Saxophonist, vocalist and band leader
Jason Justice is a saxophone player, educator, and arts activist from Denver, CO. His long resume as a performer includes multiple styles as a musician and work as an actor in theater. During his studies at Metro State College he co-founded and managed the Jazz Celebration at Metro State, an educational jazz festival that brought numerous middle and high school bands together with local and national music professionals.
It was during his time managing the Jazz Celebration that he realized there was little representation at the festival from schools in the city of Denver. In response, Jason founded Instrumentos de la Libertad, or in English, Instruments of Freedom, a Denver based 501(c)(3) that brings music lessons and instruments to Denver kids free of charge. An ambitious program that Jason sees as vital to keeping the arts alive and creating music consumers of the future, Instrumentos de la Libertad has a simple plan to level the playing field for kids one student at a time.
Jason’s professional experience includes work with Diana Castro and the Big Time, Mondo Bizarro, The Queen City Jazz Band, the UCD Claim Jumpers Dixieland Jazz Band, as well as his own ensembles of straight-ahead jazz.
Jason is endorsed by RS Berkeley Instruments. He is an active saxophone teacher for learners of all ages and abilities, and his website is full of resources. Check out his website at www.jasonjustice.com.
Dedicated, passionate, and innovative are three words that perfectly describe bassist Mario Pagliarulo. Born and raised in Naples, Italy, Mario has spent nearly two decades building a name for himself, with a career that spans the Atlantic and touches on almost every musical genre and style.
After building his reputation by gigging, touring and recording with some of the hottest independent artists in Los Angeles, Mario caught the attention of Serj Tankian, lead singer for the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum band, System Of A Down. Serj took Mario on board as the bassist for his backing band the FCC, and they spent 2008 – 2009 touring the U.S., Europe, and Australia in support of Serj’s highly-acclaimed solo album, Elect the Dead (Serjical Strike Records/ Reprise Records, 2007).
Onstage, Mario is magnetic and powerful, whose obvious love for his craft and for Gumbo le Funque’s music pulls the audience into the experience with him. As frontman Jason Justice quips, “Mario’s so funky because he’s from southern Italy.”
Guitarist Chris Anton grew up in Western Massachusetts where he first picked up a guitar at the age of 18. He heard a good friend playing something on an acoustic guitar one day, interrupted him, and said “you have to show me that!” After that day, Anton was hooked, and immediately started studying Jazz theory, performance, and gigging with bands all over New England. In 1999, he packed his car with his guitar & amp and a couple bags of things and drove west to Colorado, where he immediately set out to meet musicians and dig into the Colorado music scene.
Through the early 2000’s, Anton toured the US with several different bands based out of the Denver area, often playing upwards of 200+ shows per year from California to Chicago to Boston and everywhere in between in a variety of styles including jazz, rock, live electronica, and even some experimental live looping and improvisation projects. He fulfilled a personal musical dream in 2008, when he performed on the main stage at Red Rocks for the Monolith Festival, and currently also plays with roots rock band SoundRabbit, as well as several other Denver-area bands and performers.
Anton’s jazz credentials come through in his playing, sometimes evoking the melody and luminance of a John Scofield solo, but with the driving groove of a Jimmy Johnson session at Muscle Shoals.
Behind Chris’ calm exterior is a powerhouse of drumming talent and versatility. Chris has over 20 years of performance experience playing a variety of music from pop to heavy rock, jazz to electronica, blues to funk, reggae to samba and salsa, soul to folk, and everything in between.
His local projects include work as the drummer for SoundRabbit, Easy Bill and the Big Beat, a Denver-based rhythm and blues band, laying down funk/soul grooves with Meadowlark Jivin out of Ft. Collins, drumming for Jaka, an African four piece, and live drum and bass/breakbeats with MFA: The Drop.
Chris has also played in several musical theatre performances including Menopause, the Musical; You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, A Chorus Line, Crazy for You, and others. Additionally, he is the founder and leader of the very successful Afterbeat Drum School, a percussion school for adults and youth in Louisville, CO.
Chris is a 1993 graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, with a distinctive focus on jazz and modern music. He brings a sophisticated and intricate level of expertise, and his studies in New Orleans styles, including second line, are clearly evident in the bounce and verve he brings to Gumbo le Funque’s repertoire.
If anyone has a multiple career personality, it’s Gumbo le Funque’s manager and backup singer, Andrea Mérida. As a classically-trained vocalist, Andrea has sung challenging operatic roles, including Rosalinde from Die Fledermaus, the Mother from Hänsel und Gretel and the Mother from Amahl and the Night Visitors. A lyric soprano of the bel canto tradition, Andrea’s repertoire includes Mozart, de Falla, Brahms and Verdi. She studied with the legendary and late Dr. Sylvia Bagley, Ms. Beverly Fernald and Dr. Mee-Ae Nam.
Andrea also has an extensive history as a church music director, cantor and choir leader at local houses of worship, including St. Joseph’s (Redemptorist) Catholic Church, St. Dominic’s Catholic Church and St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, leading the music for both English- and Spanish-speaking assemblies.
Singing backups in a funk band is a new challenge for her, but one not far from hearth and home. As a kid from Denver’s Westside, Andrea grew up with a soundtrack of soul and rock in her ears, weaned on Denver’s erstwhile KDKO 1510 AM soul/R&B/funk radio station and a steady diet of Led Zeppelin and Rush.
Not only does Andrea handle the business end of Gumbo le Funque, but she has a presence in the local political scene. She recently served as an elected member of the Denver Board of Education, and during her tenure was the only school board member in Colorado to endorse Amendment 64, the passage of which legalized recreational marijuana use in Colorado. She is currently the Denver county co-chair of a third political party. In her “spare” time, she’s a web designer and social media consultant.
Her favorite Gumbo le Funque song is “Make it Grow,” an original from the upcoming CD to be released on August 24, 2014. “It talks about the responsibility we all have in making this world more loving, even in the face of adversity,” she says. “What could be better than that?”