Where I’m At These Days
I first came to Florida in 1977 as a recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music with a degree in tuba performance. My interest in early jazz brought me to a restaurant/nightclub in Ft. Myers called the Levee, just across from the yacht basin on the Caloosahatchee. The job was with a ragtime/sing-along quartet led by tenor banjo player Bob Adams. There was also a regular Dixieland jazz Monday night with more horn players and a good drummer: Chris Deladurantay. Out of the 4 guys in that band, 3 of us met women in the club whom we later married. I’m the only one still married to mine.
By the early ’80s I had morphed into a double bassist and resumed my study of more modern forms of jazz. My teachers were the Naples pianists Joel Benefiel and Cookie Norwood, and the great New Orleans guitarist/reedman Paul Guma, who had retired to Marco Island. The bassist Don Mast introduced me to the cult of the wood bass. All of these fine fellows are gone now.
Fast forward to the end of 1990. We were living in Kissimmee, near Orlando. I was making a decent living free-lancing around Central Florida, working the theme parks and convention gigs. I was also putting lots of miles on cars, seeking out jazz wherever I could find it: Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg. Thanks to the drummer Mousey Alexander and others, I had already established myself with various Florida jazz presenters, most notably the Jazz Club of Sarasota, for whom I drove down from Kissimmee to play with New York veterans like Kenny Davern, Spanky Davis, John Bunch, Don Goldie, Dick Meldonian, Ken Peplowski, Bobby Rosengarden, Jerry Jerome, Warren Vaché and Scott Hamilton.
I also got to know trombonist Dan Barrett, guitarist Howard Alden and saxophone icon Flip Phillips at the Gold Coast Jazz Society in Vero Beach.
In November I got a call from Jim Cullum of San Antonio, TX. He invited me to fly out to audition for his band. They were playing 6 nights a week at The Landing at the Hyatt Regency on the San Antonio River Walk. The national Riverwalk, Live From The Landing public radio series (now known as Riverwalk Jazz) had started the previous year.
After Rosie and I talked about it, we decided to take the plunge and join up with this outfit. We arrived in San Antonio in early January 1991 with our dog, 2 cars and possessions in a U-Haul. The band was at that time still doing quite a bit of touring outside of the club. Cullum warned me, “after we get into our touring season you’ll be gasping for air.” He was right.
Here’s what sticks with me from those years:
I learned a hell of a lot about pre-WWII “hot” jazz from all the band members and had fun collaborating with Jim and Executive Producer Margaret Moos Pick on creating the radio shows.
On the Landing bandstand I stood in a corner at the back, so I never needed an amplifier for the bass. I became a convert to the “unplugged” school of bass playing. To this day I am not a big fan of the bass amplifier.
The band swung a lot, and a lot of it got recorded. The show is still on the air and XM/Sirius, and you can hear me on most of the tracks.
For most of the years the band made an extended trip to Northern California to teach and concertize, thanks to the generosity of Chuck Huggins—a great friend of jazz. This area does not suck. Met a lot of other great people there, too.
By 2009 we decided it was time to migrate back to the Sunshine State where my wife’s and some of my family are. Because of the recession it took us a long time to sell our house, but we finally made it to a nice little place in Cape Coral in June of 2010.
Southwest Floridians remember that summer: the recession and BP gulf oil spill (it was a tourist perception only; no actual oil reached our pristine shell beaches) were choking off what was left of the music work.
I soon discovered more bad news: after being spoiled for 19 years working for one bandleader passionately committed to acoustic jazz played authentically on real instruments, I found that the tech-enabled easy-profit motive in SW Florida and elsewhere had created a widespread practice of electronic “keyboard” players cutting out bass jobs by playing the bass parts with their left hand, pedals, or (worse yet) digital tracks.
Things looked grim for my playing prospects. I spent a lot of time making the rounds, paying dues, sitting in, playing for next to nothing or free. I shook my head when I discovered that audiences (and even some musicians) had forgotten what a bass even looked, much less sounded like. I supplemented my music income trickle with production work for Riverwalk Jazz. We muddled through.
