Saturday, July 21, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Dan Fox and the Rhythm Kings have a blast with 1920s jazz

Dan Fox spent more than 50 years transcribing the music of classical composers and popular recording artists so that amateur musicians could play the classics.

"I basically put books out for people who are not very good piano players, of which I consider myself a proud member," he said. "It was a great job — great work in an exciting time. I was arranging for the Beatles and just about every other well-known artist."

No doubt.

The 17 Reader's Digest songbooks Fox worked on sold millions. His John Denver Songbook was another bestseller. Other artists he penned arrangements for include Bob Dylan; Billy Joel; Led Zeppelin; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Luciano Pavarotti.

That's a lot of work to cram into one career, and when it came time to retire, Fox thought he might start taking it easy. But the long-held desire he had to start a new band with an old sound was hard to shake.

• • •

On Wednesday nights, Fox, 81, makes the trek from his New Port Richey home to the Heritage Museum in Tarpon Springs. There, he sets out a dozen chairs and music stands, then takes his spot as the leader of a 1920s and '30s jazz band.

Just 10 months in, the Tarpon Spring Rhythm Kings are a well-oiled machine, churning out songs that recall an era of bootleggers, bobbed flappers and Duke Ellington at his best.

Rehearsals go 2 1/2 hours at a stretch, as the band works through an ever-changing list of Fox's not-so-easy arrangements ­— The Mooche, Moonglow, the ballad A Garden in the Rain, and South American tango.

"This is the best band I've ever played with," said Christopher DeAngelis, a baritone horn player who also sits in with the Dunedin Community Orchestra and for theater pit bands in Pasco and Hernando counties. "I waited months for a spot to open here, and honestly, he (Fox) arranges so well, I haven't played one song I didn't enjoy."

The locals enjoy it, too.

The band's inaugural performance — a Gatsby Night party held in June to kick off the city's Summer Solstice arts program — was a sellout that had locals doing the Charleston under the white rafters of the Heritage Museum.

"It felt like I was in the band that was on the Titanic," said Dunedin trumpeter Doug Ritchie, 67. "All these people dressed in suits and hats and flapper dresses. They danced all night (until) the last song."

It was a night to remember for the band's director and founder.

"I couldn't believe it," Fox said. "They were turning people away at the door."

The event was such a success that Tarpon's Cultural Treasures program plans to offer a monthly dance starting in September.

If he has his way, the Rhythm Kings will be fronting a revival of a sound that has tugged at Fox ever since he was a teen and happened across an old Bunk Johnson 78 record in a Manhattan record store. That 1940s recording re-created the music of Buddy Bolden, a New Orleans cornetist and jazz pioneer at the turn of the 20th century.

"I wore that record out," Fox said. "There was an honesty to it. It was innovative. There was a motivation that came from the heart."

• • •

Fox was born with a good ear, the second child of a tone-deaf father and a French-born mother who sang arias around the house.

As a youngster, he favored the cornet, but didn't have the embouchure to pull it off. He opted for a sorry-looking guitar he picked up for $15 in a New York City pawn shop when he was 13.

"I loved chords. I loved harmony, and you can do both on a guitar," Fox said.

He went on to work the club circuit, a 1950s bebopper digging the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and playing swing.

"I played in places and with people that nobody anybody heard of — a lot of small towns," he said. "I never hit the big time doing that, but I liked it for a while."

In his early 20s, Fox decided to take formal lessons and landed at the Manhattan School of Music on partial scholarship. He earned a bachelor's and master's in music composition while studying under noted American composer Wallingford Riegger.

"It was great in that you could hear your own compositions played by a full orchestra," Fox said, adding that he wrote a symphony, a short opera and a tone poem about Thomas Paine.

That led to a career as an arranger. He worked for Charles Hansen Publishing, Warner Bros. Records and other publishing companies as a freelancer while raising three children with his wife, June, in upstate New York and later New Jersey. In 1994, Fox and his wife moved to the west coast of Florida, where he continued to arrange music and penned an opera about Buddy Bolden. His arrangements can still be found on websites like sheetmusicplus.com.

"It's amazing how much he has out there," said Marianne Zboray, Kings pianist and retired Pasco County music teacher. "I would see his name on all this music I was teaching my students but until now couldn't put the name with the face."

