Too Many Zooz go from busking to High Sierra

Tomorrow is today for Too Many Zooz at the High Sierra Music Festival.

Too Many Zooz is a three-piece instrumental group from New York City, New York.

Leo Pellegrino and Matt “Doe” Muirhead met while studying jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. Muirhead made it clear he respects all types of music, but 1950s rudimentary jazz wasn’t “his.”

“We were trying to find a way to do the shit we like, but acoustically on our instruments,” Muirhead said in an interview at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California.

Pellegrino met David Parks, AKA King of Sludge, while playing with another group called Drumadics, busking in the subways underneath the city.

King of Sludge is Park’s identity. He plays the bass drum, which represents the sonic bottom and ironically, his band literally came from the sludgy underbelly.

In their world, performing in the subway is called “playing a hit.” After performing a few extra hits, Parks told the band he’d be playing on, and anyone who wanted could join.

Pellegrino was the only person to show up. Muirhead had his trumpet and tagged along.

“That first day we made a bunch of money, so we decided to do it again tomorrow,” Pellegrino said.

“And now tomorrow is today,” Muirhead added.

Music was a necessity for them to pay their bills. They went from impressing passersby, to touring nine months out of the year, backing Beyoncé and filling festival tents with bouncing fans.

“We ride the crowd like it’s a wave,” Pellegrino said. “I am very interested in noticing the reaction of the crowd and trying to please them.”

Pellegrino said a lot of their success and style comes from reading the crowd.

“It’s never been about who’s onstage,” Parks said. “We’ve never been shy about catering to a crowd. It’s about who’s in front of us.”

They created their genre, brass house, in the subways. Parks said if the genre had a mentality it’s “find what works for you and keep your audience involved.”

The HSMF audience was enthralled as the trumpet replicated rising midi swells before neck-snapping breakdowns. While playing baritone saxophone, Pellegrino dances and thrusts like Michael. The Vaudeville tent was an instant party. Before the first song finished, the entire first-day crowd was raising the roof and whatnot.

Their cover of AC/DC’s TNT was explosion and original. The bare-boned approach makes every step or transition compelling.

At first, Pellegrino didn’t consider himself a dancer, but thousands of subway shows and countless hours dancing has convinced him otherwise. Pellegrino is an animal onstage. On one hand, he’s an entrancing bari player, shuffling like his feet and note articulation are in sync. On the other, he’s continuously toeing the line between dancer and seductive playboy, tonguing that reed like his life depends on it.

“I think I’m a crazy person,” Pellegrino said. “And this is my therapy. I think I could’ve taken a much worse path in life if I didn’t have music.”

Music has merged their paths, and their unspoken chemistry, cultivated by playing together every day for seven years.

“We have this language we can speak that allows us to transform our ideas into reality instantaneously,” Muirhead said. “It’s pretty unique and not something a lot of musical palettes supply you with.”

— Tony Contini


About Tony Contini

Photographer and journalist Tony Contini graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in art photography. He loves working with bands and telling stories. Photography portfolio:

One comment

  1. Names Christopher Scott. I worked Event Staff at the High Sierra Festival. I actually was helping crowd control at your concert there. I even help keep the fans off you while u played the saxophone into the crowd. Just wanted to say you guys rock. That was quite the experience.tjank you

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