July and August passed this way, Then in September I began to work here and there for pay. I also managed to make many new acquaintances and musical contacts and renew old ones in Punta Gorda, Venice, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Orlando. By November I had a few steady nights in Ft. Myers and Naples.
New Year’s Eve of 2010 was a gas: Orlando bandleader and trombone virtuoso Bill Allred hired me to play with his big band for a huge Swing Dance in St. Petersburg at the Coliseum. Every player in the band that night was a top guy in any state, including old pals Ed Metz Jr., Randy Morris, Herb Bruce, Dave McKenzie. We played charts by Basie, Buddy Rich, Tonight Show, etc. I had so much fun I forgot it was a New Years gig.
After May 1, 2011, I discovered that most music jobs in this part of Florida have an “expiration date,” that being when the snowbirds go back up north. Except for the Roadhouse Cafe—they kept me working through the summer.
Then, a lucky break: around June I was hired by the California photographer and author William Carter, whom I had known as a jazz clarinetist. Bill is a great artist and friend, and it’s been fun for me to help him discover the digital world and connect with his audience that way.
In early August I flew out to Davenport, IA to play at the 30th annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival with Dick Hyman and Peter Appleyard (we were sponsored by Mat Domber of Arbors Jazz—another great supporter of classic jazz). The next week, Jim Cullum flew me out to Dallas to record his Playing With Fire, a 3-movement piece co-composed by Frank Ticheli for jazz band and concert orchestra, in this instance the Dallas Wind Symphony.
The 2012-13 season is gearing up. Here’s my gig calendar. Some highlights:
Starting Sunday November 11 at the Bay House in Naples with guitarist/singer Rick Howard and drummer Bill E. Peterson. I met Ricky in Naples in 2010.
Rick, Bill and I began working at the Bay House for the 2010-11 season. The Bay House sits on a wild piece of land on the Cocohatchee River close to the Gulf of Mexico, upon which there are no other structures. Diners have a spectacular view of this wild setting while enjoying fine cuisine and wines. We play in the lounge in the back in a wooden stage enclosure that is very friendly to wooden instruments.
Rick is a fiercely talented guitarist/vocalist from Brooklyn, NY who has mastered large swathes of American music. We discovered that, for this trio at least (Rick also leads a popular Tuesday “blues jam” at Freddy Rebel’s in Naples where he rocks out on solid-body), we share an “old school” approach to jazz and blues, which to me means that swinging is always Job #1. Bill’s drumming adds a lot to the groove. We get to do some of the ’30s Nat Cole Trio tunes, some old guitar blues, and burn some of the good old lounge standards. This is a fun gig and patrons (and the owners) seemed to dig it a lot.
This group has a CD out called “Hit That Jive, Jack!” Click here to hear selected tracks.
Notes on some interesting miscellaneous gigs:
Last year I began working with the St. Petersburg pianist Billy Marcus, who has put in many years in Florida, particularly Miami. He was this year inducted into the Florida Music Hall of Fame. Billy has an advanced technique and harmonic vocabulary. His mom was the great New York and Cape Code stride player Marie Marcus, and every once in a while you can hear some Fats Waller right-hand figures in Billy’s playing. I did a few dates in Venice with Billy and the strong Tampa-based jazz and blues singer Denise Moore. The 3 of us played New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Sarasota Ritz-Carleton along with drummer Steve Buckholtz. I will be playing with Billy and the excellent drummer/vocalist Patricia Dean on Friday, December 21st, at JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte.
November 2011 I played a concert here in Ft. Myers at Shell Point Retirement Community with pianist Dick Hyman and Canadian vibist Peter Appleyard. Both are legendary octogenarian veterans of Benny Goodman. I played on many hours of the Riverwalk Jazz series with Dick over the years as well as many concert dates with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band.
January 20, 2012 I was at the Jazz Club of Sarasota for a concert at Holley Hall with the 26-year-old New-York-based swing violinist Aaron Weinstein and the pianist Tedd Firth, also a New Yorker. Both of these young men are dedicated swingers and very accomplished on their instruments. Aaron is also a gifted arranger as well as a humorist. I was delighted by the experience, as was everyone in the packed 300-seat concert hall.
