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Live in Gallery Lounge: Burnt Sugar Jazz Quintet

Feb 21, 2024  ·  5 min read

Burnt Sugar is the latest jazz-funk group to take to the stage at Gallery Lounge, filling ears with sweet and soulful sounds that belie their teenage years. Comprised of Max Horn on guitar, Oliver Livingstone on bass, Leo Cattell on drums, Loki Sparksman on sax and Greer Castle on vocals, Burnt Sugar evolved organically as a band of live music street performers united by their penchant for the groove of funk, swing and jazz. We chatted to the group ahead of their late summer residency at ours.


Max, Oliver, Leo, Loki and Greer, hello! Tell us how Burnt Sugar came to be?

We are all good friends and all described as old souls, wise beyond our years. Wellington’s contagious energy is expressed through music and art, and much of our upbringing has been absorbing the harmony and syncopation that fuels the heart of this wonderful city we call home. We hail from different suburbs and schools in Wellington, but music has brought us together through another band some of us play in together called The Side Characters and also through big band competitions and the Ngā Korimako Choir.

This past summer, we decided to busk together at Cuba Street. It proved to be very successful, with a gathering of about 100 people stopping by to enjoy and dance to our music. As we played more together, we morphed into the group we are today.

Performing on Cuba Street

We first discovered Burnt Sugar busking on Cuba Street. It was such a vibe! Who are your musical inspirations?

Laufey, Herbie Hancock, Vulfpeck, Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, Louie Armstrong, Jamiroquai, Etta James, Rodger Fox, and our local legends Mel Stevenson Band, to name a few of our inspirations.


How long have you been playing for? Tell us about your musical career to-date.

Greer: I started singing at age six. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of jazz but in the past I have enjoyed musical theatre and classical styles. In the past year I released three of my own songs and won multiple awards at singing competitions and jazz festivals.

Loki: I’ve been playing saxophone for three and a half years. I also play with another band, and we won ‘Best Song’ at Rockquest. I participated and helped record ‘Brainstorm’, from Kiwi Kids for Causes.

Oliver: I’ve been playing bass for two months but music has been a big part of my life for almost ten years. I also play bass and sing for The Side Characters and guitar for Wellington College’s Jazz Band.

Leo: I’ve been playing drums for seven years but took a year long break to learn piano. I play piano in The Side Characters and I compose and write songs. I also enjoy collaborating in other projects.

Max: I’ve played guitar for nine years but I also play drums, piano, sax, bass, double bass, and also sing write songs and compose. I’ve worked with some very accomplished musicians and am proud to call them my mentors. I’ve performed at Queenstown Winter Festival, the Michael Hill International Violin Competition, Tauranga Jazz Festival, Palmerston North Jazz Festival, Big Sing, Rockquest, School Musicals, and have recorded singles through the Play It Strange Foundation, amongst others. My favourite is creating, jamming and performing with Burnt Sugar and The Side Characters.

A very impressive resume so far. Tell us about your aspirations for Burnt Sugar?

There is simply no other experience in life comparable to a great live music performance, so we want to share with our audience that collective feeling of live music. It’s indescribable and it’s unique. It’s the true epitome of living in the moment. We want our audience to experience the goose bumps and frisson, the happiness and emotions, and dance and sing with us if they feel like it.

We also hope to inspire people of any age to pick up and learn an instrument and feel the joy of playing music, singing and performing. Music is about shared experiences and connection, and we want people to feel that in a deep way.

Loki, Greer, Oliver, Leo and Max are Burnt Sugar

And lastly, what can guests expect from your Gallery Lounge residency?

Max: Greer’s refreshingly powerful dulcet ‘feathery’ vocals are just so full of character, warmth and she has a unique melody to her tone. Her wonderful vocals complement the skills and groove of each of the Burnt Sugar instrumental components and layers, making this musical experience slicker than rock candy sliding down a honey bun. You won’t want to miss this true unique soulful Wellington Experience at QT.


Check out Burnt Sugar performing live Fridays during February and March in Gallery Lounge. Keep up to date with the latest band happenings via Instagram with @burntsugarmusic and @therealsidecharacters

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