It Might Get a Bit Nasty

EC grad’s new brass band impresses the homestead

Barbara Arnold

BIG BRASS. Based out of St. Paul, the McNasty Brass Band was co-founded by Eau Claire native Elliott Wachs.
BIG BRASS. Based out of St. Paul, the McNasty Brass Band was co-founded by Eau Claire native Elliott Wachs.

Louie Armstrong meets Prince. That’s how Eau Claire native and saxophonist Elliott Wachs, one of the founders of the McNasty Brass Band of St. Paul, describes the group’s sound: a fusion of New Orleans-style jazziness with the funky new-wave swagger of the late Prince.

The band had its genesis at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, from which Elliott graduated in 2015. Naturally, “McNasty” is a playful twist on McNally.

In Elliot’s sophomore year, he and some classmates traveled to the 2011 New Orleans Jazz Fest, where they came upon New Orleans brass bands in the French Quarter. They returned home to the Midwest determined to meld the sounds of New Orleans and Minneapolis. The word “nasty” kept popping up when they listened to other brass bands like The Stooges Brass Band or Youngblood Brass Band. Thus, the McNasty Brass Band was born.

Judging by the group’s debut album, King Size Life, the band’s members have crafted their own brassy niche in the Twin Cities’ music scene.

Most of the original McNasty members graduated from McNally and have moved on. All current 10 players work outside McNasty with backing bands, some with national and international touring groups. Three trumpets, two saxes, two trombones, one sousaphone, a snare drum, and a bass drum make up the band’s powerhouse sound.

Every song on the nine-song album is an original composition. The album kicks off with “McNasty Boyz,” a song which reminds one of the Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican sounds of Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, and their high-powered big brass ensembles. Later on, “Thrillionaire” and “Party Bus” channel Chicago with several superb horn and sax solos.

Elliott, an Eau Claire native, is a product of the Eau Claire school district’s acclaimed music program. Two of his former teachers describe Elliott as “pure joy” when he’s performing: Bruce Hering, former jazz director at Memorial High School, and Sue Orfield, his private sax teacher and a Chippewa Valley sax impresario. Elliott credits both of them for giving him the confidence to become a professional musician.

“I’ll always remember Elliott’s solo ‘live at Lincoln Center’ his senior year in 2010,” shared Hering. “It’s time for Elliott to stand up … go across that famous stage … to perform for thousands of New Yorkers, his peers from around the county, and six esteemed judges including Wynton Marsalis, the founder of the ‘Essentially Ellington’ competition. He didn’t walk over to the mic. He sauntered. He swayed. He practically danced over to the mic. It’s the only time in my 32-year career that I can recall a soloist getting applause before his solo. People knew pure joy when they saw it.”

Orfield said Elliott was a hard worker and a very intuitive musician, and that passion bleeds into his work with the McNasty Brass Band. “He found great joy in his music,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to see a young musician, who once was a student, go on and do the thing. I’m happy to see he’s out making art with his horn, and would like to play a gig with him.”

McNasty Brass Band’s new album, King Size Life, drops on Feb. 10 with a Twin Cities release show at the Triple Rock Social Club. For more information, check out mcnastybrassband.com.

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