Never turn down a free CD. Sure, most of the time, the music will be cringe-worthy, but every now and then, you find a diamond in the rough like Captain Green. Before their two shows in Pensacola, keyboardist Ross Hoppe spoke to the IN about the seven-piece band’s unique brand of psychedelic funk and jazz, their musical heroes, and how the band approaches their live show.
IN: Jazz isn’t usually the most accessible type of music. Were most of you guys into it from an early age and how did jazz in particular pique your interest?
HOPPE: My grandpa was always a fan of old jazz, Dixieland and big band swing. He would have it on all the time, so I always liked it. At the age of 14, I started studying jazz. We were all also lucky to go to high schools where jazz was offered as part of the music curriculum.
IN: The band claims 85 years of combined musical experience and some of the guys have music degrees. How does that education and background help in the live show?
HOPPE: We’ve all participated in ensembles whether it be big bands, concert wind ensembles, drum lines, orchestras, etc. This helps us most with how we run rehearsals. It really helps us rehearse the small things repetitively and get them super tight. When that happens, everything just falls into place. We’ve all also played in top 40 type bands at some point or another. From that we really learned how to get the crowd involved and put out the energy they respond to.
IN: You’ll most likely have two very different crowds at your two Pensacola shows. How do you handle playing in different settings like that?
HOPPE: Again, that comes with being able to read people and then being able to give them what they want. Sometimes it’s like getting in a hot tub, you just want to put your toe in first and ease your way in. Being able to play things more laid back like Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock to ease the crowd in before giving them our more hard-hitting stuff is something that is very valuable to us. Then again, there are times where the crowd is just ready for it, and the energy is at 100 percent from the very beginning.
IN: Do you find it difficult to play some of the more psychedelic stuff like “Spirit Journey” to some of the bar crowds that might not seem patient enough for it? Pieces like that are what really set you guys apart, in my opinion.
HOPPE: It’s all about reading the crowd. It can be just four people, but they can be four of the weirdest people you know who love Frank Zappa, Grateful Dead and just good music, and you can go anywhere with it. Like Coltrane said, “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”
IN: Do you get to see much live music yourselves? Any standout shows you’ve seen in the last year or so?
HOPPE: My word! Some of us make an annual pilgrimage to Bear Creek each year to see four days of nothing but the stankiest, nastiest funk you’ll ever see. Phish, Furthur and Medeski, Martin and Wood are some of the touring bands we’ve been fortunate enough to see and take things from to incorporate into our shows. Being in close proximately to New Orleans helps a lot. We try to catch as much music as we can—we love it!
IN: Where do the international elements of the Captain Green sound come from?
HOPPE: Dave, our trumpet player, is Jewish. Also, we listen to a lot of Indian music, reggae, and other world music to try and have as much to draw from as possible.
IN: How do you balance improvisation and structure within a live show?
HOPPE: We all watch and communicate on the stage, and if you watch each other, anything is possible.
IN: What gave you the confidence to get out there on the road for the first time?
HOPPE: People encouraging us to try has been huge for us. Also, the joy of playing and spreading that joy to others. Playing for people who are happy and respond positively to the show is one of the greatest feelings there is.
IN: Each band member name your ultimate musical hero, as a listener or player.
Ross Hoppe, keys: Frank Zappa
Dave Melancon, trumpet: Miles Davis
Darin Jones, tenor and baritone sax: John & Alice Coltrane
Matt Bizot, alto/soprano sax, flute: Herbie Hancock
Andrew Davis, guitar: John McLaughlin
Robert Kling, bass: Chris Wood
Chris Lee, drums: Mike Portnoy
Photo: Whitney Tucker