PALM HARBOR — Frank Greenstreet lived for jazz and made a good living at it. He once played the drums at an inaugural ball for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and later worked a stint on The Merv Griffin Show. He played at society balls and weddings in Washington, D.C.
But he found his greatest love as leader of the Clam Bayou Jazz Band, playing for much smaller audiences in the Tampa Bay area. They wore flip-flops, not patent leather shoes.
Mr. Greenstreet led the band, which was founded in Gulfport, from 1976 until his death Dec. 10 due to myelodysplasia, a blood disorder once called "preleukemia," and heart trouble. He was 80.
The group played mainly at libraries and civic centers, including a regular 3 p.m. concert the third Friday of every month at the Palm Harbor Library, often to overflow crowds. Mr. Greenstreet had studied jazz extensively and interspersed performances with lectures about its origins.
For a while, the group played on a cruise ship out of Clearwater.
Mr. Greenstreet was also president of the Palm Harbor Civic Club, from 1990 to the present, and a former board member of Palm Harbor Friends of the Library.
He particularly loved Dixieland jazz with its interwoven improvisations, which he called "the happiest music in the world."
"Dixieland is, for the most part, upbeat, happy music," said Dr. James Atkins, a trombonist who at 63 is the band's youngest member. "… You get creations on the spot, and nothing is ever played the same way twice."
Mr. Greenstreet booked the gigs for his band and made sure they got paid up front. He set the tone as emcee, recycling some jokes for years and still getting laughs.
Franklin Greenstreet was born in Washington, D.C., an only child. He played the drums since childhood. He served on the front lines with the Army during the Korean War.
He returned to Washington and worked for big band leader Al Donahue, playing at society balls and weddings, as well as Eisenhower's 1957 inauguration. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1959 with his parents.
He married Dorothy in 1968, at age 38, the first marriage for each. He took over the jazz band in 1976.
He played his last engagement Nov. 19, at the Palm Harbor Library. As he lay in a hospital bed a week before he died, Mr. Greenstreet told a friend, "Get me out of here — I've got a concert to play."
That concert at the library went on as scheduled Friday with a stand-in drummer. Four band members had given Mr. Greenstreet a peppy sendoff on Tuesday at Curlew Hills Funeral Home with a rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In.
The band will stay together at least through April, Dorothy Greenstreet said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]