On the Rise: Serotonic

dressed up no instr

I was looking back at some of my writing about music. I’ve been scribbling for a long time, but I didn’t really start posting show reviews on e-mail and Facebook until May of 2013, and things were percolating when my son gave me a blog for my birthday (May 2014). And that explosion paled compared to my abduction by MusicFestNews in February of this year.

I mention that because I was reading a post I made about a life-changing six-week period during the summer of 2012 (you can read it here). Here is an excerpt:

“It started simply enough. The Dunedin Brewery had a band playing called Serotonic on July 12th. From the blurb, it sounded like a perfect fit for me: funky jazz or jazzy funk. Little did I know! They were superb, so superb, in fact, that I’ve seen them 17 times since, including hiring them for my daughter’s wedding.”

I saw them four times in that six-week period, and you can make that 27 times (so far), according to my anal-retentive show database.

stairs

According to Wikipedia, serotonin is “a monoamine neurotransmitter. Biochemically derived from tryptophan, serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), blood platelets, and the central nervous system (CNS) of animals, including humans.”

More importantly for this discussion: “It is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.”

Serotonin. Serotonic. Perfect.

As noted above, I often quip that this is a band that cannot decide if they play funky jazz or jazzy funk. Talk about blurred lines!

Drummer Andrew Kilmartin describes his path toward “well-being and happiness:”

“I had always had the desire to play an instrument growing up, but I never joined the school band and instead elected to sing in the choir. While I missed out on the formal teaching and theory that being in the band program would’ve offered, I was still privileged to be a part of one of the best choral programs in Ohio. We even performed at Carnegie Hall in March of 2000.

Being left with a desire to play drums and guitar, yet not being involved through the traditional school band method, I was left to start on my own. My first guitar was one that my friend left at my house one day, after damaging it and being afraid to return home with it and being punished by his dad. So I had this old guitar with a hole in it, and I played it all the time and taught myself.

andrew

When it came to drums, which I desired most of all, I saved up all my money and bought an old Rogers drum kit that had been sitting in a friend’s basement collecting dust. It was off to the races then, progressing through high school and college performing in punk and hard rock bands before finally landing in Florida at the age of 24. The first group I joined in spring of 2007 just so happened to be another current local favorite band, The Hip Abduction. After a year with THA and all the changes they were going through in their own journey, I found myself questioning for the first time in 12 years if I even had the desire or motivation to play music anymore. I barely touched my drums for almost two years, except for the handful of times I went to audition for some band I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a part of to begin with.

However, in early 2010 I decided that if I was going to play music again I was going to play exactly the style I enjoyed the most: FUNK! I created a Craigslist ad and started my search for likeminded musicians. After a couple weeks, it just so happened that Bryan Lewis (keyboards) had a Craigslist ad running as well, and I was immediately interested in speaking with him. He had a couple YouTube links in the ad, and I realized he would be perfect for what I was hoping to do musically. I reached out to him through email but didn’t hear back, so after a couple days and revisiting his YouTube page, I emailed again and said “You HAVE to call me.” Within 10 minutes Bryan called, and we spoke for close to an hour. We ended up getting together for drinks and to talk more, and we actually became friends over the course of a couple weeks before we even played a single note of music together. The first time we played together was at an open jam night in Treasure Island, and the song we played was “Cissy Strut” by The Meters. It felt GOOD, and I could tell we had a good vibe.

When it came time to find a bassist, I asked around and was put in touch with a guy named Gabe Valdivia. He had been performing in the area for some time with his brother in their own band, but things were on hiatus, and Gabe was available and answered the call. We all began playing and writing, even having a few guitarist auditions in the process. We also debated for weeks which band name we should select, with each idea having 2/3 support, but nothing ever unanimous. We finally all agreed upon Serotonic, and it was settled! While we all liked the name and what it could stand for (referring to the brain chemical Serotonin that affects mood and happiness), I had actually come up with the name based on my own personal history of having depression and taking antidepressants for years. In the years of dealing with it I had learned so much about myself, almost to a point where I was proud of it. To me, the name Serotonic applies to my being able to overcome depression and learn about myself in a very deep and introspective way. Many people who live with depression aren’t as fortunate to be able to understand and cope with it, so I’m certainly proud to be so lucky.

couch band

Our first guitarist was Nelson Mariscal. He is a great guy and great musician, and we enjoyed our time with Nelson. He still performs in the area regularly, and we always love running into him and catching up. Nelson was with us for several months, and he kept busy with his other musical projects he had going at the time, so sometimes availability for Serotonic suffered. We knew we needed to keep the momentum moving forward and began exploring options with other guitarists. We just needed to find that just-right fit. We happened to meet Jordan Garno one night through a mutual friend, a sax player named Joe Longardner who had joined us on a couple gigs at the time. Jordan came to jam with us soon after, and we immediately realized that Jordan was the missing piece we knew we needed. The songs started getting stronger, the sound was blending a lot more, and we were progressing pretty well. The progress would be short-lived, however. In early 2012, Gabe was offered an incredible career opportunity that required him to relocate across the country. We then continued with Bryan pulling bass duties on the keyboards, and we were not entirely sure we even wanted to have a bassist anymore at that point.

