Photo by Dino Perrucci
One of the freshest faces in the jam scene is Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. At just 14, the former apprentice of Col. Bruce Hampton has a better résumé than some musicians twice his age. From artist-at-large residencies at major festivals to a starring role on Broadway, Taz has blown audiences away with his speed and skill on the electric guitar. (And, somehow, he still manages to get straight A’s at his local high school.)
“Music and school are definitely both priorities for me,” he says from his home on Long Island. After life-changing sit-ins with Gregg Allman, Widespread Panic, Buddy Guy and many more, the young guitarist has set his sights on writing original material and forming his own band. “I’m so thankful for the people who have stuck with me since I was eight years old. And I’ll be thankful for the people who stick with me when I’m 17 or 21 or 38 or 50,” he says. “Whether I’m playing to an empty venue or Madison Square Garden, I’m still going to be having so much fun.”
With surprising eloquence and composure, the teenage Taz opened up about finding his voice onstage, living with the guidance of Col. Bruce Hampton and eating Thanksgiving dinner with Twiddle’s Mihali Savoulidis. You can check out his full list of tour dates here.
So what are you studying in school right now?
I’m currently a freshman, and I’m learning about a bunch of stuff. I’m doing geometry, biology, and global history. A bunch of stuff that usually 10th graders do, but I skipped a year in some of my classes.
I take studies very seriously. As seriously as I take music, and I take that very seriously. I really love school. It’s hard, but I reward myself when I get good grades to be able to play. My mom and dad are very strict. They’re like, “If you’re not getting straight A’s, you can’t play.” So school is obviously very important.
It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders. I wanted to ask you about being taken under the wing of Col. Bruce Hampton. What were your first impressions of Col. Bruce when you met him?
When I first met Col. Bruce Hampton, I was in a restaurant called Jacques-Imo’s [in New Orleans]. The first thing he did when he saw me was guess my birthday—and he did it correctly—so I was like, “Alright, he’s a magician.” Because there’s no way he actually looked up that information. After that, I just knew that he was everything that everyone was talking about.
I grew to become his friend, and I feel like he was my friend. I would always love playing with him—he’d bring me up during shows at The Capitol Theatre, which is a great venue. He brought me there to play for my first time and let me open for his band, The Aquarium Rescue Unit, around three years ago. I mean, I just would have to say “thank you” to him. Unfortunately, he passed in May, and we all miss him. I couldn’t thank him enough for all that he’s done for me.
Looking back on your friendship with the Colonel, do you remember any advice or pearls of wisdom that he gave you that you still think back on?
He always told me to be fearless with my guitar in my hand. He told me to not be afraid of anything, to go out and try to new things, and to not hold back. He’d always say to play with intent—to play with total intention and forget about all of the things that are going on in the world right now at this moment, and just focus on making everybody in the audience happy. And just having fun. Because that’s what music is all about.
I know you’re out there playing a lot of shows, but I’m curious what kind of music you’re listening to these days?
I’m listening to a lot of jazz and a lot of fusion. I’m listening particularly to a lot of Snarky Puppy right now. I’m also listening to a lot of Allman Brothers, just like I always have been. Just everything I can get my ears to listen to, so that I can take that in and try to incorporate some of that into my playing.
Before you go out onstage, do you listen to any music to get pumped up, or do you get really zen and relaxed?
I get zen and relaxed. In my band, we do a pep talk and we huddle for the last five minutes before we go on. It’s more like zen, and getting ready to deliver all of the energy that I have for the night. I should relax before I go and rage for three hours straight, or however long the gig is.
You mentioned your band. Tell me a little about the band you’re touring with right now.
The band that I’m currently playing shows with is from Long Island. It’s my guitar teacher’s band [Mark Rechler on keys, Matthew Fox on bass, Kendall Everett on drums, Colin Logatto on sax, Mat Godfrey on rhythm guitar, Elise Testone on vocals.] He brought all of the musicians to help me, and we’ve been having so much fun. I’ve been writing all of these songs.
I’ll go to school on Monday through Friday, and then we’ll tour Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night. And then I’ll come back and do school Monday through Friday again. And there’s another kid, Colin, that does that with me. He’s a senior, and plays the saxophone. He’s amazing. He loves music like I do, and we just have so much fun. We’re always waiting until the weekend just to play.
It’s really come full circle. We’re really the best of friends now. And even aside from playing music, we’ll be playing Nintendo Switch backstage. So just to have him to be a kid with me on this tour…we just get up onstage and have so much fun together.