Jay Jennings, Trumpet Player in Snarky Puppy Interview

Snarky Puppy, a New York-based group, originally founded in Texas, produces a blend of jazz and instrumental rock with multiple drummers, guitar players and a horn section to beef up their sound.

The band recently won their second GRAMMY award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.

Snarky Puppy will be touring internationally this year, but before they hit Mexico, South America and a national tour, the band will kicking off the festival season at the AURA Music Festival March 3-5.

Tony Smith and Jay Jennings spoke together on the band’s evolution, their touring schedule and the AURA Festival in Florida coming up this weekend.

Scan over their discussion, and browse over their live tour dates below.

How does it feel to win your second Grammy, and did that feeling differ in any way from when you won your first Grammy?

The first time had a bigger impact. The first time we were more giddy perhaps, but that feeling doesn’t go away, it’s still a Grammy.

The fact that it was for the entire album, not just the one song was something very significant to me. I thought it was cool that the category recognized the entire album.

I didn’t think it was going to happen once, but none the less twice. This time I was more excited because of the fact it was for the entire album and I was really, really proud of the album SYLVA. It was one of the most proud moments of music for me, doing that with the Metropole Orkest.

Are you guys excited to come back to Florida?

Oh yah man, I can’t wait! Last time we were down there (The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park) was the Bear Creek Music Festival. We did that for a couple of years, and that was the first time we went to The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.

I had a great time there, it was a few years ago. One of the better music festivals in the U.S. It’s not as big as some of the other ones, but it was very, very cool. All the people are very, very cool. It’s wide open, not real crowded.

Has Snarky Puppy played many music festivals like Aura?

Oh yah, we’ve done many.

What’s your favorite festival?

Oh man, that’s a deep question. Bear Creek was a good one, with Snarky Puppy. There has been so many music festivals; overseas and in North America, it would be really hard to pick one. To be honest, I’ve missed a lot of the big ones in Europe. Snarky Puppy has played the North Seas Jazz Festival, The Java Jazz Festival, all kinds of jazz festivals. The summer time is big festival season.

We did the Monterey Jazz Festival in CA this year, and that was really nice. Monterey might be the biggest festival I’ve done with Snarky Puppy.

Can you shed any light on the song line up for Aura this year?

I’m sure we’re going to be playing some new songs from the new record, which we just recorded in December. I think it’s scheduled to come out later this summer. Most of those songs nobody has heard, unless you have been to a live show in the last couple months. It’ll be fun to play.

How long have you been with the band?

Well it’s 2016, and I started in 2004, so 12 years now.

Have you been with the band since the very beginning?

Actually “Maz”, Mike Maher was the first trumpet player, and a couple of months after the band started he moved to New York. He was a couple of years ahead of us in school. After he moved to New York, I joined the band and kind of took his place. And now we both play in the band. I took over for him, but it was still still in the beginning of the band, but Maz was definitely the first trumpet player.

We we’re all in the music program at the University of North Texas at relatively the same time. Most of the people who were originally in the band at least (we’re from North Texas), but now there’s been several people added that didn’t go there. We played together not only in Snarky Puppy, but in everybody in school’s groups. We would always be playing in different ensembles.  

The amount of musicianship in the band is incredible. I’ve always felt like every time I play with the band it makes me step up a little bit, just to keep up with everybody else.

Where did you get the name Snarky Puppy?

I always say I wish there was a better story for it because it is a unique name. Mike League’s brother was going to start a band and call it Snarky Puppy, but he never started that band. So Mike decided he was going to use that name. And that’s as far as that story goes, I think.  It stuck and people recognize it, so that’s good.

You’ve played in so many different bands across several different genres, what did you listen to when you were young?

The first cassette I ever bought was The Beach Boys Greatest Hits.

I grew up listening to the oldies radio station that my parents listened to, which had a bunch of Motown on it.

When CD’s came out when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I kind of dove into the early 90’s grunge era of Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. I was into Green Day for a little bit. I was into a bunch of rock bands in middle school.

Once I started playing trumpet, I started getting interested in jazz. And I really still feel the same way now as I felt back then about it. Any early jazz, what I was really into was the bebop era, so anything from Charlie Parker (1940) to 1958, those twenty years of jazz is what I spent a lot of time learning. Everything that every jazz musician starts to listen to when they get serious about their craft, is all the greats, like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gilespie, Miles Davis, all those guys…

I never got over how great they were. So I still listen to them all the time, I still can’t find anything better.

Do you enjoy playing with bigger or smaller bands, and why?

Snarky Puppy might be the biggest band that I play with, and it feels like one of the smallest bands when were are playing, but I think that’s a good thing. Some of the other bands I play with are smaller, but feel bigger. I think that has a lot to do with the amount of time that we have spent together and played together. It’s more of a family vibe than a gig vibe.

You spend a lot of your time on tour, what’s it like touring with so many people and being on the road?

It’s great, all the traveling you get to do. There’s pros and cons to every job. The pros to this job outweigh the cons. Traveling is great, but you are away from home all the time. The music’s great. We’re just very fortunate to be in such a great family environment like Snarky, because a lot of touring bands have conflicts between people. Snarky Puppy is one of the only bands that I’ve ever known where everyone gets along okay and it’s a family vibe and we’ve all known each other for so long and we know exactly how each other is going to react to any situation. We respect each other, and try to do what we’re supposed to be doing and that’s playing music for people. Not getting lost in all of the bullshit that comes from being on the road.

