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Anthony Bruno Shares His Story With Each Note

Written by on September 25, 2023

Chicago saxophonist and educator Anthony Bruno grew up in a musical household, constantly surrounded by the melodies of his father and siblings. Now, the artist finds connection by sharing his sound and his story with the city’s jazz and R&B worlds.

Anthony Bruno; photo courtesy of the artist.

Throughout his career, Chicago musician Anthony Bruno has performed alongside many notable artists including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Motown vocal group The Temptations, become a weekly performer at local venues like Dorian’s and Andy’s Jazz Club, and been featured at festivals both locally and nationally such as the Chicago Jazz Festival and, currently, Texas’s Tall City Blues Fest. Despite his accomplishments, Bruno remains humble and places an emphasis and an artist’s authenticity above all else.

“It all feels like a true blessing, but I also remind myself that the music I write and perform is just me telling my story,” he reflected. “If people appreciate that story, we are connected, and it is a blessing to be connected with other humans in the world.”

Bruno reflects on childhood favorites like Motown and old-school R&B, combined with the influence of works by jazz greats like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, to create what he calls “a soundtrack” to what is playing in his head. Drawing upon “emo music” he loved in his teenage and college years, Bruno often  uses music to release inner emotional tension — but also likes to use his imagination to write about places he has never seen, explaining he holds a lifelong fascination with outer space and foreign countries.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bruno feels positive about the future of jazz, and works to support the next generation of creators as the jazz chair and music department head at The Chicago High School for the Arts. He feels grateful for and inspired by working with his students; noting the importance of putting his heart and soul into his work, he relates being an educator and a musician in the ways both disciplines center on human connection.

“I think young people are very hip and open to the music, therefore the future of the music is strong,” Bruno said.

“I like to tell my students to continue working and pushing as the learning never ends, and to always be truthful to the music and yourself.”

RELATED: Poised To Break Through: September 2023

Anthony Bruno’s strong jazz influences shine through on his song “Thankful For You,” which was featured on Vocalo’s “Poised To Break Through” playlist for September. After his song was featured, Bruno joined us virtually, diving into his mindset toward making music, the importance of Chicago, his love for the outdoors and more.

Being born into a musical family, what are some of your earliest memories or experiences that sparked your interest in music?

I grew up in a household where my dad was playing the saxophone and all of my siblings were learning and playing music. I spent a lot of time as a child going to rehearsals, festivals, bars and clubs, and I just thought that was a normal part of life, going to shows and hanging with musicians whenever you weren’t in school. I always thought the saxophone was so cool: it looked cool, it sounded cool. I couldn’t wait to start my own bands and live that life.

I was 13 when I started my first band, and I really enjoyed playing shows, feeling the crowd and meeting people. I knew then that I wanted to do this for real.

Your music blends both jazz and R&B. Can you share your approach to your music style?

I’ve always loved R&B and hip-hop, and grew up listening to that more so than jazz. V103 was commonly played and we would have dance parties where all the old-school Motown and R&B would play. When I hear melodies, grooves, bass lines, I’m connecting with what I hear in my head and I’m influenced by all the music I grew up listening to. I came to jazz later in life and started studying it seriously in college, and really fell in love with the saxophone greats like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and so many more. The music I write is like a soundtrack to what’s playing in my head, and I’m just trying to write and play how I feel in this world.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

What do you envision for the future of jazz in today’s musical realm?

I think young people are very hip and open to the music, therefore the future of the music is strong. I think the music world has changed so much that people are far more open to music as long as it has authenticity, heart and soul. It doesn’t matter so much if it’s jazz or country or hip-hop, people like good music that connects with people’s hearts and spirits, so jazz will continue to flourish as an appreciated art form as long as it’s handled with truth and thoughtfulness.

Last year you released your first [self-titled] studio album. What was that experience like for you? What has the reception been like so far?

It was completely cathartic to write and record this record. There’s so much emotion tied up in that record: heartbreak, sadness, tragedy, doubt, etc. Hearing the band bring the music to life was a dream, and I felt completely elated once the record was finished and I got to listen back to it. I also was able to walk into the situation pretty open to whatever came out because it was my first record, and that helped allow the music to come out freely without judgment.

The reception to the record has been amazing. We’ve been added to three Spotify editorial playlists, invited to perform at the Logan Square Arts Fest, Chicago Jazz Festival, Deer Park Jazz Fest, weekly performances at Dorian’s for their Jazz Happy Hour and a weekly residency at Andy’s Jazz Club for their Late Night Concert Series every Thursday through the end of 2023. I feel blessed to have been embraced locally and been so supported with this record and also to be able to perform with my band so consistently since the record came out.

