Emulating the ‘style, notes, energy’ of Chicago, Brass Transit aims to play ‘hit after hit’ aided by GR Symphony in the weekend concert at DeVos Performance Hall. The Local Spins interview.
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The music of Chicago resonates with brassy horns, rocking rhythm section and soaring vocals.
The orchestra and tribute band have performed together previously, so Grand Rapids Symphony Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt knows just how impressively Brass Transit unfurls Chicago’s music.
“They’re pros: They know the style, notes, energy. They do this for fun. The orchestra charts are excellent,” Bernhardt says.
Brass Transit bandleader Tony Carlucci calls the orchestral treatment a different feel for the band, and an added benefit for the audience.
“Our show doesn’t change. It’s just an augmented auditory experience,” he says.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets, $19-$104, available online here.
Carlucci began playing trumpet when he was 9, and by his teens he was a regular in Toronto’s musical theater scene and was playing with Canada’s Youth Orchestra. He graduated from the music program at Humber College and became a regular part of the studio and TV scene in Toronto.
He’d grown up with the jazz-rock sound of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, Chase and similar bands of his native country, such as Lighthouse. His favorite was Chicago, and even after a career that saw him perform with everyone from Corey Hart and the Fabulous Thunderbirds to Percy Sledge and the Drifters, he longed for the sounds of the horn bands of the ’70s.
So in 2008, he enlisted several of his musical compatriots from the Toronto studios to pay homage to Chicago. Carlucci booked a few gigs just to show the band off. But it soon grew beyond his wildest dreams, and the band has been playing across the continent ever since.
“When I first heard Chicago, I was blown away by the sound of three guys: It was a huge, huge sound. That turned me on and propelled me into the pop world,” he says.
Brass Transit has recorded two albums. The first is a set of well-known songs of the ’70s such as “Hello It’s Me” and “Doctor My Eyes” as well as hits by Canadian hitmakers such as the Guess Who and Gino Vanelli, all rearranged in the style of Chicago. The second gives fans a taste of what the audience will hear at the upcoming show: “The Symphony Sessions” features Chicago hits such as “Make Me Smile” and “Old Days” arranged to incorporate orchestra.
A ‘GENEROUS’ 20-SONG CONCERT THAT BECOMES ‘A PARTY’
The orchestra loves the occasional opportunity to perform live with a band such as Brass Transit, says Bernhardt, who grew up with the music of the ’50s and ’60s, and finds keeping that music alive gratifying and exciting. “I’m a big fan of the band, and now of Brass Transit. I’ve worked with them three times in the past and I love the show,” he says.
The band’s keyboardist and backing vocalist, Don Breithaupt, and his occasional substitute, Lou Pomanti, handle arrangements for the orchestra. Like Carlucci and the rest of the band, both are veterans of the studio scene. Breithaupt leads the Steely Dan-esque band Monkey House and has written three books on popular music of the ’70s, one a defining look at his favorite album, Steely Dan’s “Aja.”
Pomanti has written, performed and produced music by Michael Bublé, singer and songwriter Marc Jordan and Anne Murray, among others. He also co-leads another tribute band with Carlucci: Oakland Stroke plays music by Tower of Power along with other ’70s-era horn-fueled bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Chicago.
Carlucci says the arrangements add to the sound, not just pasted on. “Sometimes the originals had strings,” says Carlucci, pointing to “If You Leave Me Now” as an example. He said the arrangements augment the band with strings, woodwinds and French horns.
“The meat of Chicago is the big fat brass sound. We didn’t want (orchestra) to step on our toes. We’re looking for textures, not competition.”
Bernhardt and Carlucci agree that the sounds of the classic jazz-rock bands like BS&T and Chicago still move audiences today. “The audience is listening to music we all lived. We’re there with them, in the same boat,” Carlucci says.
It all adds up to performances that Bernhardt says audiences really get into.
“It’s hit after hit after hit. It’s a generous show, 20 songs. It’s a concert and a party.”
VIDEO: Brass Transit (Performing Chicago Songs With Symphony)
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