IT'S REALLY hard to not adore Pitchblak Brass Band. With an infectious energy, visual passion for playing, and a spirit-lifting community vibe, their show is an unparalleled live music experience: a super-cool marching band full of classically trained musicians who blow the roof off of every venue in their path.
Sousaphone player and MC Chanell Crichlow brought the ten-piece together in 2010 while studying Tuba Performance at Penn State. She hit up high school buddy Max Sholl; they hadn’t talked in years, but Sholl immediately loved the concept.
“The idea was always ‘hip-hop brass band,’” he explains. “It took some time to get a style of our own, and I think we’ve really developed our own unique style and sound.”
Sholl notes that diversity was always a priority, as well.
“When Chanel brought the band together, she had diversity in mind,” he says. “There’s lots of women, people of different races, there’s gay people in the band—we like to bring it all together, and you can find that in our music as well. Diversity is paramount for us: the people in the band, the music we’re playing, the way we present ourselves. We want to be open to everyone.”
Though members come from all walks of life, they all have one thing in common: impressive musical training.
“With all of us being classically trained jazz musicians, there’s a lot of musical inspiration to draw from,” says Sholl. “We love to put it all together and present it as a hip-hop brass band.”
Sholl says that the songwriting process is truly collaborative, with Crichlow, trombone player and MC Timothy James Robinson, and trumpet player and MC Bryan Walters bringing in the majority of the material. In addition to their originals, the band also likes bringing their own flavor to hip-hop standards and teaming up with their local hip-hop community.
“We have some featured hip-hop artists that we collaborate with,” Sholl says. “We’ll do a jam session and bring out some classics that are in line with the featured artists’ style.”
Pitchblak’s currently working on a follow-up to 2013’s You See Us; on March 3, they released a new single, “Like Us.” A music video is in the works.
Sholl admits that it can be difficult to wrangle ten New Yorkers for band practice, but he attests that passion keeps everybody together.
“It’s real work,” he says. “We love doing it, and it’s a lot of fun. We all have the same goal in mind: to keep going, playing more shows, getting more of our music out to new people’s ears.”
“We definitely have a family vibe. We love each other, and then next thing you know, we’ll be screaming at each other!” he laughs. “It’s a great thing. We’ve developed such a relationship with each other. People tell me that you can see it on stage.”
Beyond performing, Pitchblak values hands-on education and community outreach.
“We’re always trying to give back, especially with music education,” says Sholl. “We all studied music in college; we had so many educators that were really important to us. We want to turn that around and give back. We love doing master classes for elementary schools, even colleges—we were at Penn State a month ago and did a master class there for college students.”
They often incorporate outreach on their tours.
“That’s what we love to do,” Sholl says. “I mean, that’s why we’re here: we had some important educators get us involved. It shows that you can do anything when you have an instrument in your hand.”
They’re thrilled to head back to Savannah after their sold-out Jinx performance at last year’s Stopover.
“We are so pumped,” declares Sholl. “We have lots of new music and some of our old favorites. We’re ready to rock!”