Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy, a 10-plus piece jazz band from Brooklyn, New York, has won three Grammy Awards. It will play the Center for the Arts tonight. Hopefully the band fits on the stage.

At this point you’ve probably heard of Snarky Puppy.

Or maybe you haven’t.

Even though the band has gone from being one of the best-kept secrets in the music industry to the top of the instrumental music scene (it has a perfect batting average at the Grammys, with three nominations and three wins), Snarky Puppy is still kind of a niche operation: an oftentimes 20-part jazz band that improvises onstage and records in front of a live studio audience.

With all those moving parts it might seem impossible for the members of Snarky Puppy, which will play at 8 tonight at the Center for the Arts, not to step on one another’s feet. But Justin Stanton, one of the band’s trumpet and keyboard players, said they don’t.

That big-band energy and presence is all part of the process.

“When we record, everyone’s involved, everyone’s there, everybody that’s touring regularly,” Stanton said. “It’s usually 20, 25 guys present in the recording session. You’ve got all these brains in the room, and everybody’s recording.”

That’s held true even as Snarky Puppy has deviated from its long-held practice of recording in front of a live audience for its latest two albums, “Culcha Vulcha” (2016) and “Immigrance” (2019). Stanton said doing so built off the band’s 2015 album, “Sylva,” which was recorded with the Metropole Orkest, a Danish jazz and pop orchestra.

“We’re trying to do orchestral arrangements with the band,” he said.

On past albums, like “Family Dinner Vol. 1,” which is one of two projects Snarky Puppy has released that featured vocals — it also won Snarky Puppy its first Grammy for the performance of “Something” — Stanton said the band was tapping “the energy of a live performance in a studio.”

On “Culcha Vulcha” and “Immigrance” the band wanted to invert that.

“We’re trying to bring a studio experience to the stage,” Stanton said. “The energy’s sort of going in the other direction.”

With that new studio focus, Snarky Puppy’s music is still freewheeling and improvisational, though it now features a particularly crisp, studio-refined edge. Like “Skate U” from 2010’s “Tell Your Friends,” which features a mind-bending keyboard solo courtesy of Cory Henry, songs like “Chonks,” the first song on “Immigrance” still feature teeth-clenching bass and keyboard hooks.

But whereas the keyboards — a hallmark of the band, which features three keyboard players at any given time — on Snarky Puppy’s earlier albums hew closer to traditional organ and jazz piano sounds, the synths on “Culcha Vulcha” and “Immigrance” are ethereal and seem to draw as much from world music traditions as they do from American roots.

The entrance of those influences are a product of Snarky Puppy’s members being steeped in a number of musical traditions and getting a chance to play on an international stage. The band’s leader, bass player and composer Michael League, was inspired to write “Xavi” after performing at the Gnaoua World Music Festival in Morocco with a group of gnawa musicians. But Stanton said that was a sort of an exception to the rule.

Nobody in the band tries to “consciously tap into anything” when recording.

“Things just come out, and it’s just a part of who you are as a person,” Stanton said. “The way you play and improvise and the way you compose, the more experience you get. It’s more about who you are and what you grew up with.”

Still, Stanton and the rest of the group have been deeply affected by their opportunity to play with and for people of cultures across the globe. The title of their latest album, “Immigrance,” might seem vaguely political. And that’s because it is. Vaguely.

“It’s recognizing that people are moving and cultures are moving and interacting together and trying to embrace that,” Stanton said. “We’re all in motion at all times.” 

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7062 or

Scene Editor Billy Arnold covers arts and entertainment. He apprenticed as a sound engineer at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio before making his way to Jackson, where he has become a low-key fan of country music.

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