South Florida bands have endured a year of almost no live performances. We caught up with five of the region’s top recording artists, from up-and-comers to linchpins of the scene, to see how they’re surviving—and thriving—amid a tumultuous landscape.
At the closing weekend of this year’s Mini South Florida Fair, amid the aromas of chocolate-dipped bacon and red velvet funnel cake, the West Palm Beach jazz-funk collective Public Sounds set up for its first concert in nearly 12 months.
Typical Fair entertainment slants toward washed-up ‘70s rockers and mid-tier country acts, so it was an incongruent venue for this sextet of sonic sophisticates known for its complex time signatures, classical training and influences like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. But this is just peachy for the band, which relishes any opportunity to expand its audiences’ tastes.
“I like playing for audiences that aren’t ready for us or aren’t expecting us,” says trombonist/percussionist Kevin Cripanuk. “Even though they might not know the tunes, we want to keep it palatable and draw people in. Even if, yeah, we do try to push the limits of our audiences’ ears a little bit, we also want to serve them, and play stuff that will surprise them and they can relate to, at least in some way.”
Public Sounds formed around 2011, when co-founder Markis Hernandez, saxophonist for South Florida’s institutional reggae act Spred the Dub, sought a project to explore different musical avenues. Hernandez formed a jazz duo with electric bassist Chris Patsis and soon recruited Cripanuk to form a trio. They solicited other musicians through Craigslist. It would take a good six years of rigorous vetting for the present lineup to come together.
“It was tough sculpting the sound for this band, and what that meant,” Hernandez recalls. “We realized very quickly how important it was to have people with very specific skill sets, and also people with pretty strong self-discipline, that are going to work on their own.
“You can’t just play rock ‘n’ roll and be in this band,” he adds. “There’s got to be a lot of foundational things that are important. The most important thing is the immense study of jazz music. In a weird way, if you can’t play swing music, it’s hard to be in this band, even if we don’t necessarily swing. That feel, or that cadence, underneath it all, is what enables us to be on the same page.”
The group’s newest member, Harley Galeano, can attest to the band’s exacting work ethic. “Rehearsals with Public Sounds are harder than actual performances with Public Sounds,” he says. “Rehearsals are very serious. Everyone’s so smart, I feel like I’m in a classroom. Everyone’s a teacher, too, and this is the most challenging material I play. … I try my best to keep my ears really open.”
Their efforts paid off in 2019, Public Sounds’ most important year to date, which saw the release of its debut album Irregular Prime and an expansion of its YouTube output. The pandemic put that momentum on pause, but the comeback performance at the 2021 Fair was anything but rusty. Theirs is a tight, fulsome sound, played with breathless speed and improvisatory innovation, as danceable as it is intellectual.
They even spiced up the set with unexpected covers that belied the group’s uber-serious bona fides—particularly an elevated take on Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” “It’s almost a humorous choice,” says Cripanuk. “Because when you see 30-something dudes playing jazz instrumental, you think Britney Spears right away.”
Find music from Public Sounds at publicsounds.bandcamp.com or on your streaming service of choice.