BIG SAM’S FUNKY NATION may be the funkiest band in America’s best music city, New Oreleans. Led by trombone powerhouse, Big Sam Williams, formerly the trombonist for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, this band refuses to let the audience sit still.
- The band has been featured on VH-1, Live With Regis & Kelly and The Travel Channel.
- Big Sam has played with such acts as Dave Matthews, Widespread Panic, and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe among others.
- He was featured heavily on the Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint’s international tour and their Grammy nominated CD, “The River in Reverse.”
Sound Observations From Big Sam
By David Moye
As a musical instrument, the trombone doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
As bass clef instruments go, it is easier to carry than a double bass or piano or tuba and its nature allows players to be melodic and rhythmic at the same time.
Big Sam of Big Sam’s Funky Nation agrees with this premise.
“Trombones not only can be melodic, but they got that ‘sli-i-i-de’ thing going on that other instruments just can’t duplicate,” Big Sam said recently.
But Big Sam wasn’t born playing the instrument. In fact, despite growing up in New Orleans, a place where the trombone was one of the building blocks of jazz, he had never heard of it before junior high.
“When I was in middle school, I was a big guy,” he said. “I was too big to play basketball, but they wouldn’t let me play with the older kids so I decided to join marching band.”
On his first day, the band director asked Big Sam if he wanted to play the ‘bone.
“I hadn’t heard of it, but I said, ‘Sure, whatever you need.’”
Although Big Sam was well aware of his home town’s musical heritage, he didn’t realize the trombone’s importance in it until he started playing it and discovered the “second line” tradition of jazz music.
In traditional brass band parades in N’Awlins, the “main line” is the main section of the parade, or the members of the actual club with the parading permit; those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the “second line.” Traditionally, the second line music is where the funky polyrhythms of Crescent City music originated.
Amazingly, one of the music’s pioneers, Buddy Bolden, is Big Sam’s great-grandfather, a fact that he didn’t realize until a few years ago.
“I was definitely into live music, but I didn’t even pick up jazz until I discovered the Dirty Dozen Brass Band,” he said. “I loved them.”
That love was reciprocated. Big Sam was a member of the respected jazz group for many years before striking out on his own with a more funkified combo that still pays respect to the Big Easy’s great music.
So does Big Sam.
Even when we’re on tour, we try to get back home every 10 days to run errands,” he said. “But it’s important to go back to the roots”
New Orleans provides musical inspiration for Big Sam – who has a recurring role on the HBO series, “Treme” – but it’s not his only source.
“I listen to everything,” he said. “For instance, when we come to San Diego on August 27, we may listen to some of the Mexican stations on the way in. I also can get influenced by a painting, but even the architecture of a city can affect a song.”
Big Sam’s latest album is “King of the Party” and that’s what he promises in concert. But be careful where you stand in relation to him.
That’s because while the trombone can do musical things that other instruments can’t do, that’s not always an advantage.
“Sometimes when you’re trying to get a real deep note, your slide falls off into the crowd,” he admitted. “The crowd loves it, but I don’t. That’s happened about five times.
“One time about four years ago, a friend named Allison was dancing nearby. I was doing a solo with my eyes closed and the end of my slide hit her in the face. I’m lucky I knew her because the next day she had a black eye and posted the picture online.”