Around the same time, we picked up a great saxophone player named Mike Strautman. Mike was a very strong talent on the horn, and he began playing several shows with us, mixing it up between alto and tenor.

Also around the same time, an old friend of Bryan’s from North Carolina just-so-happened to be relocating to Clearwater. His name was Rob Sanger, and he just-so-happened to play bass guitar. We invited Rob out to a small gig we were playing one night so he could sit in on a couple tunes just to jam and have some fun. Well, Rob ended up learning most of our original songs prior to that gig, and when he showed up and nailed all of Gabe’s old parts, Jordan, Bryan and myself all kinda just looked at each other and nodded in agreement that we were impressed. We asked Rob to come out again on our next gig and give us another good look at what he could do, and we were thrilled at the idea that we very well could have a replacement for Gabe after all. 

green lights

Fast-forward several months and performances later: Mike informed us he had to leave the band because he was moving out of state. We were definitely bummed to be losing such a great horn player, but by that time we were pretty well networked with other local musicians — many whom were part of the jazz program at USF where Jordan was attending. One night Jordan introduced us to his friend, a sax player named Jon Tucker. I remember Jon being a ball of energy the first night I met him, and I can say that he hasn’t lost one step since. We invited Jon out to a rehearsal, and he ripped the notes right out of that horn. We were all impressed and excited to ask Jon to join us and start playing out. Anyone who has seen us perform… has DEFINITELY seen Jon. He offers a great energy and some great dance moves, even on the slow songs! Not to mention he’s a brilliant sax player.

jon dramatic

So that brings us to 2015. Where are we at? Well, our album has been about 90% tracked, and we are trying to wrap it up by the fall. We already have new material that will be on album #2, and we’ve been working on some other ideas. Bryan, Jordan and I perform at Fly Bar downtown Tampa as a jazz trio every Wednesday night, and Bryan and Jordan have both started performing as a trio up in Ocala with Adam Volpe on drums. Jon has been playing out with another local band, Mighty Mongo, for the last few months, and he’s also been very busy working at the recording studio he manages. We have had the luxury of having Christian Ryan of Leisure Chief fill in on sax duties recently in Orlando, and it sounds like he will also be joining us when we perform at Ringside Cafe on 7/24 with Row Jomah and Leisure Chief. We were also recently asked by Brett Andress at The Ale & The Witch to perform there on September 4th, which coincides with downtown Saint Pete’s First Friday craziness and also the Labor Day holiday weekend. We expect it to be a packed house, and we can’t wait to play both of these great shows!”

Bassist Robert Sanger talked about his musical upbringing: “I also play trombone… played through college. I’ve played bass since 6th grade, always interested in modifying /altering/improving my cheap basses, learned a lot that lead to building basses. My dad is a jazz pianist and mom retired music teacher.  I proposed to Katy at All Good at a Further show. I got to play “I Shot the Sheriff” with a legit reggae band on our honeymoon in Jamaica.”

Sanger has a side project of his own: Sanger custom basses! He has built 20 thus far. He says, “I’m working hard to get Sanger custom basses off the ground. Between playing and building, it keeps me pretty busy. Playing in the scene has been a great way to advertise and be my own research and development / quality control department. It had also lead to some builds for some awesome bass players! It was also very cool to get to play my basses in front of 1000+ people for the Stanley Cup game (at Amalie Arena) and opening for G. Love.”

You may recall the ad he sponsored in the Orange Blossom Jamboree program. Not only do his basses sound amazing, they are truly works of art.

He also added: “We are currently trying to add more vocal tunes to our song list. (Kilmartin and Garno both sing several songs in the band’s current repertoire.) Music in my playlist includes: Snarky Puppy, The Motet, Nth Power, Robert Glasper, and Derrick Hodge.”

