Truckee to Turkuaz: A trumpeter’s musical journey

Tahoe Onstage

The man with the horn, Chris Brouwers of Turkuaz.

Chris Brouwers is a man on the move.

Brouwers plays both the trumpet and keyboards for the Brooklyn-based funk band Turkuaz, but to say he’s working double-duty would be an understatement. He’s also the tour manager who oversees travel arrangements, stage setups, band payment and countless unexpected things that occur on the road. And, oh yeah, he takes shifts driving the van.

The nine-piece band is on extensive tour this year with the British soul quartet the New Mastersounds, and on Nov. 13 there was a stop at Brouwers’ old stomping grounds.

Brouwers grew up in Glenshire, the “banana belt” area east of Truckee. His parents, brother and several friends attended the Sunday night show in the Crystal Bay Casino. Now 30, his musical journey began when he enrolled in an elective music class at Sierra Mountain Middle School.

Tahoe OnstageInstructor Randy Humphreys gives new students a timbre preference test with pitch and rhythm exercises to figure out which instrument they would most like to play.

“The instrument was the tuba,” Brouwers told Tahoe Onstage before the Crystal Bay show. “But I was a scrawny, skinny little kid and my mom said she didn’t think I could carry around a tuba. So I picked the trumpet. It made our neighbors angry for the first few months.”

Humphreys continues to teach in Truckee. He’s now at the town’s new middle school, Alder Creek. He remembers Brouwers well, and also taught his three siblings.

“Chris was awesome,” Humphreys said. “He was focused and driven and practiced incredibly hard. He was very talented but (his success is) not all due to talent. He gave up a lot. I remember he was really into baseball. He always wore a Yankees hat. But in seventh grade gave up baseball for music.”

The music class helped settle early the question that weighs on every young person’s shoulders: What do you want to do with your life?

“In school they said you should do what you loved. I just knew that I loved music,” he said.

Brouwers joined the school’s jazz band, which practiced every day before school started. Humphreys researched his records for this article and said Brouwers had perfect attendance at the early morning sessions, which is extremely rare. Brouwers graduated from high school in 2005.

Humphreys encourages his students to listen as well as play, and every year his students hear plenty of the classic Miles Davis album “Kind of Blue.” That had a major influence upon Brouwers.

“I started a jazz band with my younger brother, Cody,” he said. “The Essentials was a five-piece that played jazz standards. We played at Moody’s Bistro and OB’s, which was next door to Bar of America. People were shocked to see kids playing jazz and swing.”

Later, Brouwers studied with Dave Green at Truckee and Dean Nordby at North Tahoe high schools.

Brouwers played a solo of a song composed in 1931, “You’re My Everything,” during a summertime recruiting audition for the Berklee College of Music and he received a scholarship to attend the Boston institution.

“I felt like I was ready for a city,” he said. “I was a professional music major with focus on performance and I was interested in jazz composition and arrangement. I dipped my toes in classes in each different area.

“We were encouraged to play outside of school. There were styles I didn’t even know about growing up in Truckee. Afrobeat, salsa, swing and singer-songwriters — that was as much part of the education as the classes. It was a melting pot.”

Seven of the nine Turkuaz members met at Berklee. They rehearsed in the basement of a building across the street from a corner store called Turkuaz, which means turquoise in Turkish.

“We thought it was a cool word,” Brouwers said.

Brouwers’ bandmates were a year ahead of him in school and after graduation they moved to Brooklyn. He would take $10 bus trips to New York to play with them on weekends. When a Brooklyn apartment room became available, Brouwers moved there and finished his final semester at Berklee taking online classes.

After playing shows in New York clubs, Turkuaz began to spread out for gigs in Philadelphia, Boston and Burlington, Vermont. In 2012, the band members went even farther. “We decided to take the music to the people,” Brouwers said.

In four years, the band has gained attention across the nation. It is funk based but quite versatile, playing in different styles such as rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and R&B.

“The sound has changed a lot,” Brouwers said. “At the beginning, it was loud and fast and all the songs were two to three minutes. As we’ve grown, we’ve learned to listen to each other.”

The band played more than 180 shows in 2015 and released an ‘80s pop-synth concept album, “Digitonium.” It will play more than 150 shows this year and another album is on the way.

Regionally, Turkuaz played at the 2015 Hangtown Music Festival and the 2016 High Sierra Music Festival. Nov. 13 was its Lake Tahoe debut and an exuberant crowd of more than 400 danced through the entire set. Hours later, the 12-member Turkuaz team, which includes sound, lights and costume/media directors, was on its way to Bend, Oregon.

“I still have an apartment in Brooklyn, but I am in the van more than the apartment,” said bassist Taylor Shell, the band’s other member from the West Coast. A San Francisco native, Shell used to be a ski racer for the Sugar Bowl team at Tahoe.

The members are as tight off the bandstand as they are when they are on it.

“We know everybody’s ranges emotionally and musically,” Shell said.

Baritone saxophone player Josh Schwartz said Brouwers, who is nicknamed “The Dutchman,” has another skill: The ability to win free burritos.

“Mountain Dew and Taco Bell make him happy,” Schwartz said.

Brouwers makes his bandmates happy by taking care of all details on the road.

“His work ethic is insane,” Shell said. “He does a good job navigating circumstances that are nuts. He’s good at not losing his cool.”

Brouwers calls himself compartmentalized, which helps him stay focused at each task. He said during a performance he is solely concentrated on the music, but after the final note is played, he’s on to the tour manager duties.

When Turkuaz comes off the road, Brouwers works as a technician for the renowned music venue the Brooklyn Bowl.

“I always want to be doing more,” he said.

Related story: Turkuaz, New Mastersounds paint the town funky. LINK

Tahoe Onstage

Brouwers is flanked by his Turkuaz bandmates during the show at Crystal Bay.

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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