You’ve performed alongside some of the greatest artists, including Wynton Marsalis and The Temptations, throughout your career. What has been the most valuable lesson you learned from those experiences?

I think treating the music with a certain amount of sanctity and intensity. And to be fair, I’ve had the opportunity to play with a ton of amazing musicians across the globe that aren’t known the same way that Wynton is, but they all share the same things. An unrelenting intensity on stage to be authentic, play the music at the highest level, make spiritual connections with the band and the audience, and dig into the music completely.

What drives your creative process while composing your music?

I think the standard range of emotions – sadness, happiness, drama, etc. – contribute as inspiration. I guess you could say I’m kind of dramatic in that way. I listened to a lot of emo music in high school and college, so I’m usually trying to release some inner sadness or tension when I go to write music.

I like writing about the sun and the moon and outer space, as well. They all fascinate me. I also like writing about places, usually that I haven’t been to, because I like to imagine what those cities would feel like and sound like. I think inquiry is helpful in the creative process.

Besides that, I always consider how the music will feel on stage. I write alone with a piano so I don’t know what it will sound like with saxophone, bass, drums, guitar, etc. until we get on stage and perform the song. I also like to write songs that you could sing along to. It’s a fine balance to write music that is melodic, connectable and has character and dimension.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

You were featured this past summer by our sister station WBEZ as one of the “up-and-coming acts to see now,” your single was added to Vocalo’s “Poised To Break Through” playlist for September, and you’ve been highlighted at various festivals and venues across the city. How does it feel to have your music recognized locally?

It all feels like a true blessing, but I also remind myself that the music I write and perform is just me telling my story. If people appreciate that story, we are connected, and it is a blessing to be connected with other humans in the world. I’d like to thank the clubs and festivals that have put their trust in me to play my music and tell my story, it’s been very fulfilling and rewarding.

Can you share a standout moment from one of your festival performances?

First of all, I absolutely love playing outside. I like to practice outside, and have been doing that since I was a child. It first started that I was too loud and I grew up in a big family, and had siblings who were much younger than me and needed to go to sleep, but I still wanted to practice my saxophone. So I would practice in the garage and the backyard. Then I realized how important it is to play outside because you connect with sky, sun, stars, trees, etc., but also because of the way acoustics works. You don’t hear your sound back at you the way you do in an enclosed room, so you are forced to play much louder and put a lot more air in the horn, and that helps develop a bigger sound on the instrument.

With that being said, we were performing at the Logan Square Arts Fest. The band was Brooklynn Skye on bass, Andrew Lawrence on keys/synths and James Russell Sims on drums. We almost didn’t play because of the rain, and I was so looking forward to this performance, being a Logan Square resident for over 12 years and feeling so connected to that neighborhood. But at the last second we got the green light to perform and I was so thankful. We were playing “Feelings Outro,” which is a very intense song to play, and in the middle of my improvised solo section of the song the band elevated to a higher vibration and became supersonic. I remember that solo feeling intergalactic, and it was a really special moment to share with the band and also reminded me of how appreciative I am of how special the musicians in Chicago truly are.

In addition to your music career, you’re the music department head and jazz chair at The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts). How do you balance your roles as an educator and musician, and what key message do you hope to leave with your students?

I’m very fortunate to work with such amazing music students at ChiArts. My students continually inspire me because of how authentic they are and how dedicated to the music they are. I see being an educator and a musician as the same. Both are about embracing humanity and learning how to connect to your inner spiritual energies in order to learn about yourself and your connection to this world.

I like to tell my students to continue working and pushing as the learning never ends, and to always be truthful to the music and yourself.

What are your plans or projects, either as a musician or an educator, that your fans or students can look forward to?

We recorded a new record in July and it will be released in 2024. This record is a continuation of the last record and includes some more emo and pop-punk sounds – which I love playing on the saxophone. This record is somewhat of an afterglow from the self-titled record in that it continues on a moody journey, but learns more about its shadow self. For that record, I was joined by James Russell Sims on drums, Andrew Lawrence on synths and piano, Vinny Kabat on bass and Cole Runge on guitar. We’ve been showcasing some of this new music at our live shows and the response has been phenomenal.

I also have a new Christmas record coming out, Christmas Party, which is from the new
material we’ve been performing at the Anthony Bruno Christmas Spectacular – a show I’ve been doing every Christmas for the last eight years. I do love Christmas and really enjoy performing during the Christmas season. This record has R&B, reggae, punk, ballad and straight-ahead versions of Christmas classics; I imagine this record as the soundtrack to a Christmas party.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Keep up with Anthony Bruno on Instagram, and hear the rest of our “Poised To Break Through” selections below.

Written introduction by Abigail Harrison and Morgan Ciocca

Interview by Blake Hall

Answers edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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