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Thursday, 01 October 2015 13:28

Journeyman of Sound - Jay Heavilin Featured

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Standing in the small, dark orchestra pit at the Broadway Palm Theater in Ft. Myers, musician Jay Heavilin holds his bass and waits for the conductor’s downbeat to begin his 100th show. He’s performed there regularly since the dinner theater’s second season (now in its 21st year) and still holds his breath anticipating the drop of that baton.

A jazz bassist and guitarist, Heavilin is one of SW Florida’s busiest and most respected musical performers. He’s played coast to coast from smoky little bars to upscale hotels and orchestra halls, in every kind of combo from country bands or jazz vocal/guitar duos to symphonies performing classical compositions. His diverse career as a performer and educator has put him onstage with such luminaries as Herbie Mann, David “Fathead” Newman, Jimmy McGriff, and Dave McKenna, and he’s even performed for the Royal Family in London. A tall, lean, soft-spoken man, Jay eschews the bandleader spotlight, instead often quietly running the show from behind his bass at the back of the stage. He’s a creative, thoughtful and accessible player with a twinkle in his eye and an ear for humor in a hard business that’s getting tougher all the time.
Born in Cleveland, Jay was raised by his grandparents after his mother fell seriously ill. His grandmother was a vibrant pianist and singer, and as a young boy he would often lie under her full-sized grand piano, listening as she played, feeling as well as hearing the huge sound resonating the strings. He was fascinated, and started formal piano lessons at 6 years of age. Interested in stringed instruments, especially with the advent of rock and roll, at 10 years old he asked his grandfather for a guitar. Grandpa brought home a tenor banjo instead. Jay learned to play it, and eked some rock and roll out of it, but got a hipper guitar for himself a few years later. His $1.10 an hour, part-time high school job at a produce stand ended abruptly when he was approached to teach guitar at a local studio. His boss warned him that the music thing wouldn’t work out and that he’d soon come back begging for his job. But how could he pass up a $3 profit on a half hour lesson? He discovered he had a patient aptitude for teaching. Jay laughs and says the produce stand was his last “honest job”, and he’s supported himself playing and teaching ever since.

Playing in rock bands through high school, he was introduced to jazz when his flute-playing girlfriend gave him a Herbie Mann album and he was hooked. Jay certainly listened to the pop stars of the day…the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, the folk crowd….but he also loved the energy and power and complexity of groups like Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 and Chicago, and soon took up jazz seriously. Heading to college at the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, he performed steadily through those years, honing his craft, and finishing his degree in Classical Guitar and String Bass. After college, Jay was drawn to Boston, where he knew there was a great music scene with a heavy jazz presence.

Living in New Hampshire and playing in metro Boston, Jay grew tired of the dark and cold winters of the Northeastern Seaboard, and in 1985, decided to head south—way south—and settled in the Ft. Myers area. A break came right away for the new kid on the block, and Jay literally walked into a 5-night-a-week gig in Naples almost upon his arrival. He has since been a regular player at Ft. Myers jazz institution, the Roadhouse, a staff musician at the Ritz Carlton in both Naples and Sarasota, the aforementioned Broadway Palm Theater, Florida Repertory Theater, JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte, Fred’s and Alto, in Naples, with the SWFL Symphony and the Naples Philharmonic, and at many other venues, local and regional. His teaching career continues, having worked at Edison College, he is currently at Canterbury School and Brent’s Music in Ft. Myers. Jay is in demand as a studio player for recording projects, and appears on dozens of albums and CDs.
Why does he play? Aside for his love for the music, he enjoys the sensation of playing a stringed instrument, and he never tires of the fascinating process of creation. Who does he listen to? Past and present masters of jazz like guitarists Wes Montgomery and Russell Malone, bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, and Christian McBride. What’s his favorite song? A tough choice, he says, but picks Johnny Mercer’s Skylark as one of his top five. What was his first record? A 78 rpm recording of I Got Rhythm/Tea for Two by an unremembered artist, which he listened to over and over and over. Would he choose music as a career again? If he were starting out today, as a fifteen-year old, Jay says he would not even consider life as a full-time musician. “It’s a different world, a different universe from when I began. The advent of digital music, file-sharing, internet radio…these were all huge game-changers.”

That question led to a sad commentary on the state of jazz music in general, and specifically, the diminution and “graying” of the audience. “First of all, jazz captures only 1.5% of the listening audience, and blues another 1.5%,” Jay said. “And current jazz fans, for the most part, are the same group that were listening 30 or 40 years ago, so there’s a lot of attrition from just plain aging.” Clubs have changed styles, recording labels have diminished, and fluctuating economies have forced venue owners to downsize or do away with live music entirely, which has lead to the proliferation of “band-in-a-box” performers—a speaker, a laptop, pre-recorded back-up music, and a singer or a solo instrumentalist. Still, Jay is one of the few true jazz players who works regularly.
Wondering what happened to that tenor banjo? Jay got a call some years ago from the Naples Philharmonic for a gig…they were presenting an 18th century piece and needed someone to play guitar AND tenor banjo. Jay Heavilin was their man. That led to tenor banjo jobs in a revival of Cole Porter’s “Fifty Million Frenchmen”, in a production of a Virgil Thomson composition with early 19th century themes, and in shows with the SWFL Orchestra presenting Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Porgy and Bess” in their original orchestrations. Jay was wise to keep the banjo.
Jay Heavilin lives in Bokeelia with his African Grey parrot, Blossom, who is quite a jazz singer in her own right. Catch him on Sunday nights at Daruma at the Bell Tower Shops in Ft. Myers, Wednesday nights at the 86 Room in historic downtown Ft. Myers, Thursday nights at the Roadhouse, and JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte. Ask him if he has his tenor banjo with him.
THE HEART OF THE ART

