An Interview With Jay Jennings (Snarky Puppy)

Scott Hand had the opportunity to chat with renowned trumpet player Jay Jennings as he passed through the Cincinnati region in September. Jay is currently on tour with world-renowned instrumental fusion ensemble, Snarky Puppy. They performed at the Madison Theatre in Covington on Wednesday September 11 with support from touring singer-songwriter Alina Engibaryan. Jay also writes, records, and performs music with his own jazz quartet, The YAYennings Quartet.

Snarky Puppy is a three-time Grammy award winning recording group, and their newest album, Immigrance, is extraordinary. But what pushed our conversation was the interaction of performance, recording, and architecture. Jay’s performed on every platform configuration imaginable, from tiny clubs to huge festival stages, and as a soloist to a member of a big band orchestra.

Jenning’s preference for jazz performance venues are mid-to-large size theaters with 2,500 – 5,000 seats. Most rooms with this capacity provide a nice listening environment where people can enjoy the concert sitting down, or they can stand up and dance along with the band. He explained that he can flex between different stage configurations with grace when his personal onstage mix is good and he can hear what he needs to hear. With larger ensembles, this is difficult to do with wedge monitors, but easier with in-ear monitoring systems utilized by the stellar audio team that Snarky Puppy travels with.

Discussing the difficulties of touring with a large ensemble, Jay explained that the band has had to morph into all kinds of shapes and sizes to fit small stages. He benefits from only needing his “lil ole trumpet”, and can be squeezed into tighter spots than some of his fellow band members with bigger equipment needs.

Snarky Puppy is made up of many talented musicians and they all have skills running other ensembles, producing, and recording. When they perform together, they display a collective ability to read a room and make adjustments on the spot. Unrecognized by most in the audience, the band often flexes the set list and the instrumentation of specific songs to match the acoustics of a room, making each show unique  – both musically and experientially – depending on the venue, the stage configuration, and the crowd.