The Bad Ones

Not your typical lounge act

The key to a great sound is playing something that sounds familiar but also feels new, a sweet spot that San Jose’s The Bad Ones have managed to find. An R&B, fusion, hip-hop project with deep jazz roots, The Bad Ones is a seven-piece ensemble that has the muscle to grab you by the hips and move you into a groove. Hardly necessary—since your head turns and toes start tapping the moment you hear their tight rhythms and smooth melodies.

Formed in 2012, The Bad Ones have played a number of notable gigs, such as the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, KCSM’s Jazz on the Hill, Café Pink House, and City Lights Theater. Armed with a debut album coming in late October, The Bad Ones are ready to solidify their place in the Bay Area scene and the larger jazz world. Bennett Roth-Newell, pianist and founding member of The Bad Ones, gives a little insight into the band’s history, future, and motivation.

Who are The Bad Ones right now? What do they play?
I play piano and keys for the band. We also got Oscar Pangilinan on alto and tenor sax. We got Christian Manzana on trombone, Brian Sheu on guitar, Fred Paclibon on bass, and Anthony Franceschi on drums. Amy Dabalos sings vocals for us, and sometimes Christian and I rap.

The Bad Ones used to have a core quartet and rotate different members. What changed?
Well, we just think having seven members more accurately captures and represents our sound. We’re not the typical lounge act. We’re not easy listening or smooth jazz or background music, you know—we’re not off to the side. As a seven-piece ensemble, we have a lot of muscle to our sound. We have two horns, a full rhythm section, and a vocalist, which isn’t your typical jazz combo, and that opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of diversity, dynamics, texture, orchestration. We get to have different instrumental features. One song could ask for the energy of a distorted guitar solo while another sound might need the gentle side of a piano.

So The Bad Ones play with electric instruments most of the time?
Our bass and guitar are always electric, and when we play live, I play electric keyboard, sometimes even the keytar, although I play grand piano only on the album. Having that electric sound really brings out the muscle in our sound, you know? And it’s been necessary to the development of our sound. For instance, we’re all really influenced by Weather Report, who could take a standard jazz piece and make it stray away from the typical jazz sound. So for us, it’s our way of showing our music has a driving force—a vibrato of sorts.

You have a new album coming out. Tell me about that.
The album contains nine tracks. Seven of them are originals written by me or Amy. We also cover Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady,” which Oscar and Amy arranged for the album, and “Brother Hubbard” by Kenny Garrett. We walked into 25th Street Recording in Oakland and knocked out the album over a weekend. I think we spent 10 hours each day in the studio, which gave us a lot of time to be very detail-oriented and add some production, like overdubbed vocals. With the album, we were able to focus on each individual part and choose the most crisp takes. Still, it contains a lot of moments of fiery improvisation from all of us, over tunes with funky, soulful grooves.

When does the album come out?
Our release show is on October 21 at Cafe Stritch.

What drives The Bad Ones to keep playing?
I think one part of it is the unique camaraderie and friendship we share that really shows when we’re on stage together. You know, we all started out as friends first, and we sort of swelled into this band, and now we can’t get enough of it. The other part is the Indiegogo campaign we created to fund the debut album. Our goal was to reach $10,000, and we exceeded that with $10,350. To see so many people willing to support us that much and show so much love was truly inspiring.

Interview by Giselle Tran
Photography by Karen Santos

This article originally appeared in Issue 8.3 Show

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