Standing in the small, dark orchestra pit at the Broadway Palm Theater in Ft. Myers, musician Jay Heavilin holds his bass and waits for the conductor’s downbeat to begin his 100th show. He’s performed there regularly since the dinner theater’s second season (now in its 21st year) and still holds his breath anticipating the drop of that baton.
A jazz bassist and guitarist, Heavilin is one of SW Florida’s busiest and most respected musical performers. He’s played coast to coast from smoky little bars to upscale hotels and orchestra halls, in every kind of combo from country bands or jazz vocal/guitar duos to symphonies performing classical compositions. His diverse career as a performer and educator has put him onstage with such luminaries as Herbie Mann, David “Fathead” Newman, Jimmy McGriff, and Dave McKenna, and he’s even performed for the Royal Family in London. A tall, lean, soft-spoken man, Jay eschews the bandleader spotlight, instead often quietly running the show from behind his bass at the back of the stage. He’s a creative, thoughtful and accessible player with a twinkle in his eye and an ear for humor in a hard business that’s getting tougher all the time.
Born in Cleveland, Jay was raised by his grandparents after his mother fell seriously ill. His grandmother was a vibrant pianist and singer, and as a young boy he would often lie under her full-sized grand piano, listening as she played, feeling as well as hearing the huge sound resonating the strings. He was fascinated, and started formal piano lessons at 6 years of age. Interested in stringed instruments, especially with the advent of rock and roll, at 10 years old he asked his grandfather for a guitar. Grandpa brought home a tenor banjo instead. Jay learned to play it, and eked some rock and roll out of it, but got a hipper guitar for himself a few years later. His $1.10 an hour, part-time high school job at a produce stand ended abruptly when he was approached to teach guitar at a local studio. His boss warned him that the music thing wouldn’t work out and that he’d soon come back begging for his job. But how could he pass up a $3 profit on a half hour lesson? He discovered he had a patient aptitude for teaching. Jay laughs and says the produce stand was his last “honest job”, and he’s supported himself playing and teaching ever since.

Playing in rock bands through high school, he was introduced to jazz when his flute-playing girlfriend gave him a Herbie Mann album and he was hooked. Jay certainly listened to the pop stars of the day…the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, the folk crowd….but he also loved the energy and power and complexity of groups like Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 and Chicago, and soon took up jazz seriously. Heading to college at the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, he performed steadily through those years, honing his craft, and finishing his degree in Classical Guitar and String Bass. After college, Jay was drawn to Boston, where he knew there was a great music scene with a heavy jazz presence.

Living in New Hampshire and playing in metro Boston, Jay grew tired of the dark and cold winters of the Northeastern Seaboard, and in 1985, decided to head south—way south—and settled in the Ft. Myers area. A break came right away for the new kid on the block, and Jay literally walked into a 5-night-a-week gig in Naples almost upon his arrival. He has since been a regular player at Ft. Myers jazz institution, the Roadhouse, a staff musician at the Ritz Carltons in both Naples and Sarasota, the aforementioned Broadway Palm Theater, Florida Repertory Theater, JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte, Fred’s and Alto, in Naples, with the SWFL Symphony and the Naples Philharmonic, and at many other venues, local and regional. His teaching career continues, having worked at Edison College, he is currently at Canterbury School and Brent’s Music in Ft. Myers. Jay is in demand as a studio player for recording projects, and appears on dozens of albums and CDs.
Why does he play? Aside for his love for the music, he enjoys the sensation of playing a stringed instrument, and he never tires of the fascinating process of creation. Who does he listen to? Past and present masters of jazz like guitarists Wes Montgomery and Russell Malone, bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, and Christian McBride. What’s his favorite song? A tough choice, he says, but picks Johnny Mercer’s Skylark as one of his top five. What was his first record? A 78 rpm recording of I Got Rhythm/Tea for Two by an unremembered artist, which he listened to over and over and over. Would he choose music as a career again? If he were starting out today, as a fifteen-year old, Jay says he would not even consider life as a full-time musician. “It’s a different world, a different universe from when I began. The advent of digital music, file-sharing, internet radio….these were all huge game-changers.”

That question led to a sad commentary on the state of jazz music in general, and specifically, the diminution and “graying” of the audience. “First of all, jazz captures only 1.5% of the listening audience, and blues another 1.5%,” Jay said. “And current jazz fans, for the most part, are the same group that were listening 30 or 40 years ago, so there’s a lot of attrition from just plain aging.” Clubs have changed styles, recording labels have diminished, and fluctuating economies have forced venue owners to downsize or do away with live music entirely, which has lead to the proliferation of “band-in-a-box” performers—a speaker, a laptop, pre-recorded back-up music, and a singer or a solo instrumentalist. Still, Jay is one of the few true jazz players who works regularly.
Wondering what happened to that tenor banjo? Jay got a call some years ago from the Naples Philharmonic for a gig….they were presenting an 18th century piece and needed someone to play guitar AND tenor banjo. Jay Heavilin was their man. That led to tenor banjo jobs in a revival of Cole Porter’s “Fifty Million Frenchmen”, in a production of a Virgil Thomson composition with early 19th century themes, and in shows with the SWFL Orchestra presenting Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Porgy and Bess” in their original orchestrations. Jay was wise to keep the banjo.
Jay Heavilin lives in Bokeelia with his African Grey parrot, Blossom, who is quite a jazz singer in her own right. Catch him on Sunday nights at Daruma at the Bell Tower Shops in Ft. Myers, Wednesday nights at the 86 Room in historic downtown Ft. Myers, Thursday nights at the Roadhouse, and JD’s Bistro in Port Charlotte. Ask him if he has his tenor banjo with him.

By Susan Chastain

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