Ladies & Gentlemen, Meet The Horn Section [INTERVIEW]
Think Tower of Power, Chicago, James Brown’s J.B. Horns, Genesis, Earth Wind & Fire, and Kool & The Gang. What sonic matter do these fabled bands all have in common? Horns. Glorious, funky, soulful, vibrant horns, that’s what! Where would these legendary godfathers of jazz/ fusion, rock, soul, and funk be without a horn section? Great, perhaps, but maybe a bit flatter, a little duller, and less multi-dimensional.
A great horn section packs a unique emotional punch that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s the chef d’oeuvre, the icing on the cake, and the crowning stroke that makes good bands great and great bands even greater.
Enter The Horn Section – three exceptional musicians who are gaining traction and notoriety across the musical spectrum. Formerly of Turkuaz, the much-beloved, nine-piece funk outfit they helped to found, Chris Brouwers (trumpet), Greg Sanderson (tenor saxophone), and Josh Schwartz (baritone sax) have been honing their skills playing together for over a decade.
Their musical abilities also stretch beyond mastery of horns. All three can carry a wicked tune when called on to do so. Josh stands out as a versatile, show-stopping vocalist with a solo project in the works. Chris is a virtuoso on keyboards, and Greg is exceptional on electronic wind instruments. And as any fan of Turkuaz will tell you, these guys can blow their instruments while simultaneously dancing in unison well enough to rival The J.B.’s.
Shortly after they, along with four other members of Turkuaz, left the band in 2021, the three formed The Horn Section, offering their unique talents for hire as live performers and studio musicians. They can be found wherever horns are needed including sit-ins, artist-at-large billings, or penning custom horn arrangements.
Since their debut at the North Beach Music Festival in Miami Beach in December of 2021, The Horn Section has fans and music industry professionals standing up and taking notice at events like Summer Camp Music Festival, a massive Red Rocks throwdown with The Motet and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Jam Cruise 19, where they popped up just about everywhere with everyone, and more. Additionally they’ve been logging performances with moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Greensky Bluegrass, Big Gigantic, Mike Gordon, and a host of others. Perhaps their widest exposure and breakthrough moment came when they joined Zac Brown’s touring band in 2022 playing huge arenas and stadiums before tens of thousands of people.
Among their latest projects is Cool Cool Cool – a septet formed with former Turkuaz bandmates Shira Elias, Sammi Garett, Michelangelo Carubba, and Craig Brodhead, which is garnering rave reviews touring with Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew on their Remain in Light tribute to the Talking Heads. Fans will be happy to know that Cool Cool Cool plans more shows including a Steely Dan Tribute featuring members of Snarky Puppy, The Motet, and The Nth Power slated for May 4 at The Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans.
Just as the Remain In Light tour winds down, The Horn Section will be getting ready for the next including Remember Jones’ Mad Dogs & Englishman 50th Anniversary tribute tour, where they’ll be part of a 20-piece band.
They’ll also be joining Les Claypool’s roving carnival, the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade Summer of Green Tour 2023, as special guests.
The Horn Section’s rise might seem meteoric but, in fact, it’s taken them a long time and a lot of hard work to reach this moment. As a huge fan of horns (my dad is sax player), I wanted to get to know these gifted musicians better for my sake as well as the music community at large that is only just beginning to grasp their wizardry. I had the good fortune of sitting down with Chris, Greg, and Josh recently on Jam Cruise 19 for a conversation about their journey together and the makings of The Horn Section. So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, meet The Horn Section!
In The Beginning
MFN: Thanks so much for meeting with me today. I’d like to go over the fundamentals and start from the beginning. You guys met at Berklee College of Music?
CHRIS: Greg and I met at Berklee College of Music. We had a class together and just started chatting at one point, and Greg asked if I was available to play a show there with this band that was playing at the performance center at the college, and that was Turkuaz. That was the first Turkuaz show in February 2008. That’s how we first met, and Josh was also involved with the group at that point.
