Take smooth jazz sounds, add pop and mash it up with songs that are classic and contemporary. What do you get? The just-released debut EP of Sam Brooks.
This self-titled album is his first and represents a new chapter on his musical journey. Mixing classic jazz with contemporary music, Sam and the band have put a fresh spin on the American Songbook.
It’s the music and the message that will resonate with fans.
He commented, “Through the lyrics I can have an experience with the audience. I can relate real-life situations to the meaning of the lyrics. I want the audience to go on a journey with me.”
Brooks Family’s Got Talent
His own musical journey began, as a young boy sitting in the living room of his grandparents, Sam and the late Norma Brooks, where the annual Christmas family talent show was taking place.
The Brooks’ homestead overflowed with their nine sons and daughters, and their spouses and children. The audience was plentiful and so was the entertainment.
“All of the kids had to get up and do a talent of some kind. My cousin Matt listed the presidents of the United States and his sister Jessie did a ribbon dance. But it was my cousin Stephen who stole the show.
I remember Steve wowing everyone on the piano. That was the first memory of my interest in music. He was the one with the most talent. He was in a different league. And I wanted to emulate him.”
Sam started taking piano lessons at the age of six. His late grandmother, Rosella Talucci was the St. Rita Church organist and must have known he had musical talent. “When I was in elementary school, my grandmother wanted me to join the children’s choir, but I thought it was uncool and didn’t want to do it,” he said.
A Change of Tune
It wasn’t until he was a sophomore in high school that his interest in singing was sparked and he changed his tune.
“All these dudes were trying out for the musical, “42nd Street”, including my brother Tony who was a senior. I figured, ‘What the heck, if he can audition, maybe I should too! I went down to the chorus room, where musical director Mr. Nick Bell taught, and picked up the sheet music,” he said.
Then something happened. Sam discovered he could sing.
“I was part of the musical ensemble and had a blast. I didn’t have the pressure that the kids with lead parts did. It was a nice way to get my feet wet.”
His strong voice caught up with him and in his junior year, he landed the lead role as Ren in Geibel Catholic Jr/Sr High School’s production of “Footloose”. His senior year, Sam got the lead in “Fame”.
Bonded by Music
At last, he was able to make a musical connection with his grandmother, Rosella.
I’d bring my friends over and we’d be huddled around my grandma at the piano while she played and we sang. The memory to me was so picturesque – like a Hallmark card.”
During his high school years, he was also able to forge a deeper bond with his father, Jeff, who plays guitar, piano, and drums when the pair started singing together at church. “At Easter time, we would do a Christian contemporary vocal duet, called “Rise Again” at the Tenebrae service with grandma on organ. I enjoyed this time together. He is everything I aspire to be.”
Listen to this!
His grandfather, Bill Talucci, isn’t a singer or a piano player, but he’s had a big influence on his musical journey too. ”My grandpap loves Big Band singers like Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. Whenever I was at my grandparent’s house, growing up, these songs played on the stereo. He’d pull me over and say, ‘Listen to this!’
Sam listened. And then he fell in love with those singers of The American Songbook and early composers, like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. He also discovered that his rich voice lent itself to classic jazz and he adopted this musical genre as his own.
Fast Track to Music
At the age of eighteen, he knew he was on to something, but a career in music seemed like a far bet. He attended Carnegie Mellon University to major in chemistry. Then, with a calling that couldn’t be silenced, he finished his bachelor’s degree in just three years so that he could move on to study music.
He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Music at Berklee College of Music and a Master’s degree in vocal performance from NYU.
Teaching in Harlem
While Sam was working on his master’s degree, he served as an adjunct professor at NYU and performed in Off-Broadway productions. After graduating, he began a vocal teaching business in Harlem.
He commented, “The rent was cheaper there and my roommates and I could still be in Manhattan and be close to Broadway. I had one of those divider screens in my room with three square feet and a keyboard to teach vocal students.
It wasn’t the easiest place to begin a vocal studio. It was a rough area and the students I taught who ranged from 20-70 years old came mostly from Craigslist. I was very fortunate to have singers who performed on Broadway and TV shows like the Voice, but also beginners who just wanted to sing better at Karaoke.”
Can anyone learn to sing well? “One hundred percent, yes!,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen in two weeks. It takes years.
I teach the mechanics of how the voice functions. Vocal students learn about air flow, breath support, resonance – the nuts and bolts of the voice mechanism – for one simple reason. So they understand how singing should be. It should be as effortless as speaking.”
Teaching voice, for Sam, isn’t all technical. It’s personal too.
“I want to help students avoid the pitfalls I’ve had like the idea that you cannot have a career as a musician or a performer. This mentality prevents so many talented people from pursuing their dreams. If you want to do it and work hard, you can have a career in music. It may not be easy but it is certainly possible.”
He found a way to do it.
While living in New York, he reached a tipping point. “I was flying home on weekends to western Pennsylvania to do gigs. He decided to stay in the Pittsburgh area where he is performing, teaching voice, and making music.
Susan and John Coleman, his aunt and uncle, serve as his booking agent and business manager. “I’m blessed to have them. They were instrumental in the production and release of my new EP and I would not be doing what I love without them.
Sam Brooks EP
Produced by Soundscape Studios, the album showcases Robbie Klein (sax), John Hall, (bass), Joe Monroe (keyboard), Brian Edwards (drums). “They’re all from western Pennsylvania and are very talented musicians.”
Five of the songs are jazz standards with smooth jazz and R & B elements and one is a cover of a 1984 Leonard Cohen tune done in a swing style. Jazz tends to connect with people over forty years of age, but this EP offers a fresh take so young people can also appreciate what incredible music it is,” he said.
Taking a new twist on timeless American standards, Sam has put a time machine into motion. And he’s taking a new generation of fans along for the ride.
It’s the next chapter in Sam Brooks’ incredible musical journey.
Join him at his Debut EP Release Party on Friday, September 11th at 7:00 p.m. at Club Café on Pittsburgh’s South Side. For tickets, visit his website, Club Café, or stop by Colebrook Chocolate in Connellsville, PA.