A Biography of the Uptown Horns (2000)


The Uptown Horns (Arno Hecht, Crispin Cioe, Bob Funk and recent recruit Larry Etkin)
are Rayban wearing, horn carrying professionals whose credits read like a who's who of music. Their signature horn riffs can be heard on the turntables of America on chart toppers including Grammy-award winning James Brown's "Living in America," the B-52's "Love Shack," Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot, "Joe Cocker's "Unchain My Heart," Tom Waits' "Rain Dogs" LP, and Billy Joel's "River of Dreams" LP, among numerous others. Hundreds of additional recordings and touring credits include names such as the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant, Aretha Franklin, REM and the B-52's, to name a few.

For nearly 15 years, this autonomous unit has been revered as one of the most respected brass sections in the world. Horn groups, on the whole, are an anomaly in the music industry. "We knew that most horn bands break up when members take solo projects both on the road and in sessions," says Funk. 'We adopted an all for one and one for all mentality." These four classically trained musicians have outlasted the few who have tried. Laughs Hecht, "The Uptown Horns are an anarchist collective and our guiding principles are to make great music while destroying any sense of law and order."

The original members of the Uptown Horns converged on the NY session scene in the late 70s: Arno from NY; Cioe from Michigan; Funk from Colorado; and former member Paul Litteral from Kentucky. Etkin, a native New Yorker, worked with The Horns off and on prior to taking over Litteral's trumpet duties.

As session horn players, their paths often crossed from one studio to the next. The members of the Horns often played together on numerous recordings, jingles and live performances. Their shared influences cover the waterfront from punk to classical, jazz to rock, blues to avant garde/fusion.

New Yorker Arno Hecht has been in bands since age 13. A history major at Columbia University, Hecht earned his way through college playing in various rock groups. After college, Hecht tried a "real life" job before returning to his musical roots. After playing in numerous bar bands, he joined a new wave group, Brend and the Realtones. He recalls, "Brenda had been in a couple of Warhol films so these 6'5" transvestites in leather mini skirts would show up at her gigs. It was very surreal. But what a band! Later on, I brought in Paul Litteral and sometimes Crispin Cioe whom I met at a gig at Max's Kansas City. He was the only person I've ever met who knew all the lyrics to the Coasters' song "Shopping for Clothes." All in all, it was a very cool group."

During this period, Hecht was studying "Uptown" with "dean of arranging" Don Sebesky while jamming with a bunch of Horn players at the Lynne Oliver "jazz workshop and finishing school" on West 90th Street. "I had this dream to create The Uptown Horns but the horns kept leaving to pursue their own gigs," he remembers. When Brenda got caught up in the "scene" and not the music, the Realtones left to work as a separate entity backing up top RB acts such as Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Don Covay and Solomon Burke.

In 1980, Hecht and Litteral left the Realtones to play with a "punk soul" band called the Nitecaps. One night after a gig, Iggy Pop offered the trio a session if they could find a trombone player. Funk was enlisted and soon all four were jamming as one horn section.

Not long afterwards, the newly sworn-in members of The Uptown Horns began a weekly jam at Tramps with visiting dignitaries ranging from Southside Johnny to David Johansen. Their Uptown Horns Party continued for almost two years. The party was over when J Geils Band keyboardist/producer Seth Justman and managers stopped by Tramps to enlist the horn section fortheir "Freezeframe" album and 1982 world tour.

Crispin Cioe (pronounced See-o) grew up in Chicago near legendary Maxwell Street, an outdoor mall which attracted late night impromptu jam sessions by Blues greats ranging from Muddy Waters to Willie Dixon. After a brief year in New York City, his family moved to Motor City. "In the early '60s, Detroit was a center of rock 'n roll My dad worked at one of the top 'rock' stations and I would spend hours looking through their record collections and hanging out in the studio while the deejays were spinning. One of the jocks also had an 'American Bandstand' type of TV show that I would hang out at with my friends."

During this period, Cioe also participated in the short-lived "jug band" revival. The band, the Milk River Sheiks, was comprised of a washtub bass, washboard and jug, and played on local TV shows while performing throughout the state. Blues/folk artist James Montgomery was also a band member.

"I knew I always wanted to be a writer, so I studied journalism at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor. After my third year of college I realized what I really wanted to do and quit with only one semester left. I spent my money on a sax and music studies at Wayne State and the Berklee College of Music in Boston. When I ran out of cash I moved back home and joined a soul band called Radio King & His Court of Rhythm."

During the glam rock era of the early '70s recalls Cioe. "A local producer liked the Radio Kings and kept booking us to open for wildly inappropriate rock acts such as Aerosmith, REO Speedwagon and The Stooges. We were a soul band in satin basketball uniforms playing before a rock crowd of 3000. The promoter thought offering a "sacrificial lamb" made the crowd appreciate the headliner just that much more. Being regularly booed off the stage was unbelievably brutal.

"One time we opened for the New York Dolls. David Johansen was watching us get pummeled by the audience from the side of the stage. As we abandoned the stage he said with this burning cigarette hanging from his mouth 'Tough luck, kid ….' The funny thin is, 8 years later, he walks into The Uptown Horns Party at Tramps and in that deep gravelly voice of his, shouts 'Detroit!' I couldn't believe he remembered." And now almost 15 years later, The Uptown Horns are part of the house band and wrote the theme song for VH-1's new weekly comedy show "Buster's Happy Hour" starring Johansen as Buster Poindexter. "Life is funny that way," chuckles Cioe.

