Forte Jazz Band is All About Sharing the Love
The group has been playing together with passion and pizazz for more than 10 years

   By Sam McDonald
Article originally written for

For members of the Smithfield-based Forte Jazz Band, love of music runs deep.

"I've been passionate about music for a long time, even before I knew how to play an instrument," said Brian Pinner, saxophonist and the band's leader. "When I was in second grade the teacher asked the class to make up a sentence using the name of a person in the class. My person was named Georgia. My sentence was 'I'm leaving on the midnight train to Georgia.' My teacher laughed until she cried and showed it to all the teachers on the hall."

These days, Pinner and his bandmates provide a cool soundtrack to all sorts of gatherings across Hampton Roads. "Music makes the heart feel good and the soul sing," Pinner said. "We could use a little more of that these days, so we try to share our love of music with others."

Pinner put down his sax for a moment and answered these questions:

Explain your name. I came up with the name. Forte literally means "something that you excel in." It's also a musical term meaning "loud." Plus Forte just sounds cool.

Home base? The band is based out of Smithfield where three members reside, but we have two members from Surry County, one from Newport News and one from Chesapeake.

When did the band start? We have been performing as Forte since 1995, but I have been playing music with pianist James Ford since the early 1980s and with drummer Darryl Rawlings since we were both music majors at Norfolk State in the mid-1980s.

Who plays what? Brian Pinner, sax; Ronald Ford, piano; Darryl Rawlings, percussion; Mike Warren, auxiliary percussion; Daniel Quackenbush, bass guitar; Jeffrey Bradby, lead guitar; Shevonne Newby, vocalist.

Describe your style. We play mostly contemporary jazz. We also do some jazz standards but we get our greatest response when performing our own original music or incorporating popular tunes into the set and playing them with a jazzy flavor.For example, we often take a familiar melody like that of "Suicide is Painless," theme from the TV show "M*A*S*H," and turn it into something completely different something jazzy and unique.

Who are your musical heroes? My first influences were Cannonball Adderley and Grover Washington Jr. Some of the guys in the band started out with Stanley Clark, Ramsey Lewis, Parliament, Earth Wind and Fire and Tower of Power. Danny, my bassist, really gets into Wayman Tisdale nowadays.

What's your favorite local stage? I think we have the most fun playing at The Train Station Restaurant in Newport News. They have jazz every Friday night. The mature, close-knit crowd and the intimate setting make it a great place to experience a jazz band.

What's your dream gig? It would be great to play at any one of the well-known jazz festivals: Newport, Montreux, Capital.

Who's better, Kenny G or Dave Koz? That's a good question and one that would cause great debate depending on who you talk to. Many musicians would pick Dave Koz because Kenny G stays in his box pretty much, but listen to Kenny's early stuff and you might change your mind. Still, me personally as a saxophonist, I'd take Gerald Albright over both of them. Although Boney James has that funk, David Sanborn has that rasp, Joshua Redman has that tenor power ... I could go on.

What's your ultimate goal? Forte's ultimate goal is to be able to keep having fun making music while recording and touring. We want to be one of the headliners at the major festivals and concerts, not just on the show, although that's a start. We've been selected to open shows for some pretty big names in the past few years such as CeCe Winans and Gerald Albright, so the momentum is building. We just have to keep it moving and keep making good music.

Hometown Sounds is a feature about musical groups that play regularly in
the region. Reporter Sam McDonald can be reached at

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Listen to Forte Jazz!