Black and Tan Fantasy Band
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Black and Tan Fantasy Band

Bethesda, Maryland, United States

Bethesda, Maryland, United States
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by Sriram Gopel

"Busy" is a word that barely describes keyboardist Will Rast's gigging schedule. Playing in no less than six ensembles, Rast has steadily become one of the more visible musicians in the area, spreading his tentacles throughout the District's music scene. His work has garnered Wammie nominations, gigs at notable venues across the country, and international tours with pop star Mya. If that wasn't enough, Rast and his fiancée are tying the knot next month.

While growing up in the D.C. area, Rast studied the piano and, as a child, started composing minuets and other classical pieces. His music teacher at Chevy Chase Elementary School entered one of them into the National Youth Composers competition and at the tender age of 11. Rast was chosen as one of twelve national finalists. His growth continued and Rast was gigging several nights per week by the age of 17. At the same time, his studies continued with local jazz greats Ron Elliston and Bob Sykes, after which he took a temporary hiatus from D.C. in order to get his music degree from the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. After returning to D.C. in 2000, Rast quickly jumped back into the local scene, starting with a collaboration with W. Ellington Felton.

From straight ahead jazz, to electronic music, to old school funk, Rast is a musician schooled in tradition, but always looking to the future. He does it all and so DCist is proud to feature him as one of this month's Three Stars.

Visit Will online at: www.willrast.com or www.myspace.com/willrast

See him next: The Velvet Lounge on April 25; Jammin' Java on May 23; and Blues Alley on June 10

Questions for Will Rast:

You play in a number of projects around town. Who are some musicians you look forward to playing with and why? Where can our readers go to hear you play?

At the moment, I am working with a lot of talented people. The group that I prize the most would be The Funk Ark. I have the privilege of being the leader of an 11-piece JB's style funk band with five horns and a six-part rhythm section. It's the coolest thing I've ever been responsible for. Close on their heels are the members of Black and Tan Fantasy Band which is a project involving myself, Jerry Busher, formerly of Fugazi and French Toast, and Ashish Vyas, of the Thievery Corporation. We have plans to begin a new Funk and Soul label/co-op and flood the DJ market with new vinyl 45s. We spend a lot of our time in Jerry's Basement making new music and studying the classics. I am a real stickler for authentic sounds so, the more rehearsal and fine tuning, the better. When we do go out to play, we do not approach it in the way that many D.C. musicians do, as just a gig. It's a show, and we do our best to promote and find new ways of hipping folks to new locations that befit a musical environment. You can find The Funk Ark in monthly residencies at Bohemian Caverns, Bossa, The Space, and many other spots.

I've also been hired on by the newly reformed RAMP [Roy Ayers Master Productions], It's a great honor for me and I've been working with them to perfect their live performance after a 30-year hiatus. Eryka Badu just sampled their 1977 song, "American Promise," for her latest release, Ameryka, and we recently toured Germany, France and the UK with great success. There are plans to hit Europe again in May.

You tour internationally with R&B star Mya. How did that collaboration come about?

My association with Mya began one day in 2005 at my weekly residency at Tryst Bar and Lounge in Adams Morgan. A guy by the name of Vin Richardson, who was in charge of finding talent for the group approached me at the set break and asked if I would like to audition to be in Mya's new touring band. Flashing back to high school and the plaid skirt she wore in the Pras' Ghetto Supastar video, I immediately said yes. I auditioned later that week and a week after that, we left for Tanzania. She is a great person, an activist, a generous soul and I hope to get her involved in some of my own future projects.

When I play with Mya I share the stage with another very talented keyboardist, Eli Staples, and together we form the pit orchestra. I play string patches, synth lines and any number of miscellaneous instruments that you can find buried in the database of the Yamaha Motif. It is a totally different style of playing than what I was used to. Everything is very structured and precise. When playing pop music, there is much less room for improv, but I always manage to sneak it in here and there.

What is your approach to music, in terms of both playing and composing? How does the ensemble you are working with affect your mindset, both as a player and a writer?

