AKRON, OH (by Malcolm Abram, Akron Beacon Journal) – Thursday, Akron jazz and music lovers can help welcome back one of their own when the eclectic Brooklyn-based contemporary jazz band Huntertones performs two shows at Akron’s Blu Jazz+.
The band, which recently changed its name from the Dan White Sextet, is led by three Ohio State University graduates and talented hornmen — trombonist Chris Ott, saxophonist Dan White and trumpet, sousaphone player and Akronite Jon Lampley.
Backing up the horn trio will be the semi-satellite members of local pianist Theron Brown, guitarist Josh Hill, bassist Jeff Bass and drummer John Hubbell — all of whom have also recorded with the band.
Lampley, who turned 25 on Monday, first picked up the trumpet in fifth grade. He graduated from Tallmadge High School in 2008 where he learned to play the tuba before attending Ohio State.
“I knew I was going to Ohio State when I was about 5,” Lampley said.
Once he officially became a Buckeye, Lampley majored in music, focusing on jazz trumpet and lived one of his dreams.
“That was a goal always in the back of my mind: I’m going to go to Ohio State and try out for the marching band on sousaphone with the goal of dotting the ‘i.’ I had that in mind since the beginning of sixth grade,” he said, noting that he is a three-time “i” dotter.
It was during his matriculation at Ohio State that Lampley hooked up with Ott and White (his freshman resident assistant) in and outside of class and the bandstand.
“I was just this new guy playing trumpet, my freshman year or whatever … but I felt like I was really playing catch-up with those guys,” Lampley said.
The trio became friends and learned to work together as members of the school’s Art Blakey Jazz Combo and played side gigs in any venue that would have them.
The band dubbed itself the Dan White Sextet because White wrote the bulk of the songs at the time, but as they continued to work, Lampley and Ott also began bringing music to the collective table.
The DW6 recorded its debut album, The New York Sessions (available on YouTube), with help from an Ohio State grant and slowly began building an audience in and around Columbus.
“We’d be packing these rooms because of the following we built in the city, which was awesome. I guess our goal with the music has always been to try to twist everything whether it’s our original composition or arrangements. [We] take tunes that people are familiar with and just make them our own and change them,” Lampley said.
A prime example of twisting the familiar came in the band’s second album, Play, released in 2013. The album is a collection of traditional kids’ tunes rearranged, in some cases quite severely. The traditional Three Blind Mice is transformed into an up-tempo, Latin jazz-flavored tune, while Pop Goes the Weasel features Lampley’s sousaphone providing the bass while White’s tenor sax spins variations on the familiar melody over a hip-hop influenced beat-box groove courtesy of Ott.
The album’s concept was a “halfway joking, halfway not joking” idea Lampley and White came up with while driving and trying to figure out what central theme they wanted their follow-up album to have.
“We thought it was a really good idea and challenge for us to make a record of all kids’ songs, but make it not be a kids’ song thing. Make it feel like kind of a statement of our band,” Lampley said.
The album became quite popular among the band’s growing fan base and the tunes never fail to kill on the bandstand, particularly their complex and soulful arrangement of Camptown Races.
Huntertones’ most recent album and last as the DW6 is Your Song. The album was recorded with help from the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, which commissioned the band as part of its Arts Integration Project. For the project, Lampley, Ott and White packed themselves into Lampley’s Honda Civic and traveled to eight major music cities, including New Orleans, Nashville and Kansas City, where they interviewed dozens of musicians, educators and other music industry professionals.
Following the trip, the band members set about writing original songs inspired by many of the folks with whom they talked. Your Song is another example of the band’s growing eclecticism with songs such as Lampley’s bouncing Drivin’ inspired by former Art Blakey saxophonist Bobby Watson and Bela Fleck bassist Victor Wooten. The project culminated in a live performance of Your Song featuring video excerpts of the interviewees.
“It was a really, really cool experience. That was by far the most work that we’d put into anything as a group — in terms of writing music and doing the trip but emotionally and physically when you’re writing stuff that’s got something like that behind it, it’s more of a task,” Lampley said.
In March, the band decided to move to New York for more opportunities and settled in Brooklyn.
“New York, Nashville and L.A. are the three places you really want to go if you want to make things happen as a musician, no matter what genre. But for us, New York kind of was the calling for the style of band that we are, and also as being horn players, New York has a lot of work there for that,” Lampley said.
The band also changed its name to denote members’ equal contributions, choosing Huntertones as an homage to the house on Hunter Avenue on the Ohio State campus where all three lived, played and partied at some point.
Now, the Huntertones are on a short tour and about to bring Lampley home to his old stomping grounds in Akron and its dedicated jazz club.
“I saw the thing [Blu Jazz+] on Facebook and I was like, ‘Man, are you kidding me? Are you telling me I lived in Akron for 18 years and this didn’t exist and as soon as I leave the state this opened up?’ ’’ he said chuckling.
“I guess I wasn’t surprised … there are so many ridiculous musicians in Akron especially out of that University of Akron jazz program,” he added, noting that while many area musicians move away, they often come back but often have no place to play.
“I’m extremely excited this exists. I’m excited about the location of it — it’s not in a back alley, it’s right in the middle of the arts district of Akron and it’s cool and I’m extremely excited to play there with this band,” he said.
Aside from the Huntertones, Lampley has been playing with popular Columbus jam band O.A.R. for four years, touring with the band every summer and appearing on the band’s 2014 album The Rockville LP.
Lampley also recently joined and will record and perform with the hip New York brass band Red Baraat as well as neo-soul singer Allen Stone, who recently signed a major label deal and will release his third album and hit the road with Lampley next year.
But for now, building a fan base and a name for Huntertones in and out of New York is the main goal.
“It’s working out so far, people are into it and it’s not just the jazz-head college kids or die-hard music fans,” Lampley said.
“There are people that are coming to our shows that are Top 40 fans and they’re like, ‘Man, I don’t even know how to explain this music, but I like it,’ and that’s what we’re going for.
“Trying to create something out of everything that’s influenced us, but also do our own thing and I think the longer we’re together, the more that goal is starting to come across and people are really into it.”
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml and/or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.