When Snarky Puppy records an album, are you normally all in the studio together?

Yes, most all of the time we’re all in the studio together when recording an album. This last album we did was a studio album, so it was a different type of vibe. The last three or four albums have been in front of a live audience, all the takes have been live. There’s been a lot of microphones in one room. For instance, on this last album, the horns didn’t track until the last couple days, but we were in the studio every day with the band, learning and arranging the songs.

What is the most rewarding part of playing in Snarky Puppy?

The most rewarding part about being in Snarky Puppy is being able to share the stage with such great musicians. When you’re touring, it’s every night that your on stage with those spectacular musicians. The best part about it now is seeing people all around the world recognize how great it is. I think all of us have known there is something special for a really long time, and that’s why we grinded it out so hard for so many years. To hear and see people’s responses be so positive about everything that we’re doing is the most fulfilling to me.

How does the music you create make you feel?

I actually just listened to Sylva (best instrumental album of 2016) on an LP for the first time a couple days ago all the way through. It made me feel kind of nostalgic. It’s just such a great experience to do that. That was one of my prouder musical accomplishments was Sylva, just playing with a 68 piece orchestra as part of our band is just kind of crazy. We’ve always had lots of people and been a rotating cast of musicians as it is. When we go places, we have friends everywhere so they come and sit in. There’s something about me as a musician looking around the room during one of those rehearsals, and just thinking I’ve done something right. Recording an album with an orchestra is something that I’ve listened to all of my heroes do at some point.

Could you speak on the role that Snarky Puppy plays in music education.

It’s incredible to be apart of something that gives back to the community. Mike League is a big reason why all of that is happening. He has always been really great, giving back to kids who might not have as many advantages as some of us did when we were young, growing up learning to play music. Mike is always great about scheduling clinics on the road. So we will play a club the night before, and then get up and go play a clinic in the afternoon at a school. If a band like that, that was touring came to our school I think we would’ve thought it was the coolest shit ever.

It would have been very very insightful, and to be on the other side of the stage, and to be giving back to all of the kids and colleges that are in the same position we were ten to fifteen years ago, that is very fulfilling to be able to give them the best advice we can.

We literally were in your shoes ten years ago, so we have some things to say about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, if you want to have a career as a musician. It’s just now becoming the Snarky Puppy that we all wanted it to become. Where we could just do Snarky Puppy and everything would be okay. But over the past ten to fifteen years everyone has done so much stuff in the professional music world to make a living, that we have so many great things to say to kids who are trying to do the same thing we’re doing. We love doing it.

Tour Dates

Date | Venue | Location | Tickets

3/5 | Aura Music & Arts Festival | Live Oak, FL | BUY TICKETS
3/7 | Lunario With Special Guest Banda Magda | Mexico City, Mexico | BUY TICKETS
3/9 | Luna Park With Special Guest Banda Magda | Buenos Aires, Argentina | BUY TICKETS
3/10 | Teatro Solis With Special Guest Banda Magda | Montevideo, Uruguay | BUY TICKETS
3/11 | Teatro La Cupula With Special Guest Banda Magda | Santiago, Chile | BUY TICKETS
4/28 | Jazz Fest | New Orleans, LA | BUY TICKETS
4/29 | Reno Jazz Festival | Reno, NV | BUY TICKETS
4/30 | The Tabernacle | With Special Guest Lucy Woodward | Atlanta, GA | BUY TICKETS
5/1 | NC Museum of Art | Raleigh, NC | BUY TICKETS
5/2 | Bethesda Blues & Jazz | Bethesda, MD | BUY TICKETS
5/3 | Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center | Jamaica, NY | BUY TICKETS
5/4 | House of Blues With Special Guest Lucy Woodward | Boston, MA | BUY TICKETS
5/5 | Landmark Theatre | Syracuse, NY | BUY TICKETS
5/6 | SUNY Postdam | Potsdam, NY | BUY TICKETS
5/7 | Town Ballroom With Special Guest Lucy Woodward | Buffalo, NY | BUY TICKETS
5/8 | Carnegie Library Music Hall With Special Guest Lucy Woodward | Pittsburgh, PA | BUY TICKETS
5/9 | Beachland Ballroom With Special Guest Charlie Hunter | Cleveland, OH | BUY TICKETS
5/11 | Park Street Saloon With Special Guest Charlie Hunter | Columbus, OH | BUY TICKETS
5/12 | Madison Theater | Covington, KY | BUY TICKETS
5/13 | The Vogue | Indianapolis, IN | BUY TICKETS
5/14 | The Concord Music Hall With Special Guest Charlie Hunter | Chicago, IL | BUY TICKETS
5/17 | City Winery | Nashville, TN | COMING SOON
5/18 | Minglewood With Special Guest Michelle Willis | Memphis, TN | BUY TICKETS
5/19 | Granada Theater With Special Guest Michelle Willis and The Funky Knuckles | Dallas, TX | BUY TICKETS
5/20 | Scoot Inn With Special Guest Michelle Willis | Austin, TX | BUY TICKETS
5/24 | Ogden With Special Guest Michelle Willis | Denver, CO | BUY TICKETS
5/25 | The Orange Peel With Special Guest Michelle Willis | Asheville, NC | BUY TICKETS
5/26 | Georgia Theatre With Special Guest Michelle Willis | Athens, GA | BUY TICKETS
8/10 | Harpa Eldborg Hall | Reykjavik, Iceland | BUY TICKETS