Fox's playing days came to what he calls "an inglorious end," when he got up in the middle of the night and fell over a chair, breaking two of his playing fingers.

Even so, he still could direct and tinker some with new arrangements. And so he turned to the jazz sound he had always loved most.

"I'm too old to fool around with music that doesn't mean anything to me," he said. "I thought I was going to retire. But then I got the idea for this band, and now I'm having so much fun, that I decided to keep going."

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Twenty One Pilots sell out Tampa concert hours after tickets go on sale

Twenty One Pilots sell out Tampa concert hours after tickets go on sale

Not that you needed any proof that Twenty One Pilots are the most popular alternative act in America.But if you slept on tickets to their upcoming fall tour, you might be out of luck.The Ohio duo's Nov. 3 concert at Tampa's Amalie Arena sold virtuall...
Published: 07/20/18
SoundBytes: The Struts, After the Burial, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and more

SoundBytes: The Struts, After the Burial, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and more

— Glam-rockers the Struts, most recently seen locally opening for the Foo Fighters at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, have announced a much more intimate show on Oct. 14 at the Orpheum. Spirit Animal opens. Tickets go on sale Friday. ...
Published: 07/19/18
Leslie Jones from ‘Saturday Night Live’ coming to the Tampa Improv

Leslie Jones from ‘Saturday Night Live’ coming to the Tampa Improv

You always have to keep your eye on the Tampa Improv's calendar, because every now and then, they'll sneak a pretty good show up on you.Case in point: Leslie Jones.The Emmy-nominated Saturday Night Live star has just announced a weekend of dates at t...
Published: 07/18/18
SoundBytes: Ray LaMontagne, Minus the Bear, Boosie Badazz and more

SoundBytes: Ray LaMontagne, Minus the Bear, Boosie Badazz and more

— Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne is heading back on the road, and coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Nov. 11. It's an acoustic tour, but he'll be joined by Wilco bassist John Stirratt. Tickets are $49.50 and up. Click here.&#...
Published: 07/18/18
Smashing Pumpkins or Dave Matthews Band? Plus Rascal Flatts, Chicago and more concert picks

Smashing Pumpkins or Dave Matthews Band? Plus Rascal Flatts, Chicago and more concert picks

The best concerts this week in Tampa Bay.
Published: 07/18/18
Kim Walker-Smith talks postpartum depression, women in ministry and more

Kim Walker-Smith talks postpartum depression, women in ministry and more

Kim Walker-Smith, the lead singer for renowned worship band Jesus Culture, felt overwhelmed and dazed following the birth of her second son.She cried without knowing why. She mumbled her words. When her mother suggested postpartum depression as the c...
Published: 07/17/18
SoundBytes: Brian Setzer Orchestra, Behemoth, Koo Koo Kanga Roo and more

SoundBytes: Brian Setzer Orchestra, Behemoth, Koo Koo Kanga Roo and more

— After avoiding this marketplace for years, the Brian Setzer Orchestra will bring their wildly popular annual Christmas tour back to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Dec. 5. Tickets are $52.75 and up. Click here for details. (And for a review ...
Published: 07/16/18
Penn and Teller postpone Mahaffey Theater performance due to Teller’s back surgery

Penn and Teller postpone Mahaffey Theater performance due to Teller’s back surgery

Raymond Teller, half of the great magic and comedy duo Penn and Teller, tweeted last week that his recent back surgery "was an even bigger success than I'd expected."Good news for him! But it's still bad news for Tampa Bay fans.While Teller is recove...
Published: 07/16/18
Underoath coming to the Yuengling Center in Tampa

Underoath coming to the Yuengling Center in Tampa

Underoath's comeback is getting bigger than ever.The (formerly) Christian metalcore band, one of the biggest acts ever to come out of Tampa Bay, broke up in 2013, reformed in 2016, and have been touring the world and playing to huge audiences ever si...
Published: 07/16/18
Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus talks vocal longevity, picking future A-listers as openers and more

Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus talks vocal longevity, picking future A-listers as openers and more

With more than a dozen No. 1 hits like Bless the Broken Road and What Hurts the Most, Rascal Flatts remain one of Nashville's most reliable headliners; their summer tour hits Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday.But two decades in, ...
Published: 07/16/18