By Joy Michiel
He’s got the chops of Louis, the charisma of Dizzy, the oomph of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the understanding that it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. He’s trombone powerhouse Big Sam Williams and, along with his band Funky Nation, he’s a driving force of urban funk.
It’s rare in jazz music to see a trombone player in the role of bandleader and while there are notable jazz greats who play the slide trombone while commanding a room and conducting a band, it still remains commonplace to have a trumpet be the focal point. A true original, Big Sam leads on trombone with power, confidence and, above all, a whole lotta funk.
Sam was always a big boy. In the sixth grade, he was 6 foot tall and 200 lbs. while playing little league basketball. When the time came that he grew out of playing the sport, literally, he segued to the trombone, setting his sights at 16 to become a member of the prestigious Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Like all the signature New Orleans musicians, Williams delivers. He is as much of a showman and dancer as he is a musician, like the somewhat younger Trombone Shorty. Refusing to let the audience sit still, Sam peppers his sets with distinctive trombone riffs and high voltage energy. Between the band’s solos, he often delivers signature dance moves. Big Sam is an entertainer who plays the music for himself. It makes him happy. Since he’s happy, all he wants to do is share that happiness. He shares it by getting the audience involved.
His current partners in crime are Funky Nation, a stellar group of world-class musicians who meet the challenges of their funky bandleader. BSFN’s signature sound masterfully combines a rock sensibility with improv-style associated with jazz and the horn-heavy front section that’s the hallmark of big band funk. Many of the currents of New Orleans music are brought together under the Nation’s banner: virtuosic horn solos, brassy ensemble work, sly wit and an approach to rhythm that is much imitated, but impossible to copy.
Big Sam brings the tradition back to jazz via his Funky Nation. By leading a fusion-based jazz band that plays dance beats mixed with art music, featuring a funk-oriented touch, the Funky Nation serve an extra kick in the giant bowl of jazzy gumbo they cook up for the audience. The stage is their kitchen and their live show’s the grub. They make it work because Big Sam himself is a combination of some of the finer points in jazz history.
A BSFN show is one of the tastiest dishes out of New Orleans tasty dish. Booty shaking and funky, you’ll find them hard to resist. All I can say is bon appétit.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation plays the Crystal Bay Club’s Crown Room on Friday, Sept. 20, at 9 p.m. For more information, call (775) 833-6333. For more information on Big Sam’s Funky Nation, visit bigsamsfunkynation.com.
Friday, Sept. 20 | 9 p.m. | $17 advance/$20 day of show | 21 & older | Crystal Bay Club | Crystal Bay, Nev.