Trips to the dentist might cause some people anxiety, but Joseph Valenti’s patients had something to look forward to — tapping feet.
A large boom box sat inside each exam room at his office on Armenia Avenue in Tampa. They blasted the blues of Keb’ Mo’, the jazz of Al Jarreau and anything else the dentist wanted to hear. Sometimes, they blasted his own music.
Valenti started most office visits with some jokes. Then, he’d get to work, mask on, singing along.
He’d only stop for instructions to his dental assistant.
Hand me this.
Then, he returned to the music.
For nearly his whole life, Valenti played in bands, at bottle clubs, on demand at weddings — but he wasn’t a frustrated artist.
He was a musical dentist.
Valenti died Oct. 23 from cardiac arrest. He was 78.
Valenti learned the trumpet in middle school, then the piano from his mom, a teacher, and later bass guitar and keyboard.
He grew up in Ybor City, with Italian grandparents on one side and Cuban-Spanish grandparents on the other. Valenti met his future wife his senior year at Jefferson High School, and it was not love at first sight.
“He thought I was a little spoiled brat from Palma Ceia,” Pauline said. “I proved him wrong.”
Valenti and a cousin, Henry Valenti, worked at their uncle’s Ybor City hardware store in the summers. He later climbed into manholes for a job with the city of Tampa, and unloaded box cars. But after his first visit to a dentist, he was intrigued by the job and knew right away that was what he wanted to do, his wife said.
After three years at the University of Florida, he left for Virginia and dental school, then joined the Army, where he served as a dentist in Vietnam.
Valenti had a band there, too, said friend and fellow dentist Dr. Frank Lodato. When Valenti came home, he went to a dentist’s office looking for equipment for sale and ended up buying the practice.
Valenti often charged his patients what they could afford to pay. And a lot of people got the family discount. When a time-management consultant came in, Valenti was told that he talked too much with his patients.
“He should have been onstage,” Henry Valenti said. “He knew how to tell a joke.”
For many years, his jokes and songs were for professional football players.
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Valenti became the team dentist for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after meeting one of their trainers, who had come for an office visit.
Valenti’s family figures he worked for the team for at least 25 years, making mouthpieces, traveling with the Bucs and caring for players in his office, though many were too big for his exam chairs.
Dean Valenti got to travel with his dad to some away games growing up, riding on the bus with the team, boarding the plane, watching down on the field, then getting whisked back to Tampa.
Once, Henry Valenti joined his cousin for a game in San Diego. On the plane, he remembers, everybody got two hamburgers.
The Bucs’ dentist performed with different bands around Tampa Bay until his late 60s. He always made an appearance onstage at the weddings of family and friends, and he always sang Mustang Sally.
He sang with his whole family onstage beside him at his daughter Christine Grose’s wedding.
But Valenti had a surprise for her, too.
While watching Father of the Bride together one night, she mentioned that she’d love to have Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight played at her wedding. Her dad spent weeks driving to Sarasota to practice with the band.
At her wedding, while dancing with her brother, Dean Valenti told his sister, “Dad’s gonna sing to you.”
And he did, she said.
“He was a hit.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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