Snarky Puppy is a famous jazz-fusion band/collective that was first formed in 2004 after a group of college students at the University of North Texas got together. In case you don’t already know, the University of North Texas is known for its stunning instrumental programs, including its jazz program.
According to the band’s about page, Snarky Puppy is a Grammy-award-winning group with 25 members in rotation. They are “neither jazz nor fusion.” I’m just approximating their genre with the words that I have in my current vocabulary! In short, that’s all to say that Snarky Puppy is a one-of-a-kind outfit. It is rare to find a band with so many members who have earned Grammy awards on solo albums. This group of musicians is exceptionally high-caliber.
Also, according to the band’s website, changes in the members are common, as they have a lax ‘revolving-door’ policy. The positive light in which they take this coming and going is extraordinarily refreshing and drama-free!
And, with a roster of 25+ regular members at any given time, it’s no surprise that this group has and has had a ton of drummers. So let’s delve into them!
Ross Pederson is the original drummer for Snarky Puppy. He played on their debut album, The Only Constant (2006). Pederson is currently based in Brooklyn, though he no longer plays for the band. Pederson is an active producer and performer.
He has also been involved with countless musical acts, such as Fred Hersch Trios, Take 6, and Kenny Werner. His style can be described as zestful and extremely delicate when the music calls for it. Pederson has also worked with Grace Kelly; check out this sick drum duet while he was performing with her band.
Nate Werth is a percussionist from Dyer, Indiana. He played on the band’s most recent album Empire Central. He’s been playing with the group for over a decade, though. As a result, his style is highly malleable. His background first began in orchestral percussion when he was in elementary school. He later studied with Jose Aponte (Latin Percussion), Paul Rennick, and others at the University of North Texas (DimensionsinPercussion).
Werth has also co-founded a groovy hip-hop group called Ghost Note with Robert Searight, another Snarky Puppy percussionist.
Robert “Sput” Searight
Robert Searight (aka Sput!) is a drummer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer from Dallas, Texas. He is not currently on the drummer list on the band’s website, but many folks still think of him as a Snarky Puppy drummer.
Searights success began early on: he won a Grammy award for his work on the gospel album God’s Property at 18 years old.
Another interesting fact about Searight is that he initially began as the keyboardist in Snarky Puppy’s early days (2006). He later switched over to percussion. Sput has been in 7 albums with Snarky Puppy, from Bring Us the Bright to Cuicha Vulcha.
Drummer World has cited him as being ‘One of the most influential drummers in modern music,’ and for a good reason. His responsive, musical, and locked-in style of playing is purely iconic! Listen to a bit of his musical genius here.
Jamison Ross is a drummer from Jacksonville, Florida. Ross has a background in both jazz and soul. He received his master’s in music from the University of New Orleans and has worked with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Celine Dion- talk about a discography!
Jamison Ross worked with Snarky Puppy for several years and came with the band to the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2019. Ross makes technical licks look like a walk in the park or a sigh of a breath. He uses Sabian cymbals and indeed makes that HHX sing! More critical aspects of his setup include the jingles he puts on the hi-hats and crash, adding an exciting timbre and buzzing sound to his signature style.
Fun fact: Ross has also been nominated for a Grammy in Best Jazz Vocals.
Jason Thomas (“J.T.”)
Jason Thomas is a jazz drummer and Yamaha artist from Weatherford, Texas. His musical beginnings were unconventional- His first drum set was made out of old hubcaps, boxes, and anything he could find with an exciting timbre!
During one talent show when he was in elementary school, the high school band director in his district noticed his high musical wattage and invited him to perform with the older students.
J.T.’s playing reminds me of a train- It so often has that pleasant, rolling, chugging momentum.
Listen to his solo on ‘What About Me’ here.
Marcelo Woloski is a muli-Grammy-award-winning percussionist and Vic Firth artist from South America. Woloski graduated from Berklee, so it’s no surprise he is also a composer. His artistry is vibrant and intuitive. He played on We Like it Here and manned Surdo, Triangle, and Caixa on the album Culcha Vulcha. He is currently on Snarky Puppy’s drummer list.
Learn more about Woloski and his gear here in this video made by Perc. Studios. You can also watch J.T. and Woloski jam in the live version of “Tio Macaco” here.
Keita Ogawa is a multi-Grammy award-winning percussionist from Nagasaki, Japan, and is currently based in New York City. He is a current member of Snarky Puppy and the multi-lingual, multi-genre band Bokanté.
Ogawa is known for his versatility of style- He has traveled widely to hone his craft, including temporarily relocating to Rio de Janeiro to understand Brazilian percussion better. Ogawa’s playing uses a wide variety of timbres and is full of momentum.
Check out his live soloing on Lingus here.
Larnell Lewis is a Canadian drummer and composer. He is also a music educator and teaches at Humber college. Lewis is also a Yamaha artist; according to his Yamaha profile, he first learned drums in Church and is currently known for his hybrid drumming style.
His ear for picking up music is extremely sensitive. As a result, he can learn and replicate tunes perfectly after only listening to them once. Lewis uses both electronic drums and acoustic.
Larnell Lewis has been featured in Snarky Puppys’ 2014 album We Like it Here.
Impressive fact: Lewis learned all the parts of We Like it Here on a flight to the recording studio (Larnell Lewis / Drumeo).
Snarky Puppy has hosted guests such as Weedie Braimah, Jamey Haddad, and more.
Weedie Braimah is a renowned djembe player from Ghana who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. According to Oberlin, he first began drumming when he was two.
He currently leads a band titled Weedie Braimah and the Hands of Time, a group that blends the dunun and djembe drums with modern instruments, like synthesizers Braimah is often referred to as the ‘premier voice of djembe.’
He is currently based in New Orleans. Listen to him play with Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and Sput on the track “Aftersun.”
Jamey is an American percussionist and multi-instrumentalist from Cleveland, Ohio (Just a stone’s throw from me!). His background is in contemporary and jazz music, which lends to his versatile style. He is also a music educator and is currently a professor of music at Oberlin.
Haddads playing has a heavy gravitational pull and can be heard here in this rare video featuring his drumming chops!
Bandleader: Michael League
Michael League is the founding member and bassist of Snarky Puppy. But he also plays percussion for the ensemble on occasion. League has a background in jazz and R&B. He also has released a solo album called So Many Me, in which he plays Kurdish and Moroccan percussion.
There’s a good reason why Snarky Puppy earned four Grammy awards. And — if you don’t mind me saying — a lot of credit for these awards should go to these phenomenal and creative percussionists above, as they kept the heartbeat of this fantastic collective alive.