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Denton’s big band with legs: Snarky Puppy

January 5, 2014

By Kathy Edwards McFarland

Many Dentonites still don’t “get” Snarky Puppy – maybe the name throws them. (So many “Indie” music groups have off-the-wall names.) This group, led by award-winning bassist/guitarist/composer/arranger Michael League, has created a grass-roots approach to a tougher-than-ever industry, resulting in a new model for independent artists.

Unstoppable … is the word that first comes to mind when the name Snarky Puppy comes up. Under the determined leadership of bassist Michael League, the 2014 Grammy Nominated cast of seasoned performers are on a musical mission to reshape the world of jazz fusion. One look at the list of credits will tell the story of their credentials – players from the top bands in a variety of genres. Their rise is a story of determination, persistence, and high caliber musicianship, but it is also a story of fun. Snarky Puppy carries a positive and upbeat outlook around the world, and fans get it. From college students to mature jazz fans, the audiences respond in kind to the Pups message of, well, FUN.

From the 2012 documentary, Snarky Puppy: GroundUP, directed by Denton-based Andy LaViolette.

Snarky Puppy has really blown up. They’ve really made it,” Andy LaViolette said. “Herbie Hancock has called [GroundUP] one of the most influential records he’s ever heard. Snarky Puppy is a blend of UNT One O’clock Lab Band braininess and R&B power.”

For more about LaViolette’s documentary, visit

About Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy is a three-headed creature:

  • First, and most obviously- an original music ensemble.
  • Second – a production team and session band for individual artists.
  • Third, and probably most importantly – Snarky Puppy is a group of musicians enthusiastically committed to music education and community outreach.

Working with groups like ROAM (Roots Of American Music) in inner city Cleveland and the Music Lab at Jefferson Center in Roanoke, as well as giving clinics at hundreds of colleges, high schools, and middle schools worldwide, the band has made a strong commitment to spreading their love of music and general positivity to a young generation looking for something real to be inspired by.

Calling Denton, TX, and Brooklyn, NY, home turf, the band Snarky Puppy is somewhere between a garage band and a collective, with more than 25 players in regular rotation. The core of the group, which remains consistent, features Grammy Award-winners Robert “Sput” Searight on drums (God’s Property, Snoop Dogg) and Shaun Martin on keys (Kirk Franklin, Erykah Badu). Its other members are mainstays with artists like Erykah Badu, Marcus Miller, P Diddy Dirty Money, The Polyphonic Spree, Snoop Dogg, Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Morcheeba, Tower of Power, Ari Hoenig/Adam Rogers, Kenny Garrett, Yo-Yo Ma, Lucy Woodward, and Bilal, among many more.

Although still “underground” in many respects, the band has earned high praise from critical stalwarts like the BBC, Village Voice, Guardian, and Boston Herald, and has performed at some of the best venues and festivals in Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America.

The band has always used live performance as its chief form of evangelism, and maintains a more intense tour schedule than almost any band in the idiom. Over the course of 2013, Snarky Puppy will give almost 200 performances and workshops on four continents, including North Sea Jazz, Monterey Jazz Festival, Jazz á Vienne, Blue Note Tokyo, and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Their last album, the live DVD/CD “GroundUP,” reached #14 on the Billboard Jazz Charts and #3 on the ITunes Jazz Charts in 2012, topped only by Grammy winners Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding.

Snarky Puppy seamlessly fuses a deep knowledge and respect for musical tradition with sonic and conceptual innovation in a way that is able to reach the most critical – or most carefree – audience. The convergence of musicians from white and black America (who also perform regularly with artists like Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Kirk Franklin, Justin Timberlake, Roy Hargrove, and Marcus Miller among others), which occurred while the band was in its adolescence at the University of North Texas, has naturally established a system of balance that instantly draws listeners to the music – raw funk and sensitive dynamics, relentless pocket and lyrical melodicism, lush harmony and soulful simplicity, and most importantly, a delicate mixture of composition and improvisation.

Source material – ,, and Denton Record-Chronicle Features Editor Lucinda Breeding.

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