My approach is pretty simple, I think. I play what I like to listen to. I love straight-ahead jazz, and will always include what I have learned from playing it in the other styles that I try to tackle. Lately, I have had to discipline myself by writing out multi-part horn and rhythm charts for my big band and I believe that it has made a big difference in how I approach writing. I have been so used to preparing music for small groups that lack some of the elements needed for my more complex compositions, that it has been very refreshing to be able to hear everything on stage that I hear in my head. As a player, I find that working with such a big group forces you to play a bit more conservatively, and in a more calculated way. You don't want to step on any one's toes and clutter things up, but the reward for making all the little parts come together is greater than that of a moment of personal vanity.

Tell us about your recorded material. Did your album(s) come out as you expected and are there any others in the works?

In 2006, I recorded an acoustic jazz album called Impressionable Youth. This came at a time when I was writing mainly for the genre of modern acoustic jazz. At that time, I didn't know a whole lot about the industry and self-promotion and things sort of fell by the wayside, because I was too busy working as a sideman with folks like Mya and Wes Felton. My upcoming releases with Funk Ark and Black and Tan Fantasy Band will be approached with a bit more commercial savvy and, with any luck, a record label.

What are your short and long term plans as far as your music is concerned? Any upcoming recordings or tours?

Short term, I would like to see where The Funk Ark and Black and Tan will take me. We will record albums for both groups, and Black and Tan is going to start a residency at the 18th Street Lounge this summer. With any luck we will begin to tour by the end of the summer. Long term, I would like to create a stabilized funk and soul scene here in Washington, D.C. There are so many weekly gigs and places where you can go see music for free in town, that I think crowds have gotten a bit lazy about going out and paying to see a local band perform. If we focus on production value, branding, and promotion, these local acts can gain national recognition, because honestly, D.C. has some of the best players in the world, just hanging out and barely making any money. We want to make the D.C. scene comparable to New York and L.A. by giving these musicians the opportunity to play in front of crowds who will appreciate them, not just whoever happens to walk in off the street.

What are your thoughts on the state of D.C.'s local jazz scene? Who are the musicians you most enjoy?

D.C.'s jazz scene is split into many different factions. It's a working musician's town in many respects. Because it is a seat of government and corporate power, there are plenty of cocktail parties and corporate functions to play. That's how a great many of the players in D.C. make their money, and it is a boon for those of us who need a little extra help to pay the rent. However, it's easy to become so involved in making money off of other people's events, that you can lose the ambition and drive to make and promote the projects that you are interested in, personally. The people that I admire most, are doing both and using what free time they have to devote to making art that pays.

Are there any local musicians who are flying under the radar of whom our readers should be aware?

There are tons of great local musicians who are flying under the radar. I have the privilege to also play in a great local band, featuring my long standing bass player and friend, Marc Blackwood, called Innerloop. The group features Marc on sequencer and bass, Anthony Pirog on guitar, Janel Leppin on cello, Joe Hererra on trumpet and synthesizer and Charles Ostle on hybrid acoustic electric drum set. - DCist.com


Will Rast was diligently building up his chops and playing in jam bands years ago when W. Ellington Felton scooped him up to direct his live ensemble. Since then he's become an in-demand touring musician (with R&B star Mya among others) and made a name for himself in the jazz-fusion world. In between the increasingly frequent tour dates you can still find him leading different combos at intimate spots around town. His current outfit, The Funk Ark, features Jerry Busher of Fugazi on drums and a full horn section that wouldn't be able to fit in the front window of his weekly Bossa gigs. Style-wise, the name says it all. The Funk Ark will be exploring the far reaches of outer vamp-space and dropping it on the one for two sets at Bossa tonight.

-- Rhome Anderson (Jan. 2008) - washingtonpost.com


Discography

Mount Pleasant State of Mind Single (soon to be released on Vinyl.)

Photos

Bio

Black and Tan Fantasy Band is the collective brain child of funk keyboard virtuoso Will Rast, Thievery Corporation bassist, Ashish Vyas, (formerly of GoGoGo Airheart) and drummer Jerry Busher (Fugazi, French Toast). Since their inception, in december 2007, the group has recorded constantly, and garnered residencies at the hottest "in-the- know," spots in Washington DC.