Originally created 08/02/96

Just Us just wants to have fun



AIKEN - Just Us is a jazz band with a twist.

This eclectic seven-member group deviates from regular jazz by combining it with a potpourri of soul, rhythm and blues, gospel and a tad of country.

"We like having a good time, being on the edge; we just like to have fun," said bass guitarist Nic Starr, sporting a bald head, earring and tattoo. "We're always having fun, even during practice."

That fun is evident on stage and has earned the musicians regular stints performing at BL's Restaurant and Touch of Class in Augusta and Noah's in Aiken.

In September, they placed third out of 30 groups in a battle-of-the-bands competition at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Now the group is working on its first recording, an album of original songs to be released in October.

The band started in 1989 when Mr. Starr and Fred "Richie Rich" Richardson, the band's laid-back keyboardist, met while serving Army stints in Hawaii. They say they were "playing around and having fun" with musical instruments before they started putting on shows and performing at talent contests for the military.

"At the time it was just us - he and I, that's how we got the name," Mr. Richardson said. "Nic moved to Augusta in 1990, and I followed in 1994. We hooked up again and started playing music in a gospel band."

The gospel gig lasted three months before the duo decided to play jazz.

"To us, music has no color, meaning we don't just play for one crowd," said the Fort Gordon sergeant. "We just hope people enjoy it."

The lineup expanded in 1995 with the addition of Michael "Pops" Holmes, a synthesizer player, and then Luther Smalls, a saxophonist who is no longer with the group. They later picked up lead guitarist Barry White and then drummer Jerome "J-Money" Monroe.

Recent additions are vocalist Karen Brown and saxophonist Sherry Puryear.

Mr. Starr says he's pleased with the progress the band has made. "It's a great sense of accomplishment to go from beating on keyboards and making noise to people paying money to come out and see you."

`We want our music to portray earthy but sophisticated music," said Mr. White, an energetic spit-fire who is a Fort Gordon project officer.

Sophistication is out the door during practice sessions.}

Band members, most of whom have had to acquire thick skins after joining the group, are often pelted by jokes from other members about their feet or attire. During this interview, in fact, Mr. White made it a point to kid Ms. Puryear about her exceptionally short haircut.

"You don't have to worry about me asking you to cut it," she countered shrewdly. A sense of playfulness is not always evident, but it's always present.

"Sometimes we have a song and practice it over and over again, and the night of the show I'll switch it up again," Mr. Starr said with an impish grin. "I purposely try to throw the other band members off.

"I'll start a different song than we planned to keep it interesting and new. It's always a party."

Musical aspirations don't end with the impending release of the compact disc.

Mr. Holmes, a single father of three, wants any proceeds from his music to benefit his family.

"I want to give back to my children, be it college money or a nice car to go to college in," he said. "One day I want to be there and they can see a CD (from the band) and give it to their friends."

Mr. Monroe and Mr. White say they want to use the band as a vehicle to give back to the community.

"I'd like to see the group grow to the point that we have so much money we can take one grid of a community and rebuild it," Mr. Monroe said. "Giving from the heart is a better way to receive blessings."

Ms. Brown and Ms. Puryear have aspirations of performing professionally.

Mr. Starr, forever the trickster, became serious and pensive when stating his goals.

"I will continue with the band, but I would like to produce (musical) shows using children," said the father of three, a Riverside Middle School teacher's aide. "Children are our future and our most precious resource."

All of the band members except Mr. Richardson also plan to remain with the band as long as possible. The Army will send Mr. Richardson to Korea in October, but he says he wants to hook up with the band when he returns.

Meanwhile, members say they plan to perform at musicrelated community events to give people - especially youth - positive reinforcement.

"We want to let children know there is more to life than gang-banging. They do have options," Mr. Monroe said. "Without that knowledge you have no options."}

For Jerome "J-Money" Monroe, the Augusta jazz band "Just Us" is likened to cheese and crackers.

"We go together real well," said the bubbly Fort Gordon nursing educator and drummer with this seven-member band.

