from the desk of Zach Manzi
I met trombonist Gabriel Colby while recording the Nu Deco album last summer. He has been playing with the group since January 2017, since Nu Deco’s first performance at New World Center. In addition to being a fantastic musician, I remember Gabriel carrying this distinctly positive energy. Gabriel is based in Pittsburgh, but as I have gotten to know him when he travels down for Nu Deco programs, I’ve begun to realize his good energy comes from really pursuing his passions in life, both as a musician and a human being. Gabriel studied at the Peabody Institute (during which time he overlapped with Jacomo when he was studying conducting) and Carnegie Mellon University. Along the way he’s met musicians with whom he’s pursued collaborations that make up a great deal of his work today, including Nu Deco. He’s diligently pursuing passions in other areas of life besides music, but I’ll leave the rest of the storytelling to him. We talked a bit by phone a few days before he came down to Miami to rehearse for our Arsht concert on April 18.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ZM: Hey Gabriel! How are you?
GC: I’m doing really well! Things are busy, but really good.
ZM: What are you up to right now?
GC: I’m about to work an album for Beauty Slap, one of my bands after I get off the phone with you, and then tonight I have a photoshoot for River City Brass, which is another group I play with. I’m also in the midst of a concert series with River City Brass. And then I fly out to Miami on Friday!
ZM: Wow, let’s just start from the beginning because there’s a lot there. So, you’re in multiple bands. Which one is working on the album?
GC: Yes, so Beauty Slap is the one that’s working on the album. It’s kind of a funk group. We call it “future-brass-thunder-funk,” our self-described genre. Beauty Slap has two trumpets, two trombones, and a DJ, who also plays keyboards. We’ve been together for about five years and released a cover album two years ago, but we just finished up our first album of all original material. We’re probably going to release that at the end of the summer, and that’s taking most of our time right now.
ZM: So, I was noticing listed on your Facebook profile was “Principal Cold Brew Heater” at Beauty Slap.
GC [laughing]: Yeah. We have this joke about heated-up cold brew being the ultimate hipster drink. Like it’s brewed cold but served hot…over ice. Be on the lookout for Beauty Slap heated cold brew merch.
ZM: That’s both disgusting and amazing. Is Beauty Slap based in Pittsburgh?
GC: Yes, we’re based in Pittsburgh. In 2017, we were voted the best blues and jazz band in Pittsburgh, and we do quite a bit of travel. At the end of this month, we’re going out to California to California State University at Stanislaus to do some teaching and performing. Depending on the season, we’re performing about three or four times a month, mostly in clubs but also in festivals and educational institutions.
ZM: And you’re in another band, you said?
GC: Yeah, I’m actually in two more in addition to Nu Deco. One is C Street Brass, which is a brass quintet that’s been together for over ten years now. C Street has some overlap with the members of Beauty Slap––both are with Scott Nadelson and Hakeem Bilal [both of these guys actually play in Nu Deco as well]. C Street is going to Steamboat Springs, CO at the end of May to do a residency, and we’ve also applied to a couple of competitions, so we’re in the midst of getting ready for that. The other band I’m in, the one with the photoshoot tonight, is River City Brass. It’s the only brass band that has full season in the United States, and that group is also based in Pittsburgh. I play Associate Principal Trombone with them and have been there for five years now.
ZM: Awesome. You’re pursuing a lot of projects…how did it all start?
GC: Peabody is where it all started. Hakeem, Scott, and I all lived on the same floor during my freshman year, which was their sophomore year. Hakeem was my RA! Scott and I started a brass quintet back then in 2008, and that was the passion throughout undergrad. We ended up going to Carnegie Mellon as the resident brass quintet, and received our masters degrees during our residency. Beauty Slap came as a result of C Street Brass being at Carnegie Mellon and meeting other people involved in music there.
ZM: Did you ever consider putting these projects on hold to take orchestra auditions or something like that?
GC: I freelance with orchestras mostly in the Pittsburgh area whenever I can because I love orchestral music. But, C Street Brass has and continues to be such a big passion of mine, so I am always investing seriously in that. I wasn’t excluding the possibility of an orchestra job and I’m still not! But if C Street Brass is working, it is always so fun and fulfilling that I want to spend energy there.
ZM: I find it to be really inspiring that you went full throttle at these things…not everyone has the guts to do that.
GC: Thank you.
ZM: Of course. Beauty Slap seems like a total jam–I’d love to see you guys play. So you’ve also told me before that you’re a personal trainer. When did that start?
GC: I have been really into fitness for ten-ish years. At first, I tried a lot of different stuff–yoga, bodyweight movement, CrossFit, even dabbling with gymnastics. I loved doing it. Then I got injured at one point about two years ago, and as a result found this company called GMB. Their approach to fitness is much more skill-focused, which I found to be much more creative than general weightlifting. It just really drew me in. I had done a few of their programs and connected so much with their method and philosophy that I decided I had to learn more from them. I went through an apprenticeship/ certification process and now I am certified GMB trainer. The personal training I do with my clients is a mixture of all the styles I’ve practiced with a heavy emphasis on GMB method and movements.
ZM: Out of my own curiosity, what do you think about CrossFit?
GC: CrossFit can be great. It’s very general, and that’s kind of the allure of it. When you go, you’re doing different stuff every day. If you’re at a great “Box”, it’s going to be good and thought out. They’re going to think about your programming over time, so hopefully you’re getting measurably better over time. But, it’s hard to get good at specific skills in CrossFit because it’s so general. It’s like music–it’s hard to get good at scales if you’re only practicing them once a week. You have to practice your fundamentals daily. That can be left out of CrossFit, in the same way it can from other group fitness classes. I think group fitness can be great depending on your goals and if the teacher is great. What drew me into GMB is the philosophy of self-assessment. First, assess where you are in strength, flexibility, coordination, which, by the way, can be done in the context of a fun workout! Determine what skills you want to go after and then decide on the overall training plan to get you there.
ZM: Really cool, and as you said, definitely a philosophy that parallels music. I would like to know one more thing––what has been your favorite Nu Deco moment?
GC: My favorite moment was playing I Try with Macy Gray at Arsht in December. I love all the concerts we do–it’s absolutely one of my favorite things I do. But being on stage with Macy Gray, and with the whole audience at Arsht standing up singing, it was deeply spiritual experience that I will never forget. The energy in the room was unbelievable.
ZM: Thanks, Gabriel. See you in a few days.
GC: I’m excited. Sounds great.
See Gabriel perform the music of Copland, Ben Folds, Bill Withers, and New Zealand electronic artist Kimbra on April 18 at the Arsht Center.