I have been doing a few dates for the Jazz Club of Sarasota in their “Fridays at 2” series at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Fruitville Road. My latest there last month was with Sarasota trombonist/bandleader Greg Nielson and included saxophonist Tom Ellison, pianist Tom Goodman (no relation to Benny but worked for him and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars) and the amazing David Pruyn on drums, flugelhorn and vocals.
Beginning in February 2012 I began subbing almost every week for bassist Charlie Silva at the Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disney World. In this band are trombonist H Johnson (see top photo on this page) and trumpet man Davey Jones, both of whom I have known for over 30 years. This is a pleasant gig with high professional musical values. The 6-piece band plays on a balcony in a giant 5-story atrium. This amounts to a huge reverberation chamber and a big ego trip for the players. No amp necessary on the bass. The tasteful and swinging charts were written mostly by the piano player, John Katalenic. This band plays very well in tune and swings. A plus is that there are often other subs on the job, top Orlando and Tampa players, some of whom I have known for a long time like Don Mikiten, Bobby Pickwood, Charlie Bertini, Herb Bruce, and Bob Glendon, others who are newly met. I don’t mind the 3-hour drive each way: jobs like this are rare in any state.
April 2012, a trip to Texas, again to perform Playing With Fire with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and the Baylor Wind Ensemble. The night before I played with the JCJB at a restaurant in the King William district called the Liberty Bar, for the San Antonio Swing Dance Society. On the bandstand was my good friend, saxophonist Rich Oppenheim. I also got acquainted with drummer Benji Bohannon, a fine American and strong traditional/swing drummer now living in New Orleans.
On July 10 I was invited to sub for bassist Dominic Mancini at the South County Jazz Club’s regular Tuesday night jam session at Valenti’s Allegro Bistro in Venice. The club President, Morrie Trumble, is doing a great job organizing and promoting this weekly “hang” which has become quite popular with local jazz fans, even through the SWFL lean summer months. At this gig I met Rochester NY saxophonist Tom Ellison. Tom and I have been working together in a new group called Hip Pocket, mainly at the Allegro Bistro in Venice. Other members are drummer Chuck Parr and pianist/composer Matt Bokulick.
With the Jim Cullum Jazz Band: May 13-15 in San Antonio for a fundraiser for the Riverwalk Jazz public radio program at the Tobin Estate; July 25-29 for a trip to an undisclosed location in Sonoma County, CA; and the following weekend August 2-5 at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport IA.
Next: December, 2012:
- 14th: Bob Zottola Quartet, Bob Zottola, trumpet; Michael Royal, piano; Henry Ettman, drums. Presented by the South County Jazz Club. Admission is $10.00 for non-members and $5.00 for members. For information, call club president Morrie Trumble at 941-379-3345. For more on the venue, visit http://www.ringling.edu/index.php?id=1175.
- 21st: The return of Florida jazz piano icon Billy Marcus at JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte. Also featured is drummer/vocalist Patricia Dean.
Next: January, 2013:
- 12th, 19th: Concerts with banjoist/pianist/vocalist Cynthia Sayer of New York City. In 3 concerts in Bradenton, Sarasota, Englewood. Also featured at different times will be clarinetist Jim Snyder and trombonists Bill Allred and Herb Bruce.
Next: February, 2013:
- 9th: Concert with multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan and drummer/vocalist Patricia Dean at the Glen Ridge Performing Arts Center, Sarasota. Presented by the South County Jazz Club and Morrie Trumble.
- 12th: I will be leading a star-filled jazz band to play for a private Mardi Gras Party at the Isles Yacht Club in Punta Gorda. The all-Florida band consists of Lew Green, Bill Allred, Allan Vaché, Johnny Varro, Bob Leary and Greg Parnell.
- 18th: Concert for the Charlotte County Jazz Society in Punta Gorda. Leading the band will be Naples-based banjoist/guitarist/vocalist Bob Leary.