Funk Filharmonik Exclusive

The band members of the Funk Filharmonik, known as New York’s tightest funk ensemble, have performed and traveled the world with some of the biggest names in showbusiness, including Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, and Diana Ross. However, they always manage to find their way back to each other to give their fans what they’ve come to love for the past 25 years.

To celebrate their silver anniversary, the Funk Filharmonik will perform a special concert on April 22 at The Crazy Donkey in Farmingdale, N.Y. It’s the second time the band has tried to do this show. Originally it was scheduled for Dec. 27 last year, but one of the biggest blizzards in New York’s history derailed their engagement. Now in their 25.5 show, as it’s being referred to, the band promises to deliver their signature sound of strong, high power, horn-driven music. The evening will feature songs by Earth, Wind & Wire, Tower of Power, as well as original material the band recorded on their debut album, “Everybody Get Down,” in 2009.

Ozzie Melendez, a native New Yorker and co-founding member of the Funk Filharmonik, says being a part of the band is a dream come true.

“Usually bands don’t stay together that long. They do four years, if that. Then they break up and join another band,” Melendez says. “When we get together and play it’s pretty intense. You can feel that camaraderie.”

Ozzie Melendez, co-founding member of the Funk Filharmonik in the studio.

It all began with two mutual ideas. While studying at Berklee College of Music, Melendez started a band, which eventually toured successfully in Japan and Canada, playing music from Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. When the band went their separate ways, Melendez met musician Al Stewart. He mentioned to Stewart how he missed his old band and the music they played. By chance, Stewart worked with drummer Lee Finkelstein in his band, who also wanted to play horn-driven music. After everyone met and hit it off, the band was born and Melendez quickly started arranging music for them to play.

“It all actually started out as nothing more than a rehearsal band simply for the enjoyment of playing music,” says Lee Finkelstein, co-founding member.

On Nov. 21, 1985, the Funk Filharmonia, as they were briefly known, played their first gig. Close to three decades later, very few changes have been made to the group’s lineup.

In 1990 John Scarpulla, also a native New Yorker who studied at Berklee, joined the band. When Scarpulla first moved back to New York from Boston he had heard about this 12-piece band who played the music of Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. He walked in on one of their monthly meetings and was blown away. He introduced himself and told them he was available whenever they needed a fill-in saxophonist. A month later, he received a call asking him to come in for an audition. He was hired on the spot. He says being in the Funk Fhilharmonik has always been an honor because he’s included in a who’s who of New York and Long Island musicians.

“It’s a musician’s band where so many of the audience members are musicians coming out to check out what we’re up to now,” Scarpulla, who just returned from a tour with Jeff Beck, says. “For me it’s helped my visibility in the New York scene and has created quite a bit of work, both with the band and outside of the Funk, which led to my gig with the Tower of Power.”

Scarpulla discovered his love for the saxophone while in junior high. His two older brothers both played instruments, and he wanted to be just like them. Initially he wanted to play the trumpet like his brother Joe, but Joe encouraged his younger brother to play the sax by telling him it was shaped like a “J,” like John. He was sold and never looked back. In 2008 Scarpulla was asked by Billy Joel to perform with him at the farewell concert to Shea Stadium. He’s also appeared on stage with Celia Cruz, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion and many more.

John Scarpulla. His parents said he could whistle before he could speak.

By having a band who does work with other artists, it’s become increasingly more difficult to keep the Funk Filharmonik on a schedule. Their 25.5 show will be their second gig this year. Next month they’ll play the after party for the Drama Desk Awards in New York City. But for close to 18 years, they performed on the last Thursday of every month at the Brokerage Pub in Long Island. Today, regardless of how many times they get together on stage, they always find a way to play their annual “Funksgiving” concert on the day after Thanksgiving.

Melendez is counting down the days to the 25.5 concert. Even after all these years and playing around the world, he loves coming home. Music has always been in him, and he credits his talents to his Puerto Rican background where there was alwaysmusic and dancing at every family function. In the fourth grade Melendez started playing the trombone. He admits he only chose the instrument because his best friend played it too. It became his passion and from then on he knew he would have a career in music. His parents encouraged his dream.

“Never once did they ever—never ever—did they say anything other than ‘go ahead,” Melendez says.

Now at 48, he’s thinking about the future. He says he may possibly consider getting his degree so he won’t have to go out on tour when he’s in his sixties. He’s also starting a school with Scarpulla. Next year he’d also like to concentrate on putting together a new album with the band.

Although everyone in the band realizes they could be doing so much together, they are rarely in the same area due to their hectic touring schedules. It’s what has become known as “The curse of the Funk Filharmonik.” When they do come together, their fans go all out; sometimes renting out hotel rooms in New York City and having what they call a “Funk Weekend.”

“We’re a family, Melendez says. “We have a loyal following. Every time we do a show, we get sellouts, and there are people who have been to every one—every one.”

The Funk Filharmonik is hoping to see all of their fans at The Crazy Donkey to celebrate 25.5 years in what Scarpulla says is a “must-see event” featuring “a group of guys who love what they do and who they’re doing it with.”

The Funk Filharmonik plays the Crazy Donkey in Farmingdale, N.Y. on April 22. Show starts at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit their website here.

Published 2011


One Response to “Funk Filharmonik Exclusive”


  1. 25.5 Years of Funk « dustin fitzharris - April 17, 2011

    […] Funk Filharmonik Exclusive […]

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