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Senior band puts a song in the hearts of assisted living residents

Southwest Senior Band members Evelyn Dinsmore on accordion, Bruce Wallace on guitar and Ralph Harper on banjo perform a ditty for the Sabal Palms assisted living facility crowd in Largo.

PIPER CASTILLO | Times

Southwest Senior Band members Evelyn Dinsmore on accordion, Bruce Wallace on guitar and Ralph Harper on banjo perform a ditty for the Sabal Palms assisted living facility crowd in Largo.

LARGO

It's Wednesday afternoon at Southwest Recreation Complex. The sound of squeaking basketball shoes echoes from the gym as a men's pickup game is played out during lunchtime.

Tennis players rush down the hall to get to the outside courts.

Inside Classroom A, musicians gather with their flutes, trumpets, guitars, banjos, keyboards and accordions.

The Southwest Senior Band brings together about a dozen local musicians about 65 to 85 whose repertoire includes Broadway tunes, patriotic songs and big-band classics.

The band began meeting in January. Originally, coordinator Elaine Brown planned on creating a casual kitchen band like the one she operated for the city from 1988 to 1995 at the old Senior Center downtown.

"In the old Largo Kitchen Band, we used everything from kazoos to pots and pans,'' she said.

But not in this band.

Although the group includes some beginning musicians who didn't start playing until they were over 60, several members were career musicians, Brown said.

There's J.J. Silva, who plays wind instruments for the band, including trumpet, saxophone, clarinet and flute. Before moving to Florida about three years ago to be closer to his son, he spent more than 50 years as a working musician, first in New York and later in California. He toured with Peter Frampton in the late 1970s. He also performed at Manhattan nightclubs with Eddy Davis and Cynthia Sayer in the Spike Jones Band.

"I was a rock 'n' roller,'' joked Silva, 75. He said the Southwest Senior Band allows musicians like him "to entertain and make friendships.''

There's Ralph Harper, the group's banjo player, who performed in a traveling minstrel show as well as Fred Waring's touring company in the 1940s.

"While I was working for Mr. Waring, Burl Ives offered me $50 more a paycheck,'' said Harper, 80. "Mr. Waring was a very nice man, but I went with Burl Ives because $50 was a lot of money.''

Although the Southwest Senior Band is less than 6 months old, it already has booked a few ongoing monthly shows, including one at Sabal Palms and another at Arden Courts assisted living facilities.

"Our main goal is to go into assisted living facilities to make the people happy and show them music that makes them light up,'' said Brown, 67. "And when we perform, boy, we see so many smiles.''

Accordion player Evelyn Dinsmore, 85, played in a country band in Connecticut before moving to Florida in the 1960s. She particularly enjoys the gigs at Sabal Palms because she lives next door at Imperial Palms.

Dinsmore, legally blind since birth, has to catch rides with family members to attend rehearsals at the Southwest Recreation Complex. "When we play at Sabal Palms, it works out great because I can ride my trike over,'' she said.

Guitarist Bruce Wallace is one of the few in the band who is not retired. Wallace, a professional guardian, said he has a lot of stress in his life and music is his therapy.

"I think we all do this for a couple of reasons,'' the 68-year-old said. "We enjoy each other's company, and when we do a show for the senior community, our reward is the smiles, the hand claps, the foot stomps, and all the people we get to sing along.''

. Fast facts

Got a talent?

The Southwest Senior Band meets from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays at the Southwest Recreation Complex, 13120 Vonn Road, Largo. The program is open to all levels of musicians, and singers are also welcome. For information, call (727) 518-3125.

Senior band puts a song in the hearts of assisted living residents 04/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 23, 2011 4:30am]
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