And Sanger commented on the creative process: “For me, writing usually starts with a part or section that I really like… the cool thing about writing as a group is that someone else in the group usually has another interesting part or transition to complete the song.”

amalie bolt

Kilmartin talked about some band highlights: “The largest crowd we’ve ever played to was the  pregame party for Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup Finals game 5, which hosted about 3,000 outside spectators and 19,000 game attendance.”

“We love playing venues where people are up close and involved. Places such as Dunedin Brewery, The Ale & The Witch, and Tanqueray’s in Orlando have consistently shown us great love! Speaking of love, I’d say opening for G. Love & Special Sauce in Tampa in front of several thousand people was quite a fun one too. That was a great experience, being part of an event with a band I’ve enjoyed listening to for over 15 years.”

He lists Lettuce, Snarky Puppy, Soulive, James Brown, and Maceo Parker among his major influences.

a & w

Bryan Lewis also weighed in about his path to Serotonic:

“I went to college knowing that I wanted to be involved in the music business, but really had no idea what part (performing, marketing, recording, engineering, etc.). I was big into jam band music at the time and tried to join the college’s jam band class (they offered just about every kind of genre as a for-credit class where you just played in a band — pretty cool). Anyway, the jam band already had a keyboardist for the first semester, so they placed me in the JAZZ band ensemble instead. I had never read a chord chart, had no experience with improvisation of any kind, and was by far the worst player in the band. However, I fell in love with the music, and, after a while, I started to catch on a little! By my senior year, I was in the premier jazz combo and had a weekly residency at one of the clubs in town. After a short stint in North Carolina after college, I moved to Florida in 2010 and met Andrew shortly after!”

Lewis’ various influences include Bill Evans (piano), Herbie Hancock, and Soulive.

bryan jordan

Jon Tucker studied jazz performance at the University of South Florida. Currently, he is the studio manager at Morrisound Recording, Tampa’s premier facility, and he is also recording/live sound engineer at USF.

Serotonic has earned a reputation as one of Florida’s greatest musical treasures. At the recent Orange Blossom Jamboree, this went down:

“A couple of weeks earlier, Legacy (a.k.a. Sean Maloney) told me about his plan. He is a looper but often stockpiles musicians for his Orchestra Collective. The plan involved two things: hiring Serotonic to be the main back-up band, and selecting an unheard-of setlist of singalong songs you would never expect to hear at such a festival. Legacy has been high on Serotonic for a while (that doesn’t sound right!) and has wanted to play with them for months. Members of Green Sunshine and Holey Miss Moley would be involved in this mob action.

It was ON from the opening notes of Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” through the final chords of his great original “Ridiculous Elephant.” Afterward, some of the Serotonic members feared there had not been enough rehearsal time, etc., to which we all said, “We had a blast!” It was so much fun. We had just heard the news that morning that B.B. King had left the building, and they played a rousing “Thrill is Gone,” with Jordan Garno perfect on guitar.”

Maloney refers to Serotonic as “what I consider to be THE tightest band in Florida musically.”

hometeam nyr gypsy

And this happened at the end of Serotonic’s OBJ set on Saturday:

“And then they did something totally unexpected. Apparently, they have been discussing this concept for a while of stretching their envelope in another direction. You want another direction? How about a monster version of “No Quarter” by Zep? With alto sax. And Garno hammering it on guitar.

When they were done, one of my colleagues stood and said, “That was amazing. Best set I’ve seen all weekend!” The guy next to me was a tad less reserved. “YOU GUYS ARE GOOD AS F&#K!” (Yes, Getts, I know.) No argument from me.”

Garno also took over the guitar chair for another excellent funky jazzy quartet, Infinite Groove Orchestra. And local music godfather Darryl Quesenberry, much more affectionately know as Funky D and Rev. D, chose Garno and Sanger for his New Diggz performance at December’s Hometeam New Year’s Rally, which spun a lot of heads around, especially mine:

“And then, for me, a revelation. I really like Jordan Garno’s guitar playing with Serotonic, and very recently he has agreed to fill in with Infinite Groove Orchestra, but until this moment I had never really seen him stretch out. And it was at this moment that Rev D and the New Diggz ripped off a tremendous trio of Pink Floyd tunes: “Breathe > Shine On You Crazy Diamond > Have a Cigar.” Garno exploded, he soared, he wailed. WOW. Later D said that Garno was his favorite local guitar player, and now I know why!”

merch

Garno offered his story:

“I have loved music for as long as I can remember. Since my father was a pianist, and my mother a former pianist, music had always been a point of connection in my family. One of my strongest early memories is playing “concerts” for my parents at about 5 years old. With a white sport coat, black-rimmed glasses with no lenses, and an inflatable guitar, I would sing (or yell) James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face” and Eric Clapton’s “Layla” until my instrument got deflated. These concerts continued, in one form or another, until I got my first real instrument.

It was in my first year of middle school when things took off musically. One day my dad came home with an old acoustic guitar he bought from a friend. It was beautiful. And gigantic. I remember having a hard time holding it for quite a while! It turned out to be a very quality instrument, but my dad had always said “When the tone is right, you play right.” Those words have stuck with me ever since then. He showed me three chords: G, C, and D, and I was off to the races. I loved the sound of my guitar, and I would practice for a few hours almost every day. Every new song I learned felt like I had climbed higher up a mountain, and I was eager to keep climbing. Around that same time, I also started playing saxophone in the middle school band. This helped me to learn how to read music, play with a group, and appreciate the different colors of various instruments.

Later on, we moved to Ocala, Florida, and by this time I had been playing guitar and saxophone for about six or seven years, and my little brother, Josh, was playing drums. So with my dad on keys, Josh on drums and me on guitar, we would practice songs and go out and play gigs. The feeling of playing music with my family is one of the greatest blessings in my life, and I’m grateful for that everyday.  After many practices and small gigs, we decided to put together a little demo.

When looking for a place to record our demo, we stumbled upon a studio that happened to be the home studio of one of the most experienced, innovative, and well-known engineers of all time: Bruce Swedien. This was like getting dropped into the deep end of the musicians’ pool. I learned so much in this season. Bruce would say “Make fewer notes sound like more” and “There’s no time for practice in the studio.” These are very important lessons for any musician, in my opinion. One has to learn to perform at their highest level, even under all sorts of pressures. About halfway through the project, my dad passed away from cancer. This shook my world quite a bit, but we were able to finish the record and released it on iTunes. It’s called Road With No Signs by the band Garneau. This record is now a real treasure to me; to be able to hear my dad’s playing every once in a while is quite a gift.

frightening

Since music was my connection to my dad, I was compelled to learn more and more to try to become the best musician I could be. I went to the USF School of Music to study jazz guitar. This really opened up my playing, and I was starting to get into funk jazz and fusion groups such as Soulive, Snarky Puppy, etc.

Through a friend in school, and my roommate at the time, Joe Longardener, I was introduced to Serotonic at a rehearsal. Though I was just sitting in, I was surprised that we shared so many of the same musical influences, and they were playing the type of music I wanted to play. With so many things in common, we hit it off immediately. I had to play with them again, but they already had a guitar player. I was totally thrilled when an opening came along and I got the call! Since then we’ve playing, writing, and growing as band. I now call these guys some of my best friends.

Music is truly an incredible thing on many levels. It’s helped me, and continues to help me, through the hard times and the great times. It’s connected me and continues to connect me to so many great people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It’s taught me patience, persistence and sensitivity. I definitely owe a lot to those 12 notes!”

Garno and Lewis have started another project going with drummer Adam Volpe of Infinite Groove Orchestra called The 3rd Kind. And Lewis plays regularly on Thursday and Fridays with yet another excellent jazz combo, Acme Jazz Garage, with Philip Booth on bass, guitarist Matt Swensen and Tim Diehl on the drum kit. AJG recorded a magnificent version of “America the Beautiful,” arranged by Bryan Lewis, which was played on several local radio stations over the Independence Day weekend.

Garno’s wife, Kelly-Ann is a fine singer who sits in with the band occasionally. She is also a relentless photographer, helping to document the Serotonic ‘legacy.’ In fact, Serotonic truly benefits from amazing support from wives, girlfriends and family. Serena Aubrey (with Lewis) is also a great photographer and fan. Katy Sanger and Kayla deMartine (with Kilmartin) are tireless supporters. And I have had the pleasure of meeting parents as well, including Kilmartin’s dad, Kelly-Ann’s mom and dad, and Lewis’ mom and partner. There is no way to overstate the importance of such love and support.

Earlier in the year, the quintet and the boys from Displace wisely decided to hold an afterparty to accompany the Snarky Puppy & The Motet concert in St. Petersburg. Most of Snarky Puppy, including the main man, Michael League, were on hand to listen and groove after the show. Now that’s sweet.

Serotonic teams up with Leisure Chief and Row Jomah Friday, July 24th, at the Ringside Cafe. they will also join forces with the Legendary JCs at Skipper’s Smokehouse on August 7th.

Look for a new album from Serotonic in the fall. A four-song EP is currently available on iTunes, Spotify, and other services.

www.serotonicband.com 

www.facebook.com/serotonicband



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