JOSH: I didn’t go to Berklee. I was actually the only non-music student in the band. While in my high school band in New Jersey, I was in it with this guy Mike Haziza, a really great guitarist who started in Turkuaz, and he went to Berklee. When he was about to start his senior year there, I had just graduated Syracuse. And he’s like, “Do you want to come move to Boston with me and live in a house full of musicians and make music again?”
And I was like, “Yeah. I want to get back to playing music more.”
MFN: Were you studying music at Syracuse?
JOSH: I studied advertising. It was classic. Dad was like, “Get a degree in something just to be safe and have a ‘job’ job just in case.”
I thought I could make jingles or something. But music was the thing I always wanted to do more. I just moved to Boston and didn’t really know many people. I had met Greg and some more people from visiting him over the years. That’s how I fell into the group of musician friends that became Turkuaz. And the rest is history, I guess.
CHRIS: Our first meeting was in this unfinished basement of a house where a bunch of music students lived. And I remember it being this dark, no windows, stone, dirt floors place. So that was the first time we were all playing horns together. Yeah in that dark, wet basement.
MFN: I take it you were all musical as kids?
GREG: Yeah. My parents had me play piano. I’m from Coventry, CT. They got me lessons with the lady down the street. I was pretty young though. I started to read music when I was learning to read books and stuff too.
Starting with piano, learning that, it transitioned into middle school band. So I already knew what was happening with the music they put in front of me. But I didn’t know how to play the horn yet.
CHRIS: I’m from Truckee, CA, and my story is almost the exact story as Greg’s. I took piano lessons as a kid because my mom made me do it.
The Break Up
MFN: The breakup of Turkuaz was a shock to all of us, but it looks like it led to a metamorphosis of something really good. Turkuaz had a great run. We all loved you in that and to see you blossom into The Horn Section now is wonderful. How did this come to fruition?
CHRIS: That was a really difficult decision for us, obviously. It was really tough times. We were basically out of work, and we didn’t know if we were ever going to work again in the industry like we had been.
All the years we spent with Turkuaz is how we know all of these people and bands that we end up playing with now. So, we are so grateful that we had all those opportunities. And when that ended, we just looked around and said, “Well, you know, we have something special together with the three of us.” We have this chemistry with each other where it’s just like unspoken cues. We give non-verbal cues to each other, and we just know exactly what we’re going to be playing on stage.
There’s something there with every band we’ve ever played with. We’ve sat in with so many other bands and friends of ours that that’s something that always seems to come through to bands and even crowds. People that come to see us at shows, they pick up on that and see that we have this thing together that melds really well.
And so we talked, and we’re, like, “Well, we want to keep doing what we do so well and try to use what we have all together. That’s where all this started with The Horn Section. It’s gone so incredibly well. It’s better than we could have ever expected. The response and support from our fellow musicians and friends was just really, really incredible.
So many people texted or called us and immediately said, “You guys come play with us. Let us know when you can make it. We would love to have you anytime.”
We had all these invitations from groups, and it very quickly turned from us thinking, “What are we gonna do?” to “No, we DO have this thing together.” This is something we can be proud of that we built all this time. It’s not just the name or something. We have something together that’s really special.
MFN: Tell us about your first gig as The Horn Section.
CHRIS: The first one was North Beach Music Festival (2021). That’s Gideon Plotnicki who runs that one. That’s one of our good friends that we’ve known for years and years. He was booking Turkuaz shows. That was the first time we did it.
There were so many other bands that we knew that were on that festival that we’re just talking to – all of our friends that we’ve known for years. We just said, “Hey! You want to have us?” And everyone was so excited. So, that was the first time we all played together.
MFN: Were you nervous the first time out?
JOSH: Nothing had technically changed because we’d been artists at large before. And like Chris said, we developed that unspoken communication and the lingo to be able to think on our toes. So, it was kind of the same thing. We just felt maybe a little nervous just in terms of that now that this was like “a thing” instead of just the Turkuaz horns.
