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DMV Funk Musician Natalie Brooke Talks Authentic Women in Music

Natalie Brooke playing keytar at a gig, backlit in blue

Funk/jazz fusion powerhouse Natalie Brooke is a one-of-a-kind artist based in Frederick, MD, where she grew up, who now plays lively shows around the Baltimore/D.C. area. You may have caught her solo act, as well as her two band projects – funk rock band Natalie Brooke, in which she sings, and instrumental jazz fusion band The Infinity Tribe. 

Brooke now plays a killer keytar and picked up bass a couple years ago. Growing up, her mom put her in piano lessons; she was a fan of the piano, but not so much the lessons: “I hated it,” she says. “I quit in middle school, but then kept playing piano and learning songs by ear.”

This led her to become very much an ear player. “All through high school, I was still on the classical track, but I loved so many different kinds of music and wanted to be able to play them eventually,” she said. “I went to music school on the classical track at first, then switched schools and switched to jazz, which was a giant awakening.”

Brooke said that learning about the style on that college track opened up a world of opportunity for her. She played keyboard in a punk band and also joined her first jazz fusion band in college. “Nearing the end of college is where I went to the first Gordon Sterling Jam, and that’s where I met everybody that got me into the scene, and is basically why I’m doing what I’m doing where I’m doing it now.”

Brooke and her band playing a recent gig, Brooke playing keytar
Photo by Rob McKenney

She describes her band Natalie Brooke, originally Natalie Brooke and The Band, as showcasing the part of her that just wants to have a good time – fun, funky, easygoing music that people can dance to. “I started that band because I was playing in a jam band and touring around,” she says. “I’ve always been a writer of music, and I thought, ‘You know, I really want to do something like this and make something on my own’.”

During COVID lockdown, she self-reflected and felt like the jazz part of her was missing from her work. She wanted to make a whole album like the long piano songs she loved to write since she was a kid sitting at the piano. “So I started writing an album that was meant to be exclusively instrumental in this big exploration of more complex playing,” she says. “And then I got that band together to make the album, and we were having so much fun and we all became really close through it.” Touring came naturally soon after, so they became The Infinity Tribe. 

First ever Infinity Tribe band picture, Natalie and 3 others in front of grey brick wall
First ever Infinity Tribe band picture / Photo by Will Lopez, Courtesy of Natalie Brooke

Brooke describes the core of her songwriting process as a moment almost like getting struck by lightning – ideas tend to pop into her head at any time of day. “Then after that, it depends on how much is written because it might be a little bit – it might be a small little chorus or a cool lick,” she says. “Or sometimes I have sat down and written almost the whole thing in 30 minutes.”

She says she feels grateful being able to experience how she can use her educational background to work with form and try new things.”I try to think about contrasting ideas – if the first thing that I wrote is some wacky, crazy, funky lick, then I think, ‘Okay, how could I surprise the listener and go to something completely different after that?’ Or, ‘How could I expand on that one idea?’ … I think of it like a puzzle,” she says. “And I like to just explore different forms and ideas, and then piece it together … It’s like making a painting, I guess. I start with the core idea that I have the rest to fill in.”

Natalie Brooke loves performing because it is something she has wanted to do since she was younger. She reflects on when she fell in love with going to metal shows and their insane energy; she would think to herself, “‘This is spiritual. This is what life is about’ … I would come out of metal shows and feel revived,” she says.

While classical piano was still a passion for her, it wasn’t necessarily allowing her the opportunity to express herself in the way she does now on stage – unbounded, loud, and rowdy performances are what she craves. The process of getting into jazz and being able to perform it on stage was a long one, she says. Brooke’s first jam band provided her with a “slow burn,” she says: “I knew it was in me to go and perform the way that I do now, but I just wasn’t quite there yet.”

When she made her own band, she was still somewhat shy, and then COVID happened. ‘When I go back out there, I’m not holding anything back,’ she thought. “That was a huge thing for me with COVID – getting it all ripped away.” Her first show back after the pandemic hit was a late night set at a summer festival, and Brooke says that is where she reached the full potential of the musician she is now.

“I am just so drawn to being sweaty, playing with my friends, singing, playing, going for it,” she says. “I don’t care how long or short the set is, we just go and put it all out there, so that is the feeling that I love and crave — getting up there and kind of losing yourself in it. I definitely feel like I always do, which I feel grateful that I feel comfortable enough and that I’ve been doing it for so long that I can experience that.”

Another side of Brooke is that she is not only a performer, but a teacher. “I love teaching,” she says. “I think it’s the easiest job in the whole world. I just love working with people who are on their own journey with music, and I can help them. Every single student that I have is doing something different or at a different stage.”

She teaches a wide age range of people, from nine to 50. As well as a teacher, she serves as a role model and figure for her students to come to her for advice. “I like sharing that experience with kids because I had teachers that changed my life growing up, so I hope that I can do the same for them and just keep them doing music, because so many people quit at some point and don’t go back.”

Brooke especially wants girls in music to see her as someone they could look up to. She appreciates the feminine force that isn’t represented enough in music. “In the music world, I feel so blessed with being surrounded by people who are all very supportive and awesome,” she says. “I just think having the presence of feminine energy is an essential part of life, and playing with other women and experiencing that difference in energy.” Young boys have so many male musical heroes to look up to, she says, such as Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd… “For girls, there’s just less of that to see.” 

Natalie Brooke playing keyboard at gig, stage lit in pink
Natalie Brooke playing Pearl Street Warehouse / Photo By Gary Jared

There are so many women in music that Brooke herself looks up to herself; she cites her biggest inspiration as Grammy Award-winning composer, bass player, and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. “She encompasses paving your own way – doing what you want how you want to do it,” she says. “She explores different ways of recording albums with different people, different ensembles, and different styles,” which piques Brooke’s interest of always wanting to try something new. 

“She’s my hero, and I feel like at this point in her life, she’s in maybe her late thirties, she’s created so much music that she’s wanted to create, and I feel like she’s always following her own inspiration and exploration.”

Hiromi Uehara is another huge inspiration of hers: “She’s really good at the things she does, which is crushing on piano and writing complex compositions.” Brooke says she is happy to see so many women being authentic versions of themselves, shouting out DMV artist Kayla Waters and other fellow musicians Karina Rykman and Hayley Jane. 

Natalie Brooke is an artist that is always improvising and creating, and is excited about opportunities to come. “I really aspire to be like [Esperanza Spalding] and artists like her that have an eclectic discography,” she says.

Her ultimate goal is to share a wide range of albums with different sounds, as well as with different people: “I just want to see how much music I can create in my lifetime with other people, because that’s what it’s all about.” She recalls telling her parents when she was younger that she just wanted to live her life as an artist – “I basically want my life to be about art, and I want to see where that takes me.”

Find more information about Natalie Brooke and her musical projects here and on her website.

Natalie Brooke performing at Hot August Festival
Hot August Festival 2022
Alchemical Records contributor Emma Page

Emma Page

Emma Page, a recent Journalism graduate of The George Washington University, possesses a passion for music journalism and storytelling in all its forms. Originally from Baltimore, MD, when she is not writing, she can be found at a local concert or making music of her own.

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