Growing up in Wauwatosa, Mike Maher knew what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing.
"I started playing the trumpet when I was eight and decided to be a pro trumpet player when I was 15," Maher said. "On lunch periods I would spend my time in the band room, playing records and practicing."
Maher went to Marquette University High School in Milwaukee and credits band director Randy Skowronski as one of the big influences on his life and still talks with him all these years later.
"He was such an independent. He had a thirst for jazz and he couldn't get enough of it," Skowronski said of Maher. "We used to spend a lot of time going through parts of music listening for trumpets."
Maher recently received his third Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in 2016 as a member of the band Snarky Puppy. The album, Culcha Vulcha, is described on the band's website as a return to their roots as an instrumental ensemble and a departure from their signature way of recording "live in the studio." Maher said he is not sure if the album's name refers to anything, but it simply sounds good.
"We had done six or more live performance (albums) and that is what we are known for and became our thing," Maher said. "Everyone has the desire to do something different."
The band's website describes the band as a combination of jazz, funk, world, soul and pop and says "Snarky Puppy isn't exactly a jazz band. It's not a fusion band and it's definitely not a jam band … It's probably best to … take them as they are rather than judge them for what they are not."
"It felt like the right time to do something like this," Maher said. "We wanted to make sounds that could only be created in a studio environment. Separated and controlled."
Maher said the sound is a result of an evolution that began when the band began to play together in Brooklyn in 2005.
"We were a modern instrumental jazz band at the very beginning," Maher said. "The sound of fusion became more prominent on the third or fourth album."
Snarky Puppy takes shape
After graduating from high school in 2000, Maher went to the University of North Texas in Denton Texas where he was a member of the Grammy-nominated jazz ensemble The One O'clock Lab Band. It was there that the roots of Snarky Puppy began to take shape.
Skowronski said that North Texas is the most well-known jazz program in the world and boasts former members such as Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band, Lou Marini from the Blue Brothers and Marvin Stamm.
"It's nice to see him getting recognition for his career," Skowronski said. "He's a total musician."
Skowronski said one aspect he admires about Maher's playing is that he tries to add his instrument into the band as a whole and incorporates his sound into the entire group.
Snarky Puppy is about to embark on a world tour that will see stops in Australia, Japan and all over Europe.
"We've toured Europe quite a few times," Maher said. "In some ways our following is bigger over there than in the U.S."
Maher said the band does not make it to the Milwaukee area very often, but he has fond memories of burgers and custard stands and spending time at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. But when he does make it back to Wisconsin, he makes sure to give back to those who helped him in his career.
"Snarky Puppy came to MUHS and spent time with the students," Skowronski said. "The kids had a blast working with them."
In addition to Snarky Puppy, Maher does some teaching and leads his own band called Maz. He is the lead singer and composer for the group, which released its first EP in the spring of 2012.