Sounds from this eclectic group, formed in 1989, deviate from regular jazz, combining a potpourri of soul, rhythm and blues, gospel and a tad of country. Members also revert back to music from old school bands like Earth, Wind and Fire .

The band is presently recording and producing tunes for a compact disc to consist of all original songs. It's scheduled to hit music stores in October.

They also placed third out of 30 bands at the annual Battle of the Bands contest held last September at Fort. Belvoir in Virginia. Military bands compete in the contest.

"We like having a good time, being on the edge; we just like to have fun," said bass guitarist Nic Starr, sporting a bald head, earring and tattoo. "We're always having fun, even during practice."

That's precisely how the band got its start.

When Mr. Starr and Fred "Richie Rich" Richardson, the band's laid-back keyboardist, met while stationed in Hawaii in 1989, they say they were "playing around and having fun" with musical instruments before they started putting on shows and performing at talent shows for the military.

"At the time it was just us - him and I," Mr. Richardson said. "That's how we got the name "Just Us. Nic moved to Augusta in 1990 and I followed in 1994. We hooked up again and started playing music in a gospel band."

The gospel gig lasted for three months before the duo decided to play jazz. They posted their need for additional members through word-of-mouth.

They first secured Michael "Pops" Holmes, a synthesizer player, in 1995, and then Luther Smalls, a saxophonist who is no longer with the group. They later picked up lead guitarist Barry White and then Mr. Monroe.

They just recently added vocalist Karen Brown and saxophonist Sherry Puryear to the group, made up mostly of self-taught musicians. Ms. Brown is an Army sergeant, while Ms. Puryear is a waitress.

Mr. Starr says he's impressed with the progress the band has made, stating, "It's a great sense of accomplishment to go from beating on keyboards and making noise to people paying money to come out and see you."

The band has been seen in various places, from wedding receptions and town picnics, to various Augusta clubs like BL's Supper Club and Touch of Class. They've even played at Noah's, an Aiken night spot.

"We want our music to portray earthy but sophisticated music," said Mr. White, an energetic spit-fire who is a Fort Gordon project officer.

Sophistication is out the door during practice sessions. Band members, most of whom have had to acquire thick skins after joining the group, are often pelted by jokes from other members about their feet or attire. During this interview, in fact, Mr. White made it a point to kid Ms. Puryear about her exceptionally short haircut.

"You don't have to worry about me asking you to cut it," she countered shrewdly.

Mr. Starr, has also been known to bring his own bag of tricks on stage during live performances.

"Sometimes we have a song and practice it over and over again, and the night of the show I'll switch it up again," Mr. Starr said with an impish grin. "I purposely try to throw the other band members off.

"I'll start a different song than we planned to keep it interesting and new. It's always a party."

Band members are quick to agree, but when asked about their long-term goals for the band, replies varied.

"I want to give back to my children, be it college money or a nice car to go to college in," said soft-spoken Mr. Holmes, who is a single father of three and a communications teacher at Fort Gordon. "One day I want to be there and they can see a CD (from the band) and give it to their friends."

For Mr. Richardson, people enjoying the band's music is enough.

"To us, music has no color, meaning we don't just play for one crowd," said the Fort Gordon sergeant. "We just hope people enjoy it."

Mr. Monroe and Mr. White say they want to use the band as a vehicle to give back to the community.

"I'd like to see the group grow to the point that we have so much money we can take one grid of a community and rebuild it," Mr. Monroe said. "Giving from the heart is a better way to receive blessings."

Ms. Brown and Ms. Puryear have aspirations of performing professionally.

Mr. Starr, forever the trickster, became serious and pensive when stating his goals.

"I will continue with the band, but I would like to produce (musical) shows using children," said the Riverside Middle School teacher's aide and father of three. "Children are our future and our most precious resource."

All of the band members, except Mr. Richardson, also plan to remain with the band as long as possible. The Army will send Mr. Richardson to Korea in October, but says he hopes to hook up with the band whenever he returns.

Meanwhile, members say they plan to perform at music-related community events to give people - especially youth - positive reinforcement.

"We want to let children know there is more to life than gang-banging. They do have options," Mr. Monroe said. "Without that knowledge you have no options."