Tuba or not Tubá: an NYC Tuba Blurb.


What about the TUBA? Are our low-end brethren receiving the attention and credit they deserve for providing the bass, our groove, the “oom” to our “pah?”… or is our non-appreciation driving them to madness, burying themselves in tubas searching for answers?… Meet TubaJoe Exley, Dan Peck and Ron Caswell- three NYC musicians who are using the tuba to leave a musical imprint on this city and my own musical journey.

TubaJoe Exley was recently dubbed “The Tuba Gunslinger” at a festival in Bordeaux, France. All About Jazz described his tuba playing as “seductive.” Maybe it’s the handlebar mustache, maybe the long hair… but people are loving TubaJoe’s vibe. I was introduced to Exley at a brass quintet gig at Radio City Music Hall. We ended up playing the Bb blues for about 45 minutes. Even at 9:00a.m., it was obvious his playing was unique- he plays with ease, suave precision and a warm, velvety sound which is probably why he can be heard on over sixty recordings and has collaborated with hundreds of artists. Whether touring Europe with NYC’s latin infused jazz/rock band Gato Loco (VIDEO below) or making noise here in the city, Joe and his Miraphone can be found performing somewhere pretty much every night of the week- often in multiple places. TubaJoe performs with the Ja Ja Jas, Red Hook Ramblers, This Ambitious Orchestra, New Beard (new VIDEO recently featured on Sterogum), Gato Loco, Tin Pan, Tuba Love (his own band), just to name a few and he still has time to manage a great looking tuba blog (long live the ipad). One of my favorite facts: he has a tuba case endorsement from Accord Case for all that traveling. That, and that he marched Blue Devils. TubaJoe’s a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Northwestern University.

J: What project are you currently in the process of completing?
TJ: “There’s never only one thing going on….! Right now I am finishing up an EP and video project with one band, a record with another and working on several international trips with multiple bands. 2012 will be intense.”

J: What has been one of your most memorable musical experiences in NYC?
TJ: “My favorite gig in NYC proper was a few years ago with my own band, Tuba Love. We played a big warehouse party in Brooklyn and the dancing crowd would not let us stop playing. We ended up playing for almost 4 hours straight with no break. The absinthe-fueled crowd started to get naked. It was daylight in the morning when we finally stopped playing. It was totally surreal. My favorite gig outside of NYC (but with a band from NYC) was when Gato Loco played a festival on the steps of an old wine chateau in Bordeaux, France. Instead of starting on stage, we burst out the doors of the old chateau already playing. The band really found itself that night and the show became a rock-concert frenzy with the crowd pounding on the stage for an encore… which we hadn’t prepared for. That was my favorite gig I’ve ever played.”

J: What is the most ridiculous/laughable gig you have worked in NYC?
TJ: “Once upon a time, I tried to do a “Tuba-gram“… a singing telegram, but instead of singing I was gonna play the tuba. I was hired by some woman to play at the midtown corporate office of some guy she liked. The guy ended up being a total douchebag and yelled at me that I was interrupting his workday, so I left without playing. Fortunately I had been prepaid. My guess is that the douchebag didn’t get laid.

Tubas can actually get you laid if you let them play, you know.”


Dan Peck- talent, intellect and vision. Beyond proficient at the tuba, Dan initiates some of the most original performances on the planet. I’ve seen him perform onstage in a bathrobe. I’ve also witnessed a zombie burlesque dancer pulling spaghetti brains out of his tuba (and eating them) at Coney Island. Dan is one of the most versatile musicians of his generation and somehow channels his freakish aptitude into the tuba. It would be easier to understand if he were brilliant at new music and simply average at executing the standard rep, but he can play it all. A multi-instrumentalist with an adept sense of timing, he has also proven extremely gifted at performance art. A fantastic classical tubist and a brilliant improviser/composer with a personable sense of humor, it’s no surprise that Dan’s talent is being funneled into a unique and well-deserved career. His tuba-fronted trio just released their debut LP, a doom metal album entitled “Acid Soil”… yep- DOOM METAL. Dan also provides rock-solid basslines in old-timey jazz band Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators, and is a member of the visionary collective ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble). What does this guy do for a day job, you ask? He is currently the tubist at the Broadway musical “Chicago” (where he doubles on upright bass) and is adjunct-faculty at New Jersey City University.

