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After 40 years, jazz man Billy Marcus' star still bright

Billy Marcus hasn't worked a day job since 1969. And he's not about to start.

For more than 40 years, Marcus has pleased audiences with his jazz piano skills. He built huge followings in Miami and Cape Cod, Mass., and rode the ivories to gigs around the world.

Today, the 64-year-old calls St. Petersburg home, and if you think time has dented his love of jazz, guess again.

"I've had great times playing and I'm still enjoying it," he said.

Marcus joins popular local vocalist Denise Moore and other players for a gig Saturday at Ruby's Elixir in downtown St. Petersburg.

Don't be surprised if some of his South Florida faithful dot the audience, and a few sport Billy Marcus T-shirts.

T-shirts? When Marcus, the son of musicians, began his ascension in Miami, his brand grew thanks to a chance idea.

"The first job I had in Miami was at a jazz club called the Travelers Lounge," Marcus explained. "I was out by the pool with the owner and the bass player and the lady in the coffee shop, they had been to the mall in Miami.

"They came back with these T-shirts that said, 'I Know Billy Marcus' and 'What is Billy Marcus?' The manager liked it so much he had the help wear Billy Marcus T-shirts."

Soon the shirts displayed all kinds of sayings: "Send Billy Marcus To Camp," "Billy Marcus Uses The Rhythm Method" and "Billy Marcus For President." Between sets, Marcus asked jazz trivia questions and the winners received T-shirts.

"We probably gave away 7,000 or 8,000 over a period of time," Marcus said. "It's one of the things that helped the quartet grow."

The T-shirts helped, but so did Marcus' considerable talent. He had to be good to open for top acts like Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and Dexter Gordon.

In 1982, Miami/South Florida Magazine named Marcus the city's best musician.

After spending most of his career in South Florida, Marcus landed lucrative engagements at five-star hotels, including in Shanghai and Dubai.

He returned to Florida two years ago to spend some time with sisters in St. Petersburg, and ended up staying. Denise Moore found out and asked if Marcus would join her for a small gig in Tampa.

"He agreed and he blew my mind,'' Moore said. "He's amazing. I said, 'Okay, can you be my pianist forever?' "

Since then, Marcus has joined in on a number of engagements, including A Jazz History CD recorded by Moore's group at the Palladium.

On Saturday, Marcus will revel in the old-style ambience of Ruby's and hope listeners match his enthusiasm.

"If you get some kind of energy back from your audience, that really spurs you on," he said.

Maybe the next T-shirt should read: "Show some love for Billy Marcus."

That's all I'm saying.

.If you go

Denise Moore and Then Some

With Billy Marcus and Rodney Rojas

When: 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday

Where: Ruby's Elixir, 15 Third St. N

After 40 years, jazz man Billy Marcus' star still bright 05/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 11:47am]
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