Now that this was our main thing, it just felt kinda normal. The feedback from the crowd and fans and everyone was, “We’re so happy! This is so cool! We’re so happy for you!” We just hit the ground running, and it felt really good from the start.
The Big Time With Zac Brown Band
MFN: Since then, it’s been explosive. You don’t limit yourselves to any one genre. How did the Zac Brown Band gig come about?
GREG: We were speaking with one of our good friends who used to manage Turkuaz, Jason Gibbs, back in the day. He had been working with Robert Randolph, or is working with Robert Randolph. Zac had put together his big tour and said, “Hey, I want to do this big thing with Robert Randolph’s band and my band together. Let’s do a big show.”
So, Robert asked us to come along for the tour, and we were able to jump in and do the whole thing. So, Zac’s people, who were extremely nice, got us on stage. Chris wrote out charts and put together a whole set of their original music with them. It was pretty exciting.
MFN: Is it different doing an arrangement for country as opposed to other genres?
CHRIS: That was a first for us. I don’t think we’d ever played with a country music band in our lives, probably. So that was kind of like getting thrown into the deep end with one of the largest touring country acts in the world.
Musically it was kind of the same approach as we had for any one else. You really listen to the music instead of trying to force horn parts to happen in songs. We just really try to listen to the music and be familiar with it and try to decide what the music needs. Like, how can we enhance the music with a horn part? That’s kind of our general music philosophy. We just want to make it better any way that we can.
They (Zac Brown Band) were super open – just really kind people. They said, “Yeah. Here’s a list of things. If you hear anything, just feel free and just let us know what it is.”
And so, we kind of put something together. I remember at the time we had a Zoom meeting talking over charts and playing along with the music and trying to read the parts together over Zoom. It was really fun and an awesome experience. Yeah. We had never done anything like that before. That goes not just, obviously, for the music but the touring operation and the venues that we played were just insane.
The Head Nod
MFN: Can you recall a particular moment that stands out to you during the (Zac Brown) tour?
GREG: We had a cool moment where, in one of the songs, Zac didn’t really know exactly what he wanted to do yet, but he said to us, “Just make sure it’s good.” And so, we went to the show to play it, and he looks back at us and gives us a solid head nod. And we were just like, “Yes! Alright! We did it!” So it was a really fun moment.
We were all working out what’s going to happen here in this part. And he siad, “You guys got it. Make something good.”
And we’re thinking, “Okay. Alright. We have to do this. We have to make this happen.” And we had a really good moment where right after we did the part, he looked over his shoulder and gave us a good head nod.
CHRIS: That moment that Greg was talking about was actually the first rehearsal that we had. They actually flew us down to Atlanta, and we had a couple of days of rehearsal right before the first show that we did with him. So, that was the first time we had met anyone in their band, and we walked into this giant rehearsal space that had the entire Zac Brown Band set up and also the entire Robert Randolph Band. So, there were two drum kits, about a thousand guitar amps, roughly, and vocalists, and just everything.
They had the entire space set up with all of their production gear as well. There were monitors, and there’s racks and giant radar gun things pointing everywhere. And it was just like, “Whoa!” And we walk in, and there’s Zac just sitting there right in the middle with an acoustic guitar. That was the day that we met them.
Basically, we got to that point in the rehearsal, and he said, “Yeah. I’m thinking we just start with, like, a horn thing. I don’t know. You guys just do what you do and just make it good.”
And we all thought, “Oh my God! Here we go!”
Fast forward to the next morning where we had to get to the rehearsal space early, and the three of us are sitting there after being up all night before after meticulously trying to figure out and listen to the recordings from that day. We’re like, “Okay, this guy is doing this. We can fit in here.”
We showed up the next day before rehearsals started and the three of us rehearsed it together. And we were like, “Okay. We feel good about this. This is tight. I think this is gonna work. I think they’re gonna like this.” Then that was when we did it, and Zac gave us the head nod.
