other jobs can come from leaning writing, arranging, recording, and collaborating skills from my time in academia. 

So it's a long answer, but music continues to push my character and challenge my understanding of an instrument I've played nearly my whole life. 

MJ: That’s an amazing pedigree! Your commitment to your art definitely shows in how in-demand you are. What’s the greatest challenge in working with such a wide variety of artists and how do you stay afloat?

DWS: So I think the biggest challenge in working with everybody is scheduling for sure and balancing time between the groups. Every group I play with has a different flavor to them, and while my classical and jazz education helps in being flexible, it also makes me that much more aware of the amount of preparation it can take to really deliver. Organization falls in I suppose with scheduling too, since everyone is booking in advance, trying to make rehearsals, and building up repertoire for the different groups to offer audiences a variety of sounds.

The biggest thing that has helped me stay afloat is work with so many musicians who understand that this is what I do full time and don't take it personally when they can't schedule me into a show or session (or have to work around my schedule in general). Another thing I have to remember, since I play with so many groups, is just to listen and help lead as much as I can. Knowing the tunes, interacting with folks on stage, and remembering not to get to absorbed in my own little isolated zone helps push me to support the musicians around me, making the music feel and sound that much better. There is also a great amount of trust between the musicians involved in the groups I play in: trust that everyone will come prepared, ready to support each other and the music, and will hold each other to a professional standard, even if we're all having fun as friends while we play.

MJ: So, even though you’re playing with 4 groups this Friday, two of those groups have merged into a new band - Earth Radio - that is releasing a debut album in March. Can you talk about the beginnings of that band, the sound we can expect to hear from it, and where you think it’s headed?

DWS: Earth Radio came together when Justin Avdek and Hannah Laine started playing together while Avdek was also tracking Underground Circus material with me.

When we all got introduced, we started talking about playing together and recording together. We brought in Mario on drums (since he’s on Underground Circus material) and Travis Swanson, our guitarist, fell into the lineup after he moved down from Marquette this past fall. While he didn’t end up on our record, we knew he’d be a great fit and could learn the material.

The great thing about this group is how we have a built in variety of original tunes: Hannah Laine’s EP, 3 Underground Circus albums, and the tracks from the Earth Radio album.

We have a variety of influences as a group, but the sounds tend to gravitate towards funk and future soul, a variation on NWO-soul that incorporates more textures/technology within the genre (i.e. Hiatus Kaiyote). However, we tend to write without a genre in mind, so Motown, Jazz, and blues rock can creep into the band’s sound as well.

I like where this band is already going, and we’re excited to officially release our album on March 1st at Founders with our friends in the talented group Lushh.

MJ: Can’t wait to hear that record. I caught you guys at SpeakEZ a couple weeks ago and was definitely groovin’ to it.

So, we’ve talked a lot about your work as a sideman but I’m sure right at the top of your priorities is the project for which you’re the central figure – Blushing Monk – who we’ll see at Jammies at 8:25pm on The Stache stage. What can people expect from Blushing Monk, what’s the lineup moving forward, and what are your summer plans with the band?

Blushing Monk is definitely a new venture for me, as it's the first time I'm not trying to co-lead a group, but solely shape and mold the kind of jazz-based ensemble I want to develop. I'm still in the exploratory stages with the group figuring out what kind of repertoire to shape and learn, and I'm leaning towards more modern styles of jazz (i.e. Braxton Cook, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Donny McCaslin's Quartet, Kneebody, etc). However, going to WMU has grown my appreciation for really studying the jazz greats, and there are so many tunes/sounds/arrangements to explore that I wouldn't rule out trying to work out charts for this configuration. Having 2 chordal instruments and 2 horns opens up a lot of harmonic and melodic possibilities, and I'm definitely paying attention to groups that handle larger instrumentation creatively and comfortably for both the performers and the listeners.

While it includes some familiar faces and people I've play with in other groups (i.e. Travis Swanson is our new guitarist), the lineup for the Jammies is definitely a feature of some of the many people I've met at WMU working hard and inspiring my progress forward. We have Caleb Elzinga on sax (who I play with in other groups like Benjaman James), Yakiv Tsvietinskyi on trumpet (Ukrainian Fullbright scholar who is a force to be reckoned with, also plays keys), Travis Swanson on guitar, Matt Epperson on bass and Madison George on drums (both from the Downbeat recognized WMU student jazz group Lushh). 

We'll be playing a new tune of by Caleb Elzinga called "Swingin' in the Library," and reprising our performances of "Drum Battle" by Kneebody and "Stadium Jazz" by Donny McCaslin.

Moving forward, the lineup will continue to shift when needed, but for the time being, we will have Brad Fritcher on trumpet, Caleb on sax, Travis on guitar, Matt on bass, and then drummer Ryan Demeniuk, another great WMU drummer that I played with in WMU's Jazz Orchestra and in a quartet with Matt Epperson.

Currently we're looking to book a couple shows a month to showcase more of our repertoire and grow as group. Since we all are in different cities with different schedules and in different groups, I'm setting a minimum goal to make sure that we keep growing and developing. Plus, it will give us a chance to workshop tune ideas/arrangements for another recording session this summer with the new lineup. 

MJ: Any styles you’re interested in exploring that we haven’t heard from you yet?

DWS: Yeah! I'm always down to try other styles, and with my graduation coming up soon I'm looking forward to starting some projects writing and playing with other genres, whether it's solo or as a collaboration. I've always had in the back of my mind to try some tunes that are metal, motown, Flying Lotus style beats, and contemporary classical solo piano and chamber music (which also has a project in the works with some GVSU alumni friends of mine). I'm not against trying a style if a project resonates with my musical likes or a person is fun to work with.

MJ: Any hidden Dutcher talents that we may never see on stage?

DWS: Well, not sure if won't ever try to take some sort of talent to a performance setting, but I'm definitely interested in performing on other instruments, starting a podcast, growing my YouTube/Twitch channel (in turn growing some video/audio skills), and singing. I guess with all of that, writing will also grow!

Some people also say that I do a great impression of Elmo from Sesame Street, haha, so that probably won't work it's way to a stage anytime soon.

MJ: Dutcher, thank you so much for your time today. Break all the legs this Friday!



Matt Jarrells is WYCE's Program Director

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