Brian Monroney photo by Daniel Sheehan
By Andrew Luthringer
When a particularly spectacular talent arrives on a scene, it’s usually other musicians who catch on first, and excitedly spread the word amongst themselves in hushed, reverent tones. The last few years, these words have often been about guitarist Brian Monroney.
Drummer and bandleader Tarik Abouzied describes Monroney as “a local treasure,” and calls him “one of those players whose breadth of knowledge and experience is crystal clear the moment you hear him. He’s armed with all the chops anyone could want but has the taste and restraint necessary to contribute to the music wisely.”
Ace pianist Bill Anschell described Monroney as “very humble and focused, trying to make the best musical decision at any given moment; no ego getting in the way. And he’s really well-rounded.”
Brazilian singer and scene-maker Adriana Giordano calls Monroney the “utmost professional when it comes to organization, dedication, and reliability, but it’s also evident how much he enjoys making music.”
Monroney himself makes his mission sound simple: “I’ve always prided myself on being someone who can fit into any musical situation and make it a little better, a little richer, create some vibe and some ambience, and support the singer or whoever the focal point is.”
It’s a typically modest statement from a musician who has in fact spent many years of focused work honing his craft as a sideman across a dizzying range of musical styles. The Colorado-raised Monroney established himself initially in the Latin music hotbed of Miami and spent many years in and out of LA, logging time with superstars such as Natalie Cole and Gloria Estefan and appearing on television and on numerous film soundtracks.
Whether live or in the studio, Monroney works his supportive magic without undue flash or fanfare, subtly elevating and enriching the music. When called on to solo, he can unleash explosively serpentine lines rich with inner logic and compositional substance. Monroney inhabits the best of both worlds: the work ethic, experience, and taste of a seasoned pro, coupled with the enthusiasm, energy, and joy of a true music lover.
Like many a true sideman, Monroney is as good a listener as a talker, and humbly peppers his conversation with admiration for all the other musicians he has connected with since his arrival in Seattle.
“People have been pretty welcoming, despite the reputation of the Seattle Freeze,” he laughs. “I sat in at Capitol Cider a few times, and started getting calls for gigs.…When I first got here, I thought I was just going to be really focused on recording.”
Seattle has reinvigorated his love of live performance.
“I’m having a blast,” says Monroney with a smile.
Monroney is adept at and open to a huge range of styles of music, and his longest running gig (over 17 years) was as guitarist/musical director for the global icon Tom Jones. Though pop music often conjures notions of superficiality, professional musicians and astute listeners know that most pro “pop” bands are packed with some of the world’s finest, most versatile musicians, with deep reserves of creativity that can be deftly applied to any genre.
Of his time with Jones, Monroney remarks, “It was a great job! It was a lot of fun. I got to see the world, I got to play with great musicians, and he is a powerhouse performer.”
Since his arrival in Seattle in late 2012, a big part of his focus has been the local jazz scene, and he grew up as far more of a jazz fan than a rocker.
“It was always something I loved, but I never have considered myself a jazz player seriously, in terms of really knowing the whole canon of all the standards,” he says. “All along, I was a sideman, a hired gun – sessions, tours, etc., mostly pop music.…Jerk of all trades, master of none!” [Laughs.]
Monroney’s joke obscures the fact that many of our greatest musicians are omnivorous music-lovers rather than doctrinaire, dogmatic genre ideologues.
As Anschell notes, “Jazz is just part of what he does, and as a consequence he probably hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves from the jazz world.”
Monroney’s approach towards jazz standards is one of reverence without undue adulation – a respect for the living tradition.
“I think there are ways to interpret them that keep them fresh, without mangling them. You can go overboard and totally re-harmonize them and put them in weird meters, and nobody recognizes them.” He doesn’t simply want to make music for musicians. “You have to try and connect with people.”
Whereas many young musicians may push themselves to lead bands and perform original music long before they’re truly ready, Monroney might be the opposite case: his skills and concepts are so well-seasoned that he’s overdue for a solo effort. Luckily, he has plans to document his original music. He’s been workshopping compositions with a quartet in Tacoma that includes bassist Chris Symer, saxophonist Pete Gallio, and drummer Dave Snodgrass.
“I’m starting to have a body of tunes that I think I should record,” he says. “Part of it may be just documenting the quartet down in Tacoma.”
Monroney describes the music as challenging and complex. “I try not be, but I just gravitate towards lots of chords. And weird meters.” [Laughs.]
Monroney leaves a parting shoutout to the fellow musical travelers of the Pacific Northwest: “I really admire the people out there like we’ve talked about, people in this community who are out playing every night, and being really positive.”
Brian Monroney Upcoming Gigs
Saturday, March 4
Lee Oskar & Friends
Tuesday, March 7
Owl ‘n’ Thistle
Owl ‘n’ Thistle Jazz Jam
Saturday, April 1
Tula’s Restaurant & Jazz Club
with Joe Doria, Tarik Abouzied & Damian Erskine