Beast Wellington, in full roar, seems too big of a band for Bogart's, where the bar stools are effectively the third row. The group's all-girl horn section pours out unison lines over a funky stream of rubbery bass lines, chicken-scratch guitar and a madly propulsive undercurrent of syncopated beats. Singer Samantha Hewlett, who also performs in the hip-hop band Photosynthesizers, more than holds her own, melody for melody and growl for growl, while the ensemble powers through its set.
Leading from the front, trumpeter Mark Ingraham is professional and focused. He takes a crowd-rousing solo, and while acknowledging the applause with a nod, steps back to check the sound balance. After eight years as a working musician, he's playing at least four nights a week, 250 shows a year, slicing his time between three of the hardest-working area groups: regional favorites the D.J. Williams Projekt, salsa kings Bio Ritmo and, every Wednesday night, Beast Wellington. He's a first-call sideman for soul legends the O'Jays when they tour the area, and he frequently tours with his cousin, hip-hop and modern tap dance master Savion Glover.
Making a living playing music requires fluently switching between styles and roles, charming crowds of jazz purists, jam band neo hippies and serious big-city salsa aficionados alike. Ingraham takes it all in stride — even his most vital, propulsive and unpredictable solos have a polished sense of destination. "It can be jazz, funk, anything," he says. "Good music will always shine through."
"I really love the career path of Quincy Jones." Ingraham says. "He did whatever was in his heart." Jones started as a big-band jazz trumpeter and arranger and became one of the giants of the music business producing legendary projects such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller," "We Are the World" and Miles Davis' last concert; he also composed a swarm of successful movie scores. "I don't want to just be known as a trumpet player," Ingraham says, "and I want to reach out to as many people as possible." On rare nights off he expands his awareness by drawing omnivorously from the diverse local arts scene. "I burn out if my soul's not right," he says. "I can literally run out of inspiration [so I] go see a play and come back and write two songs."
Ingraham's long-term perspective regularly takes him to New York — a short hop from his native Orange, N.J. He gigs and networks, but has never quite reached the point at which he felt it made sense to make the career jump back north. That's partly because however glamorous the big city, it's impossible to keep up the level of activity vital to career momentum. "I talk to [New York City] players who say they are 'very busy' if they have only five or six gigs a month," he says.
As time goes by, the burgeoning Richmond scene has become more difficult to leave — especially for someone like Ingraham, who's played with virtually every band that has horns, including No BS Brass Band and the Oregon Hill Funk All Stars.
Beast Wellington was built on the foundation of his successful previous band, Bungalo 6, retooled around the vocal talent of his then-girlfriend Margaux LeSourd. "I noticed some of the best players in the Virginia Commonwealth University jazz orchestra were female, and thought it would be sweet if I could find an all-girl horn section," he says. Along with trumpeter Mary Lawrence, Maureen Wisniewski and saxophonist Suzi Fisher, the Beast features bassist Delbert Englert, guitarist Chris Ryan and drummer Devonne Harris.
"I've learned a lot running a band about myself, about business, about working with friends," Ingraham says about leading the Beast. "Mostly I've learned to let things go that I can't control." After LeSourd left for Seattle, Ingraham recruited singer Samantha Hewitt. Like replacing romantic candlelight with a blowtorch, the move transformed the band's sound.
With a new CD about to drop, the 30-something Ingraham says he feels a lot of doors opening without having to leave Richmond. "I've been blessed," he says. "The gigs are fulfilling, I am writing a lot more music and making enough money to live. I've been getting into buying paintings by local artists." In a placeless digital-music era, it seems like there's no place like home.
Mark Ingraham and Beast Wellington celebrate the release of their first CD, "Ladies and Gentlemen," at Bogart's, 1903 W. Cary St., on July 6 at 9 p.m. Admission is free. Ingraham also plays every Tuesday night with the D.J. Williams Projekt at Café Diem. For more, go to markingraham.com.