We thought, “Alright. We got this. Maybe we haven’t done this thing before, but this is what we do and we got this.”
MFN: Turkuaz played before some sizable audiences, but what was it like walking out in front of, say, fifty thousand people?
JOSH: I remember the first show of the tour, and it’s this hockey arena in South Carolina. We walk in, and it’s by far the biggest venue I’ve ever played. We walk in, and it’s like, “Oh my god!”
And then someone in the band said, “Yeah, we start the tour at small places so it’s low pressure.”
And we’re thinking, “Oh yeah! No big deal. Eight thousand, ten thousand people – small potatoes (chuckles).”
We had a day of rehearsal in that arena first. At least for me, that got a little bit of the “Oh my god! Oh my god!” jitters out. I was used to it, at least. There weren’t people there, but just being in the space, I thought, “Alright, it’s okay.”
We didn’t know before the tour where they had us or where we were going to be on stage. We were in the middle of the stage in the back on this high riser. You’re looking at Zac in the middle and the female vocalists are just above him and we’re above them. The video screen is right behind us. We’re like super, super visible. I never got used to it but in a good way.
Every single time we played it was just a feeling of my hair standing up. I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it. And then, we just start doing our normal thing, like the two-step dances, and they would come up and interact with us.
Seeing it each night, when the whole crowd would put their cellphone cameras up, I guess the modern equivalent of lighters – a sea of that, and everyone singing along. We’re singing along. We learned the songs and just fell in love with the music. It was so special. I will always be grateful for that.
Cool Cool Cool
MFN: You’ve played with so many people, and now there’s Cool Cool Cool, which is Turkuaz minus a few members. What made you reconstitute the band into something new?
CHRIS: That would be our fans, our supporters. We did not have a plan to start a band together. We all wanted to support each other in what everyone else was doing. And that was something that was really important to us that we could continue to be the family that we had been. At the time, that meant being really supportive of everyone else’s individual projects, whether it was Shira releasing a new album, or Sammi going out on tour with Freekbass, or us getting the giant stadium tour with Zac Brown. Everyone was just so happy for each other. And, obviously, we just bonded for years and years.
Cool Cool Cool on Jam Cruise 19
And so, it was really a matter of, I think, people just reaching out to us and telling us, “We want to get you guys together. We have to get you all together. We don’t care what it is. We don’t care what music you’re playing. We don’t care what you want to call it. We just want all of you to come here and play. Like what’s it gonna take? Just tell us what to put on the bill. Tell us what to call it. That’s it. You’re coming. That’s the end of it.”
That’s what it was. I mean, we started this thing that is totally backwards from what most bands do. Like, start with writing music, then making an album and going out to sell it. We had shows first and had to figure out what we were going to play for our first show as a band. It was literally everyone saying, “Okay guys. What do you got? What can you bring? Let’s do a couple of your songs. And a couple of of your songs. Who’s got material we can bring in, because we‘ve got time to fill.”
We got to play shows, which was just amazing. It was so special. The first show we had was Brooklyn Comes Alive and we were on the bill with Sound Tribe Sector Nine, Lettuce, and Medeski Martin and Wood. It was just like, “How did we get here? This is insane! We’re not even a band right now!”
But I remember going out and being on stage that first time, and people were just in tears in the audience. It immediately became so clear that it was meaningful to people, and it has been for us too. It has been for years. It just took it to a new level when people just came out and were so incredibly supportive. We could never have imagined that everyone would be so loving and caring and supportive of us.
JOSH: We’re getting back on a tour bus together for a month long tour. Haven’t done that together in a while. I am so excited. The gang is really getting back together, hitting the road and playing. For a new band, like he was saying, we’re starting backwards from most bands and basically had this fully planned out amazing tour that we were already a part of because we’re playing with Remain in Light. And now we have a whole tour booked. As Cool Cool Cool, we didn’t have to book or plan. It was such rare – perfect stars aligning. Couldn’t ask for a better first tour for a new band.
