Cabarrus

Denver native has a lot of brass: He's a real 'tuba nerd'

Denver native Joshua Cutchin describes himself as a "tuba nerd" who's collected tuba music since he took up the instrument in seventh grade.

After graduating from East Lincoln High School in 2003, Cutchin earned a degree in music performance from the University of Wisconsin, then earned a master's degree in music history from the University of Georgia.

Apparently, the term "tuba nerd" is a badge of honor for Cutchin, who formed a New Orleans-style brass band in 2008. The only such band in Athens, Ga., where Cutchin still lives, the group calls itself the Half Dozen Brass Band.

He describes the band's style as Dixie funk: "Something you would hear in the streets of New Orleans."

Cutchin said the type of music he plays with the Half Dozen Brass Band represents "one of the few opportunities a tuba player has to look cool."

Transcending the nerd label is just one way Cutchin has defied expectations. He's also done it by eschewing the style of music so prominent where he lives. The local music scene in Athens, known for turning out alternative rock bands like R.E.M., nevertheless has a homogenous feel.

"It's kinda the same thing. It's always guys singing with guitars," Cutchin said. "There isn't a lot of consideration given to the melody these days."

That point becomes clearer when listening to "Easy Street," the band's first album, due for official release in September. You certainly don't miss having lyrics, although, if you listen closely, there is the occasional chatter overlying the bold instrumentation.

"I'm proud to announce that there are no love songs on this record," Cutchin said. "I think there are a lot more emotions to the human condition."

For example, "Floatin' Down Catawba" evokes pure nostalgia, he said.

"Where Otis Went," the album's next-to-last track, is an ode to Madison, Wis., where Otis Redding died in 1967 and where Cutchin was an undergraduate. The song reveals the connection Cutchin felt with Redding.

"I found it curious that I had left the state of his death to come to the state of his birth," he said; Redding was born in Georgia.

The whole of "Easy Street" feels comfortable and simultaneously energizing, like stepping out for a night on Bourbon Street.

"It's not jazz that you sit there and you have your hand on your chin. It's dance music," Cutchin said.

Although Cutchin insists the band's focus is having fun, they also are gaining momentum and recognition beyond Athens.

It was only a matter of time before the band became well-known: The album has all-original compositions, and band members have played professionally for people including Ray Charles, The Four Tops, Lou Rawls and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

In 2009, the band was named Best Jazz Band by Athens' Flagpole magazine. This year it's being tapped for international music festivals.

As for Cutchin, he's working on a master's degree in journalism and hopes to write about music professionally. He said he is "looking forward to getting out in the real world."

It seems he's already arrived.

Cutchin will be in town for the Bloomin' Orchard Festival in Conover on Sept. 4, where he will play with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours.

For more information on the festival, go to www.sipesorchardhome.org. For more information on the Half Dozen Brass Band, go to www.halfdozenbrassband.com.

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