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Musician Bob Macar ‘was a pioneer in this town’

He played nearly everywhere and nearly everything, drawing in others who loved music
Bob Macar conducted church choirs, led bands, taught music and, in the early ’80s, put out a popular jazz album with one of his brothers. (Image courtesy Robin Macar)
Published Jul. 10

Bob Macar never missed a gig.

Not in the ’80s, as the Macar Brothers’ jazz album rose up the charts. Not on Saturday nights, at weddings, clubs and hotel bars with his band, Southtown Fever. Not on Sunday mornings, as he directed the church choir.

Not even after he got sick four years ago.

“He would show up no matter how bad he felt,” said his wife, Robin Macar.

The Tampa resident worked up until a month before his death, which shocked Tampa Bay’s music community. Few people knew he had a rare form of cancer.

He died June 19 of pheochromocytoma, which develops in the adrenal glands. He was 67.

Bob Macar, right, with his brother, Lex, at Tampa’s Morrisound Recording Studio working on their album, Cosmos Kid. Growing up, Mr. Macar and his siblings played together at their parents’ Tampa clubs, Smart Alex and Maestro’s Jazz Club. (Photo courtesy Robin Macar)

In August 1983, the St. Petersburg Times took note of the Macar Brothers, who had just opened their own nightclub and begun experimenting with contemporary jazz.

“Now,” the paper reported, “they’ve gone national. Their locally produced Cosmos Kid, with 10 original tunes, is the 16th most popular jazz album in the country.”

One year after that story ran, Mr. Macar married Robin Whitcomb, whom he’d met at the Brass Balloon while playing a disco gig. Their 39 years together includes decades of living room rehearsals, weekend and holiday jobs, active family vacations with her and their two sons and, always, music. All kinds of music.

He played in jazz bands and happy hour quartets, taught music at the University of South Florida in the ’90s, playing for the ballet, modern and classical dance classes. He taught young musicians at the University of Tampa. He led the music at area Catholic churches. And Southtown Fever, Mr. Macar’s 12-piece band, played Jeb Bush’s inaugural ball, high-end weddings and local fundraisers, his wife said.

He played keyboard, organ, piano, saxophone, flute, clarinet, she said, whatever the gig required.

“Bob loved it all.”

Bob Macar played several instruments. (Times file)

In the mid-’90s, Mr. Macar started bringing a young guitarist with him to Friday happy hour gigs at the Hyatt.

Tom Jemmott said they probably played together 1,000 times.

Mr. Macar was a demanding musician, Jemmott said, and a good friend who wanted to see musicians working. He was often the person offering the job.

During Danny Bub’s first semester at UT in 2014, his jazz band director invited him to work as a roadie for Southtown Fever.

“Until one day he told me to bring a tuxedo and saxophone and said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna play, too,’ ” Bub said.

Working with Mr. Macar taught Bub not just about music but about the music business. He recently started his own wedding bad, The Danny Bub Combo.

Mr. Macar was a gifted musician and arranger, his wife said, but at heart, he was a teacher - with his students, with pros and with church choirs. His goal was never to be the star, she said. He cared about the quality, the technique, the innovation and the performance.

Southtown Fever singer Dave Martin with Bob Macar. Southtown Fever played together for 20 years. (Photo courtesy Robin Macar)

Before Mr. Macar, the music scene in Tampa had this sleepy beach town kind of feel, said percussionist and friend Gumbi Ortiz.

Mr. Macar introduced jazz and a little sophistication, Ortiz said.

“He was a pioneer in this town,” Ortiz said. “He hired everyone, he played with everyone...Every musician in town owes a big thank you to him, including myself.”

Bob Macar on stage with Southtown Fever, which featured a rotating roster of musicians. He told few people he was sick, his wife said. "He just wanted to keep living his life and playing music as long as he could." (Photo courtesy Robin Macar)

Want to know more about Bob Macar? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see the lyrics to one of his songs. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at epilogue@tampabay.com.

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