Musician's and JU Members
Well-Traveled Don Eliot Always Returned to ‘Bass’
By CP Christopher Peppas
It is said about bass players that the best ones go completely unnoticed because if they do their job well, the focus is placed elsewhere in the band. This was so very true in the case of the recently departed Don Eliot. His gentle spirit, dry wit and easy-going demeanor may have shed its mortal coil at 83, but he left a legacy as a great musician and an all-around good soul
that will outlive us all.
Don Eliot was a tool designer at Kearney & Trecker, a frequent traveler, an avid reader, and a man of many and varied interests. But most people knew him as a musician. Don began playing music at a very young age getting his education (along with younger brother Dick) from his father who was a professional musician.
He went on to become the musical director of the Leilani Supper Club in Brookfield. In its hey-day, Leilani had a steady stream of national acts whose
demands were seen to and taken care of by Don. As a professional musician, he played with some of the giants in the business including Billy Eckstein, Mel Torme, John Gary, and many others. His proficiency on the upright and electric bass was never in question.
on had a gigantic ice cream sundae of a career. I was only around for the cherry on top of it, but I cherish every moment that I had to make music with him. Every Friday for almost two years at Rocco’s in Bay View and for about five months at the Venice Club in Brookfield, Don would play bass as a member of Generation Gap.
While playing in GenGap, Don would often utter some whip-smart rejoinder that would crack up the sax player, Wayne Zimmermann. Zim would pass the funny remark on to the vocalist (CP) who would then relay it to the audience where it would invariably get a laugh. He would just lie in the weeds until something else would come up and the
cycle would repeat all over again.
It took Parkinson’s disease and a variety of other ailments to curtail his public performances, but Don was performing until almost his very last breath. Brother Dick moved back to the Milwaukee area
from Las Vegas – where he had performed with members of The Rat Pack and others for over 33 years – to care for their ailing mother, a role he reprised as caretaker to Don for the last seven years.
When Don could no longer drive, Dick would take him to gigs and sit in. When Don could no longer perform on a regular basis, Dick would bring him to gigs and they would perform as “The Elderly Brothers,” a name coined by Zim. Dick even got Don a light-weight electric bass with a short neck to help him play in spite of his Parkinsons. Don was quiet and unassuming while being larger-than-life at the same time. To say that he will be missed does not even approach what his loss means to those who knew him.
Jazz Great Dorsey now singin’ with The Angels
By CP Christopher Peppas
If there was a need for a deep, rich baritone voice to be added to The Choir of Angels in Heaven, consider it filled. The entire Jazz Community in our area is mourning the loss of the great Floyd Dorsey who passed away on June 16th at the age of 77. Floyd was a fixture on the local music scene for more than five decades.
Starting with Doo-Wop continuing on to R&B, Soul and Jazz, Floyd left his mark as a member of several different groups as well as a solo performer. He toured the country as a member of The Comic Books and later in Cream DeCocoa.
The Comic Books performed with The Platters, The Coasters and a panoply of other
national acts. The inimitable Dorsey himself shared the stage with Al Jarreau, Ike & Tina Turner, Johnny Taylor, Kim Marie and The Everly Brothers.
Floyd performed regularly at The Main Event as a member of Four of a Kind in the 80s and 90s. Most recently, he dazzled his audiences with show tunes like On a Clear Day, to standards like Summertime, Autumn Leaves, and a memorable rendition of Mr. Bojangles.
Just days before this past Christmas, Floyd survived a serious health scare that almost took his life. But he worked his way back and was performing again at recent Jazz Unlimited Jazz Jams. Floyd was the featured artist with Neal Chandek and The Transfer Band at Transfer Pizza just weeks before his passing. Floyd would join lifelong friends and legendary fellow singers Dick Tate and Harvey
Scales at Caroline’s most Wednesdays to lend their considerable talents to Harvey Westmoreland’s Knee Deep Blues and R&B jam.
They would take turns taking over the stage to the delight of members of the audience who appreciated a craft honed over so many years. The stage lights
there and at many other venues will not burn as bright now that he is gone. An overflow crowd packed Caroline’s on Sunday, July 9th, to remember the man, his family and that deep, rich baritone voice. More than two dozen of his fellow vocalists and musicians took turns paying tribute in the way they know best… singing and playing music, of course. A scholarship specifically for Jazz Vocalists has been started in Floyd’s name at Jazz Unlimited of Greater Milwaukee. Donations are greatly appreciated.
Hedges Tribute Shaping Up to be the Best Ever
By CP Christopher Peppas
Much like the career of Chuck Hedges himself, this year’s Tribute Concert is definitely