At Work: Too Many Zooz

John Adamian on May 28, 2020
At Work: Too Many Zooz

Leo Pellegrino is a creative multitasker. As the mastermind behind the horn-centric New York City trio Too Many Zooz, Pellegrino plays a big, honking baritone saxophone. Adding to the exertion, he’s also capable of executing some impressive dance moves while blowing away on his horn—swiveling with James Brown-esque foot glides and undulating in rippling head-tofoot thrusts. That’s not to say that dancing while playing isn’t a challenge. “I need to catch my breath,” Pellegrino explains. “There’s been some good dancers that are horn players, but not at the same time.” (He also visits chiropractors to keep his bones and muscles aligned for those nightly back/ neck/lung workouts.)

 Too Many Zooz formed in 2013, honing their chops and charismatic visual oomph while playing for the toughest audiences around—the distracted commuters on Manhattan’s bustling subway platforms. “I just started jamming in the subway trying to make money, honestly,” Pellegrino says, noting that when he is in the moment, “it’s almost an out-of-body thing.”

 In recent years, the band has clearly moved up from their purely subterranean days. They not only collaborated with Beyoncé on her Lemonade LP, but they also joined her onstage at the CMAs. It has been a long ascent, spurred on thanks to a series of viral videos. But their infectious tunes were bound to catch on eventually: Pellegrino and his bandmates take the pounding, bottomed-out grooves of synth-heavy dance music and replicate those sounds organically, with sax, trumpet and a tricked-out bass drum.

Their well-worn mix of urban grit and funky ingenuity is on full display throughout the video for “Car Alarm,” which repurposes the annoying blare of a vehicular security alert into the metronome-like rhythmic groundwork over which Pellegrino, trumpeter Matt Muirhead and drummer David Parks add syncopated accents, brassy smears and thumping beats. In 2020, they took their maiden voyage aboard Jam Cruise and are poised to turn even more heads on the festival scene in the near future. “We can fit into a bunch of different genres,” Pellegrino says. “And maybe jam is one of those because we jam.”