Beauty Slap Brings the Funk to Pittsburgh

By Sierra Smith | Photograph from Brad Maniscacio

What do you get when you combine four classically trained horn players with a fresh young DJ? Pittsburgh’s premier five-man groove unit, Beauty Slap. The funky genre-bending band, recently named best jazz band in the ‘burgh by City Paper, combines the sounds of big band brass, modern electronica, and old school funk, resulting in an irresistible urge to dance and have the time of your life!

Finding their way to music through their respective school systems, trumpeter Scott Nadelson, trombonist Gabriel Colby, and bass trombonist Hakeem Bilal met through their graduate work at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where they filled three slots of CMU’s first brass quintet in residence, C Street Brass. The group began performing together in 2012, but following an introduction to fellow CMU student Jake Berntsen — Beauty Slap’s DJ and keyboardist, and son of Pittsburgh Symphony trumpet legend Neal Berntsen — the guys began thinking bigger than chamber music and unaccompanied brass. “At one point we were doing some recording in the studio and the head sound engineer, CMU professor Riccardo Schultz, mentioned that he thought [C Street Brass] and Jake should meet because we might think of something cool to do together,” Colby says. “We’re all brass players and Jake was raised with classical music, so it was kind of a match made in heaven.” And with the later addition of Pittsburgh native Joe Badaczewski, one of the top trumpet players in the region, Beauty Slap was born.

The fundamental concept of the self-described “electro-brass-thunder-funk machine” seems simple. The guys look at popular electronic dance music and figure out where to add brass sounds, which results in what Colby describes as an “electric-funk marriage.” But in practice, the melodies created are much more complex than just simple addition. “When we started, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” says Colby. “We were just mixing brass with computer sounds.” In time, the group found their niche: “If James Brown was a DJ, or if electronic music was happening when he was making music, this would be what he was doing. We try to mix the origins of funk, James Brown, old horn bands, even old rock and jazz groups with all modern electronic music.”

Now that Beauty Slap has been performing together for a few years, the members decided to branch their brand out with Beauty Slap Clothes, a dope line of band tees and merchandise to be launched very soon via the band’s website. “We want to expand to make more clothes that we would all wear,” says Colby. So far, designs for the upcoming tees include the band’s iconic diamond logo and album art, and more merch is in the works!

Catch them on December 3 at Spirit, and check the band’s website for further dates throughout the fall. And if you do decide to see these local legends live, don’t forget your dancing shoes! “The ideas that come to mind when I think about Beauty Slap: funky and fun,” says Colby. “Our shows are about having a good time. We’re about dancing and having fun, and you’ll definitely see that at our shows, especially in Pittsburgh.”

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Beauty Slap,

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