The Florida music scene is exploding exponentially. The I-4 corridor in particular has an enormous stockpile of talent, much of that on display at a great succession of festivals, including Hometeam New Year’s Rally, Gov-Fest, Little Econ Fest, Orange Blossom Jam, and the Great Outdoors Jam, plus numerous Jambando events in Orlando and the Disk Jams, Purple Hatter’s Ball and similar events at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.
In relative terms, Leisure Chief is a newcomer on the scene, but its members have been playing together for years in various configurations. Drummer Derek Engstrom and guitarist Nick Bogdon were childhood friends. They met Chris McMullen, who plays bass, at jazz jams at Natura Coffee and Tea at UCF. It was apparent that Engstrom and Bogdon were searching for a creative outlet for original material. Both had played plenty of jazz gigs, offering up the usual assortment of jazz standards, incredibly important in building the foundation for a band. You have likely noticed that the most innovative groups on the jam scene have deep, deep jazz roots, because that is where the art of the jam originated.
The trio began the hard uphill climb of working together, getting bookings, expanding their repertoire, and raising their name recognition. They also connected with keyboard player Keegan Matthews at UCF. At one of the Woodstock Jambandos, the trio was working on a tribute to Sly Stone, and they asked Christian Ryan to add his alto and baritone saxes to the mix. With that, the trio became a quintet. The group started with compositions by Engstrom and Bogdon, but slowly each member of the band began to contribute as well.
Ryan is probably the most recognizable member of the band, for his stellar playing, his moustache, and his 250 gigs last year. Even if you had a program, you probably couldn’t keep up with his schedule. He also works regularly with Holey Miss Moley, I-Resolution, Evan Taylor Jones, Control This (ska) and Bengali 600 (Afro-pop). “Too many bands to list…” Ryan also plays flute and has added tenor sax to his expanding phalanx of reeds. For the Little Econ Fest, he is putting together a hip-hop band called Souquarium Review that should be amazing.
So what, exactly, do these boys play? This comes from their reverbnation bio:
Leisure Chief is a new-wave, musical powerhouse drawing influence from Funk, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Soul, yet defying the confines of any one genre. Inventive compositions paired with the spirit of improvisation and jazz harmony distinguishes them as a noteworthy group of musicians bringing forth a refreshing sense of originality. Though the band is heavily instrumental-oriented, they also feature vibrant vocals, extending their sound to the reach of all types of music lovers.
That is an accurate description of what you get in a Leisure Chief set. Their obvious enthusiasm is impossible to mask. The grind of late nights and road trips has not dampened their joy at playing their own music, bringing that joy to music fans of many stripes. They have evolved from jazz jams and backing vocalists to creating their own musical vision and sharing it. They did so first with their EP Buster Keaton, which was well received. The band is slowly working on its first full-length CD.
Leisure Chief is also extremely excited about the upcoming release of their live-in-the-studio DVD, recorded in January. They took a page from the Snarky Puppy playbook, and the results were even better than anyone could have imagined.
In time, as most musicians do, they would like to take their act on the road. New Orleans is certainly one destination, and there are many hip clubs and regional music festivals throughout the Southeast where Leisure Chief would be a great fit. In the meantime, they have the regular Thursday night gig at Tanqueray’s, the grooviest, smokiest place in Orlando. Innovation and fun go hand in hand with this group. They make it coast to coast along I-4 and hit up Jacksonville as well. Look for them at a club or festival near you. You will be richly rewarded.