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 dailypress.com
For members of the Smithfield-based Forte Jazz Band, love of music runs
"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
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
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
Hometown Sounds is a feature about musical groups that play regularly in
the region. Reporter Sam McDonald can be reached at