April 2013

Will Snyder

Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

Will Snyder settles in over a cup of coffee and starts to chart an emerging career in music that, at the formative age of 27, is still very much in progress. And it’s off to a most convincing launch, if earning co-producing credits on the country’s number one jazz album and stepping up to share his skills with local luminaries are worthy indicators. Last night, he played piano supporting award-winning Jazz Corner chief Bob Masteller, dean of Hilton Head’s formidable traditional jazz scene, and Snyder’s also got his own steady gig going the next evening at an organic Italian restaurant at Coligny Plaza.

“There’s so much world-class talent here, even if it’s still kind of an underground thing,” said Snyder, an outgoing guy who, over the course of a single-cup interview, reels off no shortage of names of friends, teachers and fellow musicians as keys to his expanding impact. “I’m humbled by them; honestly I can’t take any credit for all the great music that’s been going on around here.”

The Chicago-born Snyder describes himself as a standard-issue “stubborn kid” who picked up a bass guitar at the age of 15 then refused to listen to anything but jam band Phish despite the entreaties of family that he consider broadening his musical horizons. “I was totally obsessed,” he laughed. “I had something like 300 Phish bootlegs, followed them live whenever I could and walked around hearing nothing but Mike Gordon’s bass lines in my head. I really had a case of tunnel vision.”

His parents, Bob and Ann, retired to Hilton Head Island, and Snyder’s enrollment at the Idyllwild Arts Academy in the high desert above Palm Springs, California started erasing his musical myopia. “All I could do then was esoteric clamp bass”—he mimes thumping thumb and finger pops—“and my instructor, Marshal Hawkins who played bass with Miles Davis, told me some things I’ll never forget… like how Phish got their sound by listening to a million different things and that maybe I should think about hearing something new.”

He smiles as he recalls growing obsessed once again, this time to the classic jazz trio sounds of pianist Oscar Peterson and bassist Ray Brown, often sharing his enthrallment with high school buddy and budding musician, Graham Dechter, who will figure in further down the road. “We would listen to this amazing old-school swing stuff all day long, and it proved to me how everything can change almost overnight.”

Indeed, after rejections from lesser-known music schools, Snyder scored a slot at the prestigious Berklee School of Music and spent summers playing bass with Zach and Whitley Deputy’s Funky Hayride and the likes of Trevor Hall at island clubs. There were back-at-school gigs in Boston, essential “hustles” renting sound equipment and such and the start of work on a solo project that languished more than once. There was also a six-month cruise sailing South America, playing sets five times a day that honed his straight-ahead jazz skills before Snyder settled full-time on Hilton Head circa 2010 and was immediately deluged with all the work he could handle.

He played bass exclusively with whatever ensemble needed him, continued work on his solo effort and began teaching local youngsters with an outspoken candor he heard from his instructors at music school. “I learned from my own teachers not to hold back (criticism),” he says, “and that’s how I approach things with my students. I won’t dumb it down, and even if it doesn’t make sense right now, maybe it will eventually come to them like it did for me.”

Likewise, the young man familiar locally as a great bass player, has switched gears over the past year, turning what he terms “a long side affair” with keyboards into a public avocation that remains the heart of his oft-delayed solo album. Then old/young friend Dechter, who was a violin player when they met before finding his stride as guitarist for the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and on singer Michael Buble’s “Christmas” album/TV special, surfaced one day by phone and asked Snyder to fly to Los Angeles.

“He said, ‘I’m having trouble finishing this, so I thought I’d call a guy who’s also having trouble getting things done,’” Snyder said with an easy smile. The result was “Takin’ It There,” an acclaimed recording that debuted at number one last year and continues to linger near the top of the jazz charts. Snyder shares production and mixing credits on an album that’s sparked his desire to finish a debut he began years ago.

“I’ve done my own album probably four times, and it didn’t feel right … it just wasn’t there yet.” His “Life Could Be Grand” project includes an electronic soul-groove sample track (“San Francisco”), mixed but not yet mastered, that finds Snyder singing easily amid a soft wash of synthesizers. He sounds ready to take things to the next level and has been drawing label interest. “It’s almost finished and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable. It will be done soon, and I’m so glad I waited.” Assisting on production are Atlanta-based Kyle Patrick (former lead singer of the Click Five) and Atlanta-based mixer Miles Walker who’s worked with Rihanna among others.

Meanwhile, Snyder plies his skills at island venues despite offers of touring Asia (with Kyle Patrick) and all the request work he can handle. He plays piano in deep-roots duets with rotating bass players such as Dave Keller every Wednesday through Saturday (6:30-10:30 p.m.) at Vine restaurant when not working on his own project or producing tracks with the likes of Cranford and Sons.

“It’s all about new techniques and approaches,” he said. “I’m still learning.”

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article