GREG: Jerry and Adrian were very happy to have Cool Cool Cool play with them as well. Because they had us like, “Hey, we want you guys backing us for this tour. So you guys should be the ones playing with us.” So, that was cool. That was great.
Putting In The Work
MFN: You all are true working musicians. You’re available for hire. But you seem too busy to do fit it all in. Are you working independently doing horn arrangements?
CHRIS: Yeah. We continue to talk with all of these people we just have known for years at this point. Other friends in the industry will reach out and say, “Hey are you available for this thing? We want to have this special show and we’d like to add The Horn Section. Can you guys come out?”
We’re always trying to just stay as busy as we can but do a pretty good job at it and just fill in the gaps. It’s been so much fun and challenging for us musically to have, like, this week (on Jam Cruise) to have 40 different songs in our heads that we’re playing for the first time.
We’ve been with all theses different bands, and the show we had last week with Cool Cool Cool, and the show we have next week with Remain in Light. And then, we’re on this boat (Jam Cruise) as artists at large. We have 20 different sets we’ll be playing while we’re here. It’s incredibly rewarding but it is challenging. For me at least, it’s been really fun to kind of push ourselves.
Aqueous & The Horn Section at North Beach Music Festival 2021. Video Shot by Fred Ramadan
The Future’s So Bright, We Gotta Wear Shades
MFN: So where do you see yourselves a year from now?
JOSH: It’s funny. In this industry, especially as a horn section, it’s tough to say. You never know when the next call is going to come. I’m not worried like I was when we first got into this thing. I’m confident we’re filling in the schedule, and I know we’re going to be fine. But you never fully know.
I could imagine a year from now getting, maybe, another stadium tour. I can see us in Cool Cool Cool with another proper tour and that taking up a lot of our time, which would be great because I love playing in Cool Cool Cool. I get to sing a bunch and Chris gets to play keys and Greg gets to play EWI (electronic wind instrument).
I see just being busy and having fun and expanding ourselves and our network and continuing to build on the social capital that we’ve built over the years that we’re now cashing in on that has allowed us to have an independent career.
Cool Cool Cool on the Remain In Light Tour shot by Tim Van Schmidt
MFN: Anything in the pipeline that is secret, not so secret, that you can tell us about?
CHRIS: Oh, all sorts of secrets, of course. Like Josh said, you never really know what’s going to come next. And that is what’s difficult. That is really the challenge of doing what we do and being touring musicians in an increasingly difficult touring music scene. It’s only gotten more difficult for musicians like us doing what we do over the last couple of years.
It’s really difficult to say exactly what is going to happen. We’re just trying to be open to whatever comes next and roll with the punches. That’s where even Cool Cool Cool came from. For us that’s where the name for the band came from. It’s our motto, if you will. Like when something goes awry when you’re out there on the road and you weren’t planning for it.
It’s like. Okay. This venue is closed today, and we have to move the show to an entirely different location. Cool, cool, cool!
The promoter double-booked the show and we have to play at, like, 7 p.m. before the burlesque show? Cool, cool, cool!
The show must go on. We’re just going to keep doing this. We’re really lucky and thankful that we’re able to continue making music with our family, which is the Cool Cool Cool thing. We love playing horns together, and we want to continue doing that as well. We’re just trying to continue to be open to whatever we can and continue work on our craft and things we do together.
We’ve just talked about things we want to do to continue progressing The Horn Section and making music together and getting better at what we do. And hopefully, being able to use that to continue to get something like a big Zac Brown stadium tour or something like that. Everything else along the way, we’re open to it.
As word continues to get out, The Horn Section’s trajectory will be nothing short of stratospheric. Look for them to pop up on more tours and with Cool Cool Cool. To keep up with The Horn Section and Cool Cool Cool, click on the links below and be sure to like and love their socials.
The Horn Section
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