My Debt to Mousey and the Jazz Club of Sarasota
By 1986 I had already been in Florida for 9 years. I was graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in May, 1977 and immediately moved down to Ft. Myers to take a steady 6-night-a -week music job there. By 1983 I made the move to the Orlando area and soon thereafter landed a staff job at Disney World.
In those days Orlando had a wealth of accomplished jazz players, a few of them holding down full-time positions at one of the Disney theme parks. The biggest jazz star in Orlando was the great drummer Mousey Alexander. A teeny bit of a guy, Mousey had toured and recorded with Benny Goodman for over 15 years, played a long New York residency at the Half Note with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and was often hired by such leaders as Clark Terry, Sauter/Finegan and Doc Severinsen to provide his happy, swinging propulsion to their big bands.
Mousey was a member of a very rarefied elite of top swinging jazz drummers, but in 1980 he suffered a stroke and heart attack that left him paralyzed on one side. He decided to slow down, rehabilitate and move to Longwood, FL near Olrando. He continued to play drums. He organized a Monday night jam session at a series of night clubs and restaurants in the area. Mousey’s Monday nights became the epicenter of the jazz scene in Orlando, where players could get known, network, and sit in with Mousey and the best players in town.
After I got to town Mousey invited me to play some of the Monday jams. I became a regular and got to play other gigs, concerts and jazz cruises with Mousey. Then one day in 1986 he invited me to go down to Sarasota to play a concert with him for the Jazz Club of Sarasota. Mousey’s friend Hal Davis had founded the club in 1980. Hal had been Benny Goodman’s publicist, and the two men had a long professional and personal association and friendship. Hal was then executing his plan of greatly expanding the club’s membership by presenting quality concerts featuring the great swinging players he had known in New York, among them many Goodman Band alumni.
Hal was a master of promotion–he had been the president of a major New York advertising and PR firm. Right on his concert program notes Hal would include a short paragraph introducing the featured artist for the next concert, along with a short explanation: “These artists are new (to you),” but nonetheless the member would be rewarded for discovering them. In this way Hal educated his membership and provided the artistic leadership that built the brand of the Jazz Club of Sarasota into what it eventually became by the time of his passing in 1990: one of the largest and most active jazz societies in the US.
After my first JCofS concert with Mousey, Hal hired me for many more. He was very encouraging to me. He told me, “All of the guys I’ve brought down from New York have told me how much they enjoyed your playing.” The feeling was mutual. Clearly I had found a home. Before my eventual move to San Antonio in 1991 I was privileged to appear at Sarasota Middle School and Van Wezel Hall, almost on a monthly basis, it seemed, with some of the true greats of swinging jazz: Don Lamond, Don Goldie, Spanky Davis, Dick Meldonian, Bob Rosengarden, Warren Vaché Jr., Scott Hamilton, Joe Wilder, John Bunch, Ira Sullivan, Ken Peplowski, and the late clarinetist Kenny Davern.
The Jim Cullum Jazz Band began auditioning bass fiddle players after the death in 1990 of Jack Wyatt, who had held the position for decades. For ideas on replacements, Cullum called his friend Kenny Davern, with whom I had by this time played at the JCofS. Davern recommended me for the job. On New Years Day 1991 my wife Rosie and I and our dog headed out for the long drive to San Antonio with all our possessions. For over 18 years I played nightly with Cullum’s band at the Landing Jazz Club on the Riverwalk in San Antonio and toured the US and abroad with them. I recorded many hours of radio shows with them and their guests, many of whom I already knew from the JCofS dates. I also got to work with and know Dick Hyman and Bob Haggart, both of whom settled in the Sarasota area.
Rosie and I made the return trip in 2010 to resettle in Cape Coral. Since then I have become reacquainted with the JCofS and some of its leaders who have taken over for Hal. One notable concert was in 2011 with the young swinging jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein at Holley Hall. Another memorable appearance for me was introducing to the JCofS (at a “Fridays at Two”) the quintet with which I work in Naples and Fort Myers during the season, co-led by trumpeter Dan Miller and saxophonist Lew DelGatto. Coming up next October 16 and 17 I will be representing the JCofS leading a group of my favorite players from North Port and St. Petersburg, comprised of pianist Billy Marcus, drummer/vocalist Patricia Dean and trombone champion Herb Bruce, for the Ringling International Arts Festival “Jazz Sunsets on the Bay.”