Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

New Tarpon Springs band will revive forgotten musical era


Before rock music and before the Beatles, when "jazz" was still a naughty word, music swung before there was even such a thing as swing.

"It was an era of constant innovation," said Dan Fox, a local composer and arranger.

Musicians playing ragtime and early jazz wore tuxedos or evening gowns. Couples danced foxtrots and tangos, holding each other and moving together.

That's what Fox, 80, wants to bring to Tarpon Springs.

"It's so old that it will be new," he said.

About a dozen musicians tried to capture that lively sound Wednesday at the first weekly playing session of the new Tarpon Springs community band. Sitting in folding chairs at the Heritage Museum, the musicians ranged in age from a 24-year-old tuba player just out of college to an 82-year-old banjo strummer who says he has jammed with just about every group around town.

But they all showed up for the same reason: They just wanted to play.

"I'm getting old, and no one is calling me for gigs anymore," 45-year-old Steve Boisen said jovially from behind a big double bass.

Sheet music spilled over music stands. Fox had bought and transcribed arrangements from a very precise time period, 1909 to 1934.

A saxophone and a trumpet flirted back and forth in The Very Thought of You. They perked up with a jauntier Rhythm King, then channeled Louis Armstrong with Once in a While.

Feet tapped out the beat. The saxophonist shrugged her shoulder to the soulful melody. Fox sang along, sometimes acting out the missing percussion parts.

Except for those absent roles — a second trumpet, a trombone, drums, maybe another saxophone — the new group started to come together.

Community bands abound in Pinellas County, where scores of talented musicians seek places to play. They volunteer their music in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin and South Pasadena.

"It's a real cultural gem for any city to be able to support these types of groups," said Louis Alan Zagar, music director and conductor for the Dunedin Concert Band. "Without them, the talents would simply wither on the vine."

Free concerts make live music accessible to residents who might not hear these types of tunes anywhere else.

"We bring back memories," Zagar said, "past memories of their lives, with the music we play."

Perhaps the largest group in the county, the Dunedin Concert Band puts more than 80 musicians on the stage in concerts that mimic the Boston Pops Orchestra's. In Tarpon Springs, the community band, which Fox hopes will be called the Nighthawks, will fill a niche with a smaller effort that's more focused on a single specialty.

With such a small group, there's no bigger sound to blend into — each instrument hits a distinct part, and there are plenty of solo opportunities. "There's no place to hide in a place like this," Fox said.

His grand vision flows from a long history with music. Fox remembers huddling by the back door of a jazz club as a teenager in Greenwich Village. He grew into a prolific writer of song books and exercise books before retiring to Tarpon Springs about 20 years ago.

Now he subscribes to YouTube channels and composes neatly printed music on the computer. Too in love with music to find many other interests, he has written an opera and nearly finished a cantata.

But Fox doesn't play anymore. He can't play the way he used to.

Instead, he taught a sight-reading class. And this year, he has the band.

He bets his wife is thinking that it's time for him to retire again. But he feels there's a spot in the local arts scene for his favorite kinds of songs.

"In the music business," he said, "you never know what's going to be a hit."

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]

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