Wayne Tucker by Ronald Stewart

He only wants to reach people’s hearts through song and a trumpet. New York City-based Wayne Tucker has an impeccable – seemingly innate – sense of timing and phrasing. He doesn’t sweat over formulas or industry standards. Rather, the stories we all experience through love and loss and grief and joy are what he communicates.

Wayne has come up with a song that’s an instant earworm. With “Little Buddy” he relates, effortlessly, what it’s like to get through the other side of a love affair and still be able to hold affection in a Platonic sense. The song showcases his ease and versatility as a musician, switching from horn to vocals and back, just a different tool for his self-expression.

Playing in the band Brass Against the Machine, he lends an ironic (comical) stirred-up/marching band sound alongside a trombonist and tuba player with a rapper who spouts passionate and extra raw lyrics. The ensemble is full of melodic and thematic surprises.

Which was your first musical calling – vocals, trumpet, songwriting?

I first started playing piano at home just for fun, with my parents and my brother around age 3. The first instrument that I studied was the violin at age 8. 

What was the “aha” moment when you knew you’d devote your life to it?

I was 15 and I had just begun studying trumpet privately (I taught myself how to play for three years from ages 11-14). I bought a Dizzy Gillespie album on a trip to Virginia Beach and have been hooked ever since!  

What are the top take-aways from your music training?

No matter what you do in life, you need to work really hard, for years, often times without reward before it finally pays off. 

What did they teach you as an undergrad about the music industry that you found useful as an artist?

Honestly the training at conservatory was a lot more about technique than the “music industry.” I would occasionally go to hear my teachers play, and sometimes even sit in with their bands, but I learned a lot more about the industry once I moved to NYC. 

Is it hard to switch from vocals to the horn, and how do you get the pacing right?

I never actually thought about it until a recent tour with vocalist Cyrille Aimée. She gave me some advice on switching between the two, and it’s mostly related to using your air in the most efficient way possible. 

What do you hope to convey to audiences?

My main goal is to create an atmosphere that envelops you, and takes you into another world. Whether it’s through the rhythms, textures, harmonies or lyrics. Everyone has difficulties in life, and I want the music to take you away from that, even if it’s just for a moment. 

Your brother plays bari in your band?

Yes! Only 15 months older, but he’s always been my toughest teacher and greatest source of musical inspiration.  

How would you characterize your own style as a vocalist, and as a trumpet player?

I would say that I’m very much influenced by 70’s soul singers, and 90’s R&B singers. My biggest inspiration on the trumpet is Miles Davis, though I definitely sound like a trumpet player from today, inspired by artists like Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton. Ultimately, I try to be as open about my feelings in any given moment, so the sound, feeling and style should be constantly changing and evolving. 

What prompted “Little Buddy”?

“Little Buddy” was written after a difficult relationship, when you reach that moment of loving someone, even if you’re not in love anymore.

It’s a gorgeous song and so hopeful. Is that your outlook on life?

I’m definitely an optimistic person, but I also try to be realistic. A lot of the songs I write have lyrics about the moment, and uplifting harmony. 

Are you ever nervous about popping into falsetto?

I’m not a “trained” vocalist, so it’s not something I really get concerned with. My main concern on stage is that I deliver expressive, passionate and emotional music. 

Did you know you came up with a memorable hook as soon as you sang it?

Yes actually! There is definitely a moment where I realize I wrote something good, with most of the songs that I write with hooks. 

What clubs do you most enjoy in NYC?

I love intimate places where you can exchange energy! So I love Smalls Jazz Club, Smoke Jazz Club, Barbes and Bar LunÀtico. I also looove Birdland because it has a great sound and amazing people. 

Of all the festivals worldwide, which was the most memorable?

My # 1 favorite is Jazz en El Parque in Bogotá, Colombia. Thousands and thousands of people screaming for jazz music, with the Andes mountains in the background. 

Really, your band is remarkable. How did you find and choose the musicians?

There are so many amazing musicians in NYC, that it’s hard to pick! I usually choose to play with people who know many styles of music who love to listen while they play, and are great people to hang out with after the show is over.

The band consists of Hila Kulik – keys; Jason Marshall – baritone sax; Todd Caldwell – organ; Spencer Murphy – bass; and Diego Ramirez – drums.

How do you give and take with each other to create a beautiful sound?

Music is like a language, but the most fun conversations aren’t necessarily about having the biggest vocabulary. For me it’s about listening, and living in the moment together. 

What age students do you teach, and what are they most curious about?

I teach people age 5-14 (occasionally adults too), and I would say that’s different for each student. Most of them want to experience the joy of playing songs that they know how to sing. Experiencing the process of discovery. 

How does one remain optimistic in a competitive and difficult industry?

For me it’s about the individual experiences I’ve had as a musician. I didn’t become a musician to get rich, I did it because of how it makes me feel, and how it makes the people I’m with feel. And it definitely helps that I collaborate with people in many genres all over the world. That part wasn’t conscious. I suppose it was a by-product of a diverse musical upbringing.

What has been your biggest motivation in growing your career?

I’m inspired by the amazing things that my close friends and peers do. And I’m inspired by the personal stories that people tell me about how my music has affected them. For some it made them happy, for some it made them cry, and for others it changed their life. 

What do you picture or think about when you compose?

I try to forget about everything and experience my emotions to the deepest level I can. The musical part is stream-of-consciousness. 

Where would you most like to play?

I would love to play and visit every country on Earth. Off of the top of my head I’d love to play in Japan, Brazil and Cuba. And I still haven’t played at the Village Vanguard! 

What do you think you’d like to improve upon or develop further as an artist?

I want to continue building my trumpet and vocal technique. I want to become a professional-level pianist, electric bass player, and drummer. I’d also like to get deeper into making music on Logic.

But the most important place for musical improvement is emotional. I want to experience so much, and be so open that everyone is touched every time I play, and not by the technique. By the sound, character, feeling.

Tours and gigs for 2018 – some highlights?

I’m looking forward to bringing my band to more festivals this year, playing with Cyrille Aimée’s band, and a European CD Release Tour in April. 

I play a lot as a sideman, but I’m actively working to play more with my band in 2018. Both at festivals and clubs, but also in the world of film and TV. 

For more information, visit @waynetuckermusic on Facebook.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Wayne Tucker. Top photo (c) Anna Azarov, second photo (c) Ronald Stewart.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017