Two years ago when Snarky Puppy played here in Ottawa, I was already a fan. The way they engaged with the audience and poured their hearts into the performance won me over. Plus, their music was just awesome. If I could play with any band in the world, it would be Snarky Puppy.
On Sunday, as they made a return to the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, their place in the jazz world is quite different. Specifically, they’re at the top of it. It’s not because they sell a ton of CDs or downloads. Nobody in jazz does (though they are always camped out at the top of the iTunes jazz charts whenever they have a new release). It’s because they understand that the only way to get your name out there is to play and play and play. And so they do, for over 200 nights a year on six continents, and they’ve done so since 2004. Heck, they are so connected to their fans that whenever they record a new CD, it’s not just in front of a live audience, they take it a step further and have their audience sitting among them.
Last night a noticeably young crowd started lining up for the concert more than an hour before show time, and the audience was huge. When they played one of their most popular songs, “Thing of Gold,” hundreds of people euphorically and spontaneously sang the melody (mind you, this is an instrumental tune). It felt more like a rock concert in an arena than a jazz concert under a tent in front of Ottawa City Hall. And it felt like an event that folks will talk about for years to come.
Relentless touring, prolific composing, ridiculous musicianship and putting their audience first has earned them much bigger crowds, and recognition to the point that back in February they were the underdog Grammy winner in the “Best R&B Performance” category. Their motto seems to be “we’ll sleep when we’re dead.” In the meantime, they are, in my opinion, the best band in jazz today. Their show in Otttawa on Sunday only reinforced this.