Positivity and inclusiveness, not exclusivity, is the West End Blend way.
That is evident not only in the size of the 11-piece up-and-coming Hartford-based band, but also in the fusion of art it incorporates into its music – self-described as an “Afro-beat,” funk, dance and “jam collective,” also drawing from jazz, hip hop and other art forms. The group is nominated for best new band and best song for the upcoming New England Music Awards.
Drummer Sam Horan, 24, of Guilford, and guitarist Jesse Combs formed the group in November of 2012 when most of the band members were living within a few blocks of each other and attending the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at The Hartt School in Hartford.
“We basically had this vision of creating a band where we can just kind of let loose and have fun and kind of have no egos attached to anything that’s going on. And we saw a lot of other talent around us, whether it be dance, art, painting, graffiti, poetry, everything,” Horan said after the band played its original song “What It’s All About” on NBC Connecticut News Sunday morning. “What we wanted to do is create a band where we can use all of it and have anyone come and join us in a collaborative effort.”
Jazz is a main layer in the group’s musical blend, but singer Erica Bryan, 22, of New Haven said that each artist in the group brings their own “flavor,” from R&B and soul to hip hop and funk.
“Anything that gets people dancing,” Horan said.
Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Biggie Smalls, Steely Dan and Diana Ross are just some of the musicians and bands who inspire their music and whose songs they cover when they’re not performing their own.
“We kind of go through the eras of groovy music,” Horan said.
Sometimes artists can be selective about who they perform with in the music industry, but Horan said West End Blend doesn’t turn anyone away from playing with the constantly growing band. The band is “breaking the cliques” and “welcoming all forms of art and ideas," he said.
It’s that inclusive and open mindset that puts the blend in the Hartford West End band’s style and its brand, according to Bryan and rapper Tangsauce, 23, of Hartford. Its logos, posters and band art, painted by a group member, draw in the visual arts.
West End Blend keeps it positive and accepts any ideas, but one thing the group stays away from is profanity.
“You can get a message across without that, you know?” Bryan said.
Plus, Tangsauce said the clean lyrics keep their music “radio-ready.”
The band released a three-song EP, or a sampling of its music, called “What It’s All About” in September, titled after the hit song nominated for “best song” in the New England Music Awards.
“We have about four or five different songwriters in the band right now,” Horan said, including Bryan and the band’s keyboardist, saxophonist, bassist and artist, and everyone gets a chance to write music. “It contributes to the blend aspect of it all.”
Rehearsal allow for creative freedom in the band’s process of making music.
“We just kind of start to jam and see what happens from there,” Bryan said.
And for the band, that’s what it’s all about.
West End Blend is working on recording its debut full-length album. They’ve also collaborated with several different groups and are hoping to do a lengthy tour in the future.
West End Blend's EP is available for purchase on the group’s website westendblend.com and westendblend.bandcamp.com, where you can also find more information about the group and its upcoming performances.
Other members of the group include Alex Heaton and Andrew Cusanelli on percussion, Tom Sullivan on bass, Paulie Philippone on keys, Mike Dipanfilo on guitar, John Mundy on trombone, Mike Bufando on trumpet, Mike Oehmen on tenor sax and Vicky Medieros on baritone sax.
Correction: West End Blend originally told NBC Connecticut the band is performing at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford at the end of January, but the venue reached out to say that hasn't been finalized and that the event is private. The story has been edited to reflect the update.