Cioe moved to New York at the cusp of the new wave music scene. While playing in CBGB bands at night, Cioe studies during the day. Many of his college friends were now established journalists and Cioe found himself on assignment for top magazines such as Circus, Playboy, High Fidelity and Musician while writing a music biz gossip column for the Soho Weekly News. After touring and recording with Carolyn Mas, the Ritchie Family, Te The and Mink Deville, Cioe found himself as part of the Realtones, Nitecaps and the newly formed Uptown Horns, working 24-7-365.

Bob Funk was trained classically by his father, a professional violinist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and a variety of teachers ranging from his Cheyenne Mountain High School, the University of Denver under Tasso Harris, the prestigious Interlochen National Music Camp and the Aspen Music Festival before coming to NY to study at The Julliard School and the New School for Social Research. Before, during and after college, Funk was one of the youngest members of the Colorado Springs Symphony, the Colorado Brass Quintet, the Aspen Festival and Chamber Orchestras. He also participated in regional performance groups in Colorado and the Western united States including the Ophelia Swing band at the Aspen & Telluride Jazz festivals and The Orchestra of Clouds in Boulder, CO.

"My father was really my greatest influence," comments Funk. "We would attend all the jazz concerts that came to Colorado: Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden, Count Basie, Miles Davis, JJ Johnson. Later on I would see Cream, Willie Nelson and Boz Scaggs, too. We were a real musical family: my Dad on violin, my mom on Piano and my younger brothers on sax and clarinet. We always joked about how Sundays are for Mozart and Miles Davis." A major inspiration was sitting in with Willie Dixon and the Mothers of Invention band. "I was surprised Dixon would even let me, I was such a kid and that really changed my life." Another key influence was Dr. Per Brevig ,principal trombonist with the NY Metropolitan Opera and a professor at Julliard.

After graduating, Funk joined the Mozart Opera Orchestra, and appeared on thee Donald Fagan-produced original soundtrack album of the Broadway hit, "Gospel at Colonus." He also performed in productions for the Houston Grand Opera and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

During the mid-70s, Funk went to Los Angeles to join the band, Bazuka. "They were a one-hit band, but at least it was top ten!" Their song "Dyno-mite!" taken from the then popular TV sitcom star Jimmie Walker afforded them the opportunity to tour the country opening for acts Al Green, the Ohio Players, and the Average White Band. "It was a great experience," remembers Funk. Drawn to NY after exhausting every festival and musical outlet in Colorado, Funk met Cioe, Hecht and Litteral trio at Max's Kansas City, and the rest, as they say, is history.

New member Larry Etkin was a friend and fan of The Uptown Horns for nearly ten years. But even before this, Etkin and Funk met at the prestigious Interlochen National Music Camp when they were in junior high school. "I knew Bob," laughs Etkin about Funk's clean-shaven head, "when he had dandruff." Etkin was also the best man at Paul Litteral's wedding and was often asked to sub for Paul and/or supplement the groups with a second trumpet. He was the natural choice to replace Litteral.

Etkin was born in NYC and at age 6 moved to a house filled with music in Larchmont, NY. His mother was an opera singer with the Philadelphia Opera Company while his sister is a cellist with the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy. He graduated from Brown with a BA and studied at Julliard under William Vachianno, the first trumpet in the NY Philharmonic and session player Ray Crisara.

After college, Etkin freelanced, performing and recording with groups ranging from the Ojays (Family Reunion arena tour) to Billy Joel (Innocent Man tour0. "My biggest memory was the Ojays refused to fly, so we lived on these tour buses for months and months. Here I was the only white guy straight out of an Ivy League college with these gun-toting Superflys. It was quite an experience … the music made it fun."

Etkin moved to Los Angeles for three years doing session work for records and television (including Sunday morning cartoons). Having his fill of tofu and bean sprouts, Etkin returned to New York and non-stop work doing jingles, Broadway shows, and sessions ranging from Buster Poindexter to Peter Allen, Louis Bellson's Big Band to Buddy Rich. He performed under the batons of conductors Eugene Ormandy (Philadelphia Orchestra), James Levine (Metropolitan Opera), and Pierre Boulez (NY Philharmonic). Etkin was enlisted to supplement The Horns on the James Brown "Gravity" LP and "Living in America" LPs, and joined them in performance with Joe Cocker. "Being on my own for so many years as a freelancer, it's great to be a part of this first-class musical family," admits Etkin. "These guys are, quite simply, just the best!"

As Chuck Berry observed, "These cats are cool."

The Uptown Horns at the Stereo Society (selected links):
To Uptown Horns' home at the Stereo Society (all links)
To Uptown Horns' Biography
To 'On the Road'
To Uptown Horns' albums

To Uptown Horns' interview with Mike Thorne

To Bob Funk (trombone)
To Crispin Cioe (alto sax)
To Larry Etkin (trumpet and flugelorn
To Arno Hecht (tenor sax)

To external Uptown Horns sites:
To www.Crispinmusic.com
To Burnzy's Last Call soundtrack
To www.Phunque.com