Q&A with Samuel Prather, founder of 2022 Jazz Fest opening act Groove Orchestra
A band that mixes jazz harmony with dance rhythms from all over the world, Groove Orchestra brings a unique and energetic sound to every stage they take. Read on to learn more about band founder and DC Native Samuel Prather as he prepares to kick off the 30th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest.
Being from the DMV area, do you have any memories of seeing musicians at local venues from when you were growing up that stand out to you and helped inspire your own music?
I've been inspired by many great artists in DC growing up; the city has always been rich in talent, even if much of it doesn't get the recognition it deserves. I've been blessed to have a brilliant minister of music in church, seen DC Jazz artists like Allyn Johnson, Marshall Keys, and Calvin Jones teach and play live, and frequented venues like Twins Jazz, Bohemian Caverns, and Blues Alley.
What prompted you to create Groove Orchestra, and what is it like leading your own group? How did you go about finding your bandmates?
Groove Orchestra is the result of being exposed to Snarky Puppy in 2010 while taking jazz arranging classes at Howard University. I wanted to take the arrangements I was writing for trio and quartet and spread them into a larger ensemble, which for the first time, I actually had access to top-level players and vocalists to play. Christie Dashiell, Shacara Rogers, Elijah Balbed, Deante Haggerty-Willis, CV Dashiell, Eliot Seppa, Donvante McCoy, and Micah Robinson were all there at roughly the same time, so it was really a special opportunity.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? What are your favorite instruments to play?
I like to write in a variety of ways, so it's hard to say I have one process. I might start with a drum groove, melody, or harmonic sequence and just fill in from there. I make a draft version in Reason (a program for creating and editing music) of everything except the solos and have real players swap out the draft performances. I'd love to work in the more traditional process, but it's expensive and I have to give up a level of creative control, which is hard for me because I tend to hear the whole song very quickly.
I tend to like playing keys, percussion, or vocals because they are my strongest suits, but I'll play a little bass and guitar out of necessity if the tune needs it and the parts aren't too hard.
You’ve posted many tutorials and informational videos on your YouTube channel to help people learn more about creating music. Why is teaching your craft important to you?
Teaching has always been important because it was given to me, and if the information isn't shared, it won't be there to be given to the next generation. The loss of knowledge is a really saddening thought to me, especially when it is something so powerful and life-changing as music. It also happens to be the best way to really understand something yourself; you don't know how well you know anything until you try to explain it to someone else.
What does it mean to perform at Rosslyn Jazz Fest, and what are you most excited about?
After many appearances as a sideman at Rosslyn Jazz Fest in the past, it's a huge honor to take the stage as a bandleader for such a special anniversary!
It's always hard to keep a larger group working, and Covid made it impossible for years at the point I thought we were really hitting a stride. Having that taken away has given me a new appreciation for every performance, but that one in particular. I'm excited and appreciative to be bringing that big experience back to the big stage!
Prather and Groove Orchestra will open Rosslyn Jazz Fest at Gateway Park from 1-2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10.