Hey, discriminating funk fan! Would you trust your funk to a member of the Marine Corps Band? Honestly, would you want those “Battle Hymn”-playin’ tight-asses with the creased pants, spit-shined shoes and hair-that-ain’t-quite-there providing the soundtrack to your rump-shakin’ good time?
No? Well, keep reading …
Carlos Washington, leader of the fee, fie, foe, funky Giant People (a.k.a. the Amazing Giant People Ensemble) played trumpet in the Marine Corps Band for years, entertaining generals and presidents, including Bill Clinton during a re-election campaign stop in San Diego (nope, Willie didn’t bust out the sax). And he wasn’t always playing “The Star Spangled Banner” or “Taps.” Los, as some call him, headed up the Marine Corps jazz band and was also a U.S. musical diplomat to Jamaica, mon—definitely not the stereotypical starched-shorts Marine. Fact is, he’s a lean, mean, funky machine.
At the suggestion that life in the MCB might have been a little bland for him, Washington laughs heartily. “It was really cool. It gave me a chance to get out of the marching band and get to mingle with some brass, some movers and shakers. The Marine Corps was one of the best experiences in my life so far, preparation for what I’m doing now with Giant People.”
Say what? How does military experience prepare a guy for entertaining drunk, doobie-suckin’ peeps in little clubs, even if Washington’s included entertaining a presidential party animal?
“It got my chops up. And it got my expectations high. In the Corps, I learned to be in business for myself. I developed relationships with some mentors I still have today. You’re right, though—compared to the stuff I play now, it was kinda bland. The other day, I saw a military big band play and I saw how formal it was, for this very informal music. When you’re in it, you think it’s the best thing since sliced cheese and when you get out, you get to see from a distance and go, wow, I’m really glad to be doing what I’m doing now.”
And that would be groovin’ the nation with Giant People, the band he formed after he “saw” himself leading a band during a Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performance.
“[Denson] pretty much let me have free reign as long as I could keep up with him,” Washington explains. “It was a great experience, having a mentor who didn’t get in your way and would help you out and let you do your thing. [But] I was planning my departure, conspiring to put together a superband.”
He assembled “the baddest cast of writers, players and producers” and “put ’em in a room and let them go at it and see what happens.” The lineup went through some changes initially, but has always included drummer John Staten (“the power of Shaq and the control of Michael Jordan”) and guitarist Ignacio Arango, otherwise known as the Cuban Dynamo. New bassist Andy Irvine completes Giant People circa now.
Interestingly, the band debuted at Mother Urban’s Ratskeller in Park City and has since become a top draw nationally, competitive with the Universe that spawned them. Not that there’s any rivalry. Denson and Washington remain friends and the saxophonist was stunned to silence after hearing Much Love, the band’s current CD. “He said, ‘Los …’ and then he paused for a long time. My brain started thinking, What??? And then he said, “The album … it’s sick!”
True that. Much Love is 43 minutes of funk for the casual listener (read: the white dudes who don’t dare to dance, or the stoners who can only bob their heads and grin appreciatively) and everybody else (those who like to freak on the floor). The sound ranges from horn-driven acid jazz and hard bop to mellow stuff with washes of keyboards and sinewy yet ethereal guitar runs. Further, it spans ’70s soul and classic funk, making classification a challenge. Washington has a name for it, though: New Century Soul.
“I would say our music is saucy; pretty progressive, with heavy doses of jazz, improvisation and super funky grooves. New Century Soul is a way of life in the 21st century, comin’ from a very soulful outlook. It’s eclectic-ethnic, it’s ethnic-eclectic, the combination of arts and media and business in a very harmonious, holistic way. It’s infinite ascension, always reaching for the top.”
And in that ethic, we find the missing link between the MCB and Giant People. Washington reiterates as he offers a caveat to those planning to attend Giant People’s performance at the Lazy Moon on Saturday:
“Good, better, best. Never let it rest until good is better and better is best. We’ve been doin’ some serious lightin’ up around the country and we’re comin’ with some major heat.”