Q&A with Jazz supergroup Toquali, who plays the Onyx Room tonight
The garage band. It is one musical image that for most, doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to picture.
The image evokes thoughts of grungy teenagers, jamming to overly-distorted power chords and yelling about authority figures. Noise complaints from the neighbors, long greasy hair and ripped jeans … the whole shebang. But just this past week I met and interviewed a “garage band”, who does nothing short of blowing these stereotypes out of the water.
I walk up to the half-open garage door on a sunny Tuesday to find Toquali, a newly formed jazz super-group of sorts, just cleaning up from band practice.
Upon entering I found it to be a tight, messy, and mostly boiling hot garage. Amps and instruments were strewn about, leaving just inches of free space to move around in. So far they had fulfilled most of the stereotypes, but that was soon to end … these weren’t just kids messing around in the garage.
The band is full of prestigious musicians and boasts an all-star lineup of local talent. From percussionist Steve Haney (who was recruited to play for Stevie Wonder), to jazz vocalist Tokeli (who is selling out shows at Anthology and was nominated for Best Jazz Album of the Year), you’d expect to find this band in a ritzy recording studio. But I was soon to find out from the members that this isn’t any ordinary jazz project. Playing an enticing mix of jazz, funk, rock, dance and even electronica, Toquali takes their catchy grooves where most jazz bands don’t dare to tread … the garage.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Steve, Tokeli and Leonard Patton of the band and discuss a variety of topics, from defining their musical stylings to their songwriting to what they expect for audiences at their shows (after the jump):
When people think of jazz, they often think of professional musicians recording in a studio. Does your “garage band” status affect the style of music you play?
Steve: Well, any style of music can be played in a garage. It’s certainly convenient. The biggest thing now is that we’re doing original music, where we actually have to rehearse … we’re not just going in and reading the charts.
So would this new type of music even be considered jazz?
Leonard: It has jazz improv. Also, all of us have jazz backgrounds so it sort of naturally leaks into the music.
Tokeli: Yeah, there are definitely elements of jazz. But when you listen to this stuff, you’re not going to think these are jazz musicians.
So what kind of music is it exactly?
Leonard: It’s groove music. We start jamming, and whatever type of groove we set, that’s what we spend time on. Then we spice it with loops and the spacey electronic sound to enhance the tunes.
Tokeli: We don’t really even know genre-wise. We’ve been calling it world groove.
And this jamming is how you approach the songwriting process?
Tokeli: Yeah, pretty much. On some of our new tunes what we did was the band figured out a good groove and then sent it to me. After listening over and over, I wrote a melody for it and took it back to the band where we all worked and reworked it again. That’s the best part of this: it’s a true collaboration.
A collaboration that’s built from the ground up.
Steve: Exactly! Ha, right from the beginning I said, “put away the charts, and approach this left of center!” It’s our new collective and creative philosophy.
So this is a more organic approach to doing things than in the past?
Tokeli: Absolutely. My experience has been so different than this until now. I’ve never been in a garage band. I went straight from musical theater to professional jazz. It’s almost like I’m working backwards! This is completely new and different for me, but I’m also having some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a project. I don’t know about these guys, but I absolutely love our garage sessions. This is way more fun to me than going to a gig and making money!
Beforehand, Tokeli informed me that there are elements of dance in the music. Is this music that people will want to get up and dance to?
Tokeli: Oh, we can’t wait to show you! We’re taking our music to the dance floor! There’s this whole new electronica element we’re adding to it by using loops and samples on top of the more traditional instruments.
Will the new sound affect where you look for gigs?
Tokeli: Well we’ve been doing Anthology, which is always great, and our next goal is to work in more club-like environments, like “Winston’s” and the “Onyx Room”. We’re doing the “Onyx Room” on Thursday, and sharing the floor with a DJ… and that’s the type of music we’ll be playing.
Steve: Right. We’re doing a parallel with what DJ’s are doing, except our core sound is live. We want to compete with them… ha, or at least be able to work alongside them! You’ll find it’s pretty a pretty unique sound.
What type of audience do you think this music will attract?
Tokeli: We feel that this is a great way to integrate a younger audience, and maybe even older people as well. Let’s just say, a newer audience.
It sounds like you guys really believe in this thing, and believe in doing something new, even though it isn’t necessarily jazz.
Tokeli: Hey, it’s the essence of music … we can play that same old stuff over and over. I may as well be in the 1930’s, and actually be Ella Fitzgerald; forget that.
Steve: Music has always evolved. You merge with technology. If the forefathers of jazz were around today, they’d be doing different stuff … or at least be open to it. I mean Miles was doing funk way before anyone else (in jazz). He was inspired by Sly and the Family Stone. Either we try and get in the groove with now, or we’re going to be left behind… we’ll be wallpaper.
Tokeli: And trust me… we’ve been wallpaper at gigs before, and we will not let that happen anymore!
So there you have it: Toquali is a garage band, full of jazz musicians, who want people to dance. These are seriously awesome and passionate people, who aspire to create music their fans have as much fun listening to as they have making.
Playing Thursday, August 13th at the Gaslamp Quarter’s Onyx Room (tonight!), as well as September 6th, at Anthology (Little Italy), you can catch the new world groove sound of San Diego twice in the next month.
Be ready for the new world groove sound to invade the area, and maybe on your next “club night” it won’t be the usual DJ you’re dancing to! The whole band consists of Tokeli and Leonard Patton on vocals, Steve Haney on percussion, Harley Magsino on bass, Nate Jarrell on guitar and Mark Lamson on drums.