J: What project are you currently in the process of completing?
DP: “…I just finished recording two new albums with my Trio, which is me on tuba,
Tom Blancarte on bass, and Brian Osborne on percussion. Both albums
are on the shorter side, about 40 minutes each. One is basically a through-composed doom metal/jazz suite, tentatively entitled “Destruction of Darkness.” The other CD is all improvisations, untitled right now. Working on titles! I’ve been checking out a lot of metal in recent months, both recordings and live shows. Some great bands happening right now in NYC are Defeatist, Radiation Blackbody, and Krallice. Non-NYC: Hooded Menace, Swallowed, Fleshpress, Portal, Moss and Dark Castle. Next few weeks, I’ll be playing with Nate Wooley’s quintet, playing/recording with Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day Octet, and doing a CD release show in mid-December for Tony Malaby’s Novela recording.”

J:What has been one of your most memorable musical experiences in NYC?
DP: “Definitely not a shortage of these. I remember playing with a smaller incarnation of
Sparks Orchestra, which was with Peter Evans, Tom Blancarte, Okkyung Lee, and Brandon
Seabrook (hope I’m not forgetting someone). This might have been one of the first times I really improvised in public…it was a humbling and eye-opening experience.”

J: What is the most ridiculous/laughable gig you have worked in NYC?
DP: “…with Grandpa Musselman and His Syncopators. What was supposed to be our first
real gig ended up being a non-gig. We showed up to this restaurant, only to find out
that only about 2 of the 6 of us could literally fit into the area they had for performers.
AND the owner wanted us not to be too loud! So we just left.”

So… at this point, I must tell you as the reader- Dan was my roommate for two years in Washington Heights (upper Manhattan). He was one of the greatest roommates of all time. That being said, with Dan came the two-belled euphonium, which you can witness in the video below. That is all I will say about that.

Energy. Talent. Snarl.
Ron Caswell holds down one of the most unique sounds on the tuba in modern music.” It’s true. The amount of energy coming out of his bell with each note is almost frightening. Ron moves with ease and flexibility and if you believe people play like they are, you’ll instantly assume this guy’s a really good time and slightly insane. He’s played in ensembles ranging from the Flying Karamazov Brothers to the New York City Opera. I met him subbing at South Pacific on Broadway. Ron’s recorded and performed with They Might Be Giants, Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra, the Royal Brass, the American Composers Orchestra and Max Roach. He has influenced the NYC gypsy music scene and beyond. Whether performing with Slavic Soul Party (who I love, see VIDEO below), Romashka, Gogol Bordello, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars and Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra,
Ron Caswell delivers the extreme with utmost consistency.

Ron plays tuba in the Stumblebum Brass Band. Have you heard of them?…they were touring in Alaska lately. The thing about this insanely grotesque trio is that they are, for better or worse, too good to ignore. “You guys are not bums, you’re bees, Stum-ble-beeeeeez!” – Bill Cosby. WHAT?! I don’t know… it’s on their website… check it out for yourself. Their most recent album is entitled “F**k you Lady Gaga.” Now for the REAL details: I played a show with these guys with Genghis Barbie at NYC’s Mercury Lounge ON VALENTINE’S DAY. As though that wasn’t funny enough- the lead singer, Smidge Malone, got buck naked during their set, like… birthday suite…minutes before the Barbies took the stage…that was a pivotal moment in Barbie history. Ron is a beast on the tuba. Experience, technique and precision are qualities inherent in his tuba playing that cannot be faked. Go see him play live but be ready for anything (watch out for little Smidge!). That energy in Ron’s sound seems to be contagious.

J: What project are you currently in the process of completing?
RC: “……………………”

J: um…OK. What has been one of your most memorable musical experiences in NYC?
RC: “…………………..”

J: *ahem* What is the most ridiculous/laughable gig you have worked in NYC?
RC: “…………………..”

J: huh.

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Life of a NYC Musician.


What can I say?… sometimes I love this city, sometimes I hate it. It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. When the rhythm of the city coincides with my own personal highs and lows, it can feel like pure elation or absolute purgatory. This past week we landed on the former and there are two collections of musicians to thank: This Ambitious Orchestra and Gato Loco.

Benjamin Ickies undeniably brings the party with his Ambitious Orchestra (a 22-piece electric orchestra plus rock band). Most recently, the party was for Freddie Mercury’s 65th Birthday. Next Magazine wrote a review on both Ickies and the Queen tribute which was organized by Oh!You Pretty Things and featured dozens of artists celebrating lifestyle and music in epic fashion, which ended in the fabulously smashing, glammed-up charade that it should have. Boys who like girls, girls who like boys, girls who like girls, boys who like boys, robots who like toys…this night had it all and NickyDigital.com (along with Coach Mike Pics) caught it all on camera (you probably want to take a peek at those pics). Leather chaps, mustaches, spandex, electrical tape (yeah- we’ve all seen that trick), satin, vacuum cleaners… whaa? yeah. Anyways…the “people watching” alone would have proven a satisfactory night but to also perform/sing with this group was a trip. Myself and Lisa D (flutist) belted Queen’s “Bicycle Race” as a duet. (Sidenote: I taught that song to my brother when he was 5 and I’m an avid Queen fan, so I was honored to pay homage to Freddie and happy to chant the anthem at le Poisson Rouge).
WATCH OUR VIDEO of Bicycle Race:

Later in the week I played in Washington Square Park with musical phenomenon Gato Loco. If you haven’t heard of these guys – check ‘em out. Not too many people perform like this… Stefan Zeniuk (brainchild/mad genius) knows how to enthuse an entertaining group onstage and the band brings a “YOU LOOKING AT ME?!!!!” attitude without a vocalist. They can be found around NYC but these guys are in Europe every other day (not literally, but alot. See their upcoming shows). Their music has an untraceable quality to it- whether it’s the soundscape in Lower Manhattan or Istanbul, all you need to know is…DANCE! I was pleased as rum punch to be surrounded by Stefan, Clifton Hyde, TubaJoe Exley, Jesse Selengut, Ric Becker, Kevin Garcia, Ari Folman-Cohen aaaaand… Kiku Collins!! (Kiku was also subbing on the gig, fiercely fabulous- as always). Clifton Hyde (who I just discovered is on wikipedia) is the french hornist for Gato Loco and also an insane guitarist (see him perform in NYC’s Blue Man Group on the zither…yes, the zither). Playing horn next to him was completely entertaining and it’s easy to see how Gato Loco received such a solid review in All About Jazz Magazine. Fantastic energy level, outrageous collective talent and an attitude that cannot and will not be checked at the door, this band delivers. The crowd (veteran Loco fans and also some innocent bystanders) was sonically assaulted in Washington Square Park and absolutely loved the music. This fun was also more than worthwhile- the concert was a musical offering to commemorate the events of 9/11.

The night ended at DROM NYC (where I have forgotten my own horn on occasion…the sound guy there is reigning champion as overnight instrument keeper). Ric Becker (trombone) played another set with NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble (NYSJE) for their CD Release Party. Ummm….”Boy can play bone.” I’ll go ahead and say it- I met a sick rock trombonist last week. ’nuff said.

Another week survived in NYC. It was a good week.
Oh yeah- here’s a random pic of a car in my neighborhood.

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