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Pittsburgh-native sax star brings tour home

One man plays the trumpet while leaning toward another man playing the saxophone onstage.
Too Many Zooz
Too Many Zooz in concert: (from left) Matt "Doe" Muirhead, David "King of Sludge" Parks, and Leo P.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

The career of acclaimed baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino and his group Too Many Zooz was launched with a combination of an ancient form of public entertainment — busking — and one of the newest, the viral video.

But for Pellegrino, the path that led the group to European tours and even a national TV appearance with Beyoncé began in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where Too Many Zooz returns next week.

Pellegrino — stage name: “Leo P.” — remembers in childhood playing a clarinet his mother, Mary Shea, gave him, and accompanying his father, musician and performance artist Steve Pellegrino, on a dance classic or two. “I kinda got my chops together with ‘The Clarinet Polka,” he said, by phone from his home, in Jersey City, N.J. “That one's really tough.”

Pellegrino also still touts Pittsburgh’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. “That was an amazing school,” he said. “The teachers are top-notch. I got my own private lesson for free. I feel super lucky!”

Too Many Zooz formed 10 years ago this coming August, while Pellegrino was studying at the Manhattan School of Music. He’d actually had some trepidation about risking the pursuit of music as a career. His earliest gigs in New York City subway stations with drummer David “King of Sludge” Parks and trumpeter Matt “Doe” Muirhead cured that anxiety.

“Within the first few times of playing in the subway, I wasn’t scared any more about having a career,” he said. “I knew I was legit. Because I was making as much money or more money than anyone who was down there, even [who]had been there for 10, 20 years. That was the first time I was like, ‘Aw, no, I have an undeniable talent.’”

Too Many Zooz call their infectious, all-instrumental blend of jazz, funk and house music “brass house,” and they play it with a verve honed on subway platforms, accented by neon-colored threads (and, in Pellegrino’s case, hair) along with Pellegrino’s crazy-legs dance moves.

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Their show translates online: YouTube videos — like a train-hopping rendition of their tune “Bedford” — have drawn millions of views each. In 2015, the group toured, and fielded a call from Beyoncé’s musical director, who asked them to cut some accompaniment for her album “Lemonade.” (That’s Doe blowing trumpet on “Formation.”) In 2016, they released their debut album, and accompanied Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks on stage at the Country Music Awards.

There’s been more, including Pellegrino’s first solo album (2022’s jazz-leaning “Coming Up Aces”); readers of Downbeat magazine voting him 2022’s best baritone saxophonist; and Pellegrino playing sax on the soundtrack of “Babylon.” (Justin Hurwitz, composer of the film’s score, is a big Zooz fan.)

Next week, Too Many Zooz begin their latest tour, starting May 4, in Harrisburg, and the next night hit Mr. Smalls Theatre (where they headlined the venue’s first mainstage show after the pandemic shutdown, way back in July 2021).

The short tour of the Northeastern U.S. is a joint effort with like-minded, horn-driven outfits Lucky Chops (Pellegrino’s previous band) and Moon Hooch. Too Many Zooz’s eclectic set typically includes lots of originals, as well as covers as apparently far afield as AC/DC’s “TNT.” This show will be a bit different: In deference to the lung power demanded of horn players, the three bands will split six 20-minute sets evenly between them.

They’re calling the package Lucky Moon Zooz. Find more information is here.

A sign for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Gallery Crawl downtown while people walk by.
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
The next Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Gallery Crawl is Fri., April 28.

WESA's Weekend Picks

  1. Celebrated South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma’s Vuyani Dance Theatre makes its Pittsburgh debut with “Cion: A Requiem of Ravel’s Bolero,” at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. The full-length work inspired by Ravel’s music and South African author Zakes Mda’s novel “Cion” gets two performances, 7 p.m. Thu., April 27, and 7 p.m. Fri., April 28.
  2. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s quarterly Gallery Crawls routinely draw thousands. At the spring crawl, attractions at more than one dozen venues include: art-making with a soundtrack at BOOM Concepts’ Trap + Paint series; a WPTS radio local-music showcase; new exhibits at Wood Street Galleries and 937 Gallery; street magicians; and an after-hours silent disco. The Cultural District event runs 5:30 p.m. to midnight Fri., April 28.
  3. Are you up for Pittsburgh’s biggest uncurated art free-for-all? Anytime between 4 p.m. Sat., April 29 and 2 p.m. Sun., April 30, Art All Night has you covered. The 26th annual incarnation will draw thousands of visitors to experience work by hundreds of visual artists and music acts at 31st Street Studios, 77 31st St., in Lawrenceville.
  4. The Mattress Factory’s latest artist-in-residence, Shohei Katayama, takes over parts of two of the museum’s floors for his new installation, titled “As Above, So Below.” The work, which “invites viewers to challenge their perceived reality and consider their place in a complex and ever-changing world,” opens with a free reception 6-8 p.m. Sat., April 29.
  5. The venerable Hemingway’s Summer Poetry Series returns. A large sampling of Pittsburgh’s poets will read at White Whale Bookstore over the next eight Tuesdays, and it starts May 2 with a lineup of Lisa Alexander, Doralee Brooks, Sheila Squillante and Steffan Triplett. 7 p.m. Bloomfield.
Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: