Trio Too Many Zooz traces origins to busking in the NYC subway

Too Many Zooz will perform June 30 during Durham Central Park’s free concert series.
Too Many Zooz will perform June 30 during Durham Central Park’s free concert series. Submitted

The trio Too Many Zooz uses the term “brass house” to describe the group’s highly rhythmic compositions and sound. Their sound comes from formal music education and training, but also the time-honored custom of playing music in public, or busking.

“That no-barrier relationship we have with the people of New York is what crafted our sound,” said trumpeter Matt Doe in a phone interview. Doe, baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino, and percussionist David “King of Sluge” Parks will perform Friday, June 30 during Durham Central Park’s free summer music series.

Doe and Pellegrino studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and Parks studied African drumming. They began playing in the New York subway system for commuters. At first, they just played informally as space was available, but recently they joined New York’s Music Under New York program, which encourages musicians to play in the subway.

Busking helped Too Many Zooz develop in several ways, Doe said. Busking is “like a paid rehearsal,” he said. The subway “is one of the only performance spaces in the world that gives you a built-in audience,” Doe said. The audience also provides clues as to which compositions go over well with listeners, and which do not. “In the subway, it’s a really honest representation of what people are into,” unlike at organized festivals, where the crowds tend to be energized already and waiting for a party, he said.

Too Many Zooz has produced an EP, “Subway Gawdz,” and has recorded material for a new album to be released later this year. When the trio first began busking, their compositions came together through improvisation. During that period, the band developed certain ideas, and over the course of a year had some written compositions. Doe studied piano before he took up the trumpet, and still likes to compose at the keyboard.

The music training he has received, while valuable, also can be inhibiting, Doe said. “I’m not huge on the academic side of music. I’m at this point trying to forget the things I know because in a lot of ways, I think they inhibit your artistry,” he said. “I don’t believe in writing music based on theory,” but on emotion, Doe said. Understanding theory is good, “but ultimately that’s not what music is about.”

Their musical influences range across many styles and traditions. When he was growing up playing trumpet, Doe was “very much influenced by Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.” He also mentions Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis as trumpeters he admires, and he calls Marsalis “maybe the most prolific trumpet player alive just in terms of technique. I’m not sure that there’s anyone better at playing the trumpet,” he said.

“I think one of the things that’s unique about our sound that people enjoy [is] we all grew up listening to so many different kinds of music and studied so many different types of music,” Doe said. He cites elements of jazz, hip-hop, rock, Cuban music and other styles in their compositions, and audiences can “grab what gravitates to them”

Rhythmic patterns, for example, might appeal to a hip-hop listener, but a jazz fan “can hear something completely different,” he said. “All of these things ... blend together in a way. It’s incredibly high energy, and people want to sweat and dance.”

GO and Do

WHAT: Too Many Zooz

WHEN: Friday, June 30, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

WHERE: Durham Central Park, 501 Foster St.