From Westlake High School to Marfa, Louisiana, Guatemala and Costa Rica, the UT students in Big Wy’s Brass Band have performed all over the world.
Forming the group after a performance at Carnaval Brasileiro in Austin, the original members of Big Wy’s Brass Band are all younger than 22. The band plays music influenced by a wide range of genres such as New Orleans brass bands, funk, soul, hip-hop, gospel and popular artists such as Lord Dope, Kanye, Beyonce and No BS Brass Band.
For some members, performing with the band as much as four times a week and releasing an EP is a hobby, not a professional stepping stone. The band’s mellophone player, biochemistry senior Miles Holmes, said the band defines an era of their lives.
“Our college experience is almost over,” Holmes said. “Some of us are graduating next year, and we still didn’t have anything concrete as a hallmark of our time as Big Wy’s, and we’ve really accomplished a lot. We wanted to share that with others and have that for ourselves as a nice little keepsake.”
Although similar bands rely on sheet music, Holmes said Big Wy’s Brass Band solely plays by ear to create a more fluid, jazzy experience. Thomas Wenglinski, pianist and jazz studies sophomore, said many of the band’s arrangements generally function as frameworks for rehearsals that they ultimately deviate from, making each song on their set list a living piece.
Trumpeter and composer Austin Ali said this dynamic allows for a flexibility other groups may not have and gives each member of the band a chance to make the song their own.
“We’ll give each member like, four bars or something, to improvise on stage,” Ali said. “But if they’re on fire, we won’t stop them.”
Drummer Brady Knippa said he loves their on-stage energy, and it’s become part of the group’s identity.
“(Some) groups have this stoicness about them when they’re performing,” Knippa said. “But with this group, everyone just goes crazy. You’ve got Miles and Chase over here screaming, and Wyatt ad libbing. People feed off of that energy.”
The band attributes this musical chemistry to their tight knit friendship. Mellophone Holmes, trombonist Will Wright and drummer Chase Ozment lived together when the band began, making their home the group’s default hangout spot.
Wyatt Corder attributes the success of the band to the positive attitude of its current members.
“In the past we’ve had people being negative and saying ‘Oh, we’re a brass band, we can’t do that (genre),’” Corder said. “But then we started getting more people in the band who were like, ‘The sky’s the limit, and there’s nothing we can’t do.’”
The members of Big Wy’s said they never imagined the band was going to grow this much in popularity. In the end, they attribute their success to their talents, networking and their personalities.
“I think we’re oddballs,” Corder said. “We’re these really, like, fratty suburban kids making this jazz party music.”