This spring will mark 21 years since Prime Time Funk burst forth from Rochester to scintillate the scene with a big blast of brass. Although the band is steeped in R&B and soul, when PTF is playing, funk is king.
It's a big band — 10 cats in total, half of which are horns — but not a Big Band. It ain't a bar band either. The band doesn't just pick up the pieces, it pulverizes them, making Tower of Power look like a curb.
Formed in 1996 by veteran musicians James Richmond and the late Ralph Ortiz, Prime Time Funk quickly dominated the scene as a party-gone-out-of-bounds band. The group has since released two albums — "Ready and Willing" and "Hear and Now" — played Lionel Hampton's Jazz Club in Paris; performed several memorable, earth-quakin' sets at the Rochester International Jazz Festival; and is now the house band for the Rochester Music Hall of Fame awards ceremony each year.
Three members — drummer David Cohen, guitarist Joe Chiappone, and baritone saxophonist Mike Edwards — popped into the CITY offices to answer a few questions. An edited transcript follows.
CITY: What did you guys set out to do when forming Prime Time Funk?
David Cohen: Jimmy [Richmond] just wanted to get the best musicians he could find that five years down the road could look at each other and still be friends.
How has that worked so far?
Cohen: We've had about 20 musicians come through the band.
Mike Edwards: We have a core group of guys. I'm the newest and I've been here eight years.
What elements are in your sound, and at what percentage?
Cohen: That's a hard question; we play so many styles. There's funk, there's soul, there's R&B, and definitely some jazz in there. It really runs the gamut and it's hard to define. You'll hear elements of Caribbean music and elements of reggae and rock music. So it's all in there, mixed up together. And obviously the word funk is in the name of the band; that's where we derive a lot of our influence from.
Edwards: We kind of modeled the band after Tower of Power as far as instrumentation goes. But it doesn't limit us to just that.
With that sort of heady mix, you certainly don't consider yourselves traditionalist, right?
Cohen: No I don't think so.
Edwards: No, not at all.
Is 10 members optimum?
Joe Chiappone: When it comes to splitting up the money, it isn't.
Over your 21-year history, how has the band evolved or changed?
Chiappone: We have more originals now.
Cohen: Once we began in earnest doing original material, we realized it wasn't necessarily the wisest thing when playing clubs.
Edwards: We had to be Jacks of all trades. I love being able to do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. We can handle anything they throw at us and we relish the challenge.
Chiappone: We want the parameters of what we're doing to be open so we can approach anything anyway we want to do it and still sound like us.
Your show is so tight but still comes off spontaneous. Do you use a set list or do you wing it according to the audience's response?
Cohen: We'll start with a set list, but then there's always a chance an audible will be called at the line of scrimmage.
As a band, what do you work at?
Edwards: I think our improvisation. We're all strong enough to where we can jam on something. And we also know how to listen to one another to hear where we are as a band. I think that keeps us tight.
Chiappone: The hardest thing is having a visual show. It's the playing part that comes natural. Sometimes people want to see a lot of movement and we don't have a lot of room.
Cohen: We're not up there doing backflips. That's not our thing. The music really comes first. It really translates to the audience when they see how much fun we're having.
What's a memorable Prime Time Funk show?
Cohen: The Jazz Festival. That was a lot of fun.
Edwards: You know it's a good crowd when you feel like you're going deaf listening to them cheer.
What is something Prime Time Funk will never do?
Edwards: Wear chicken suits.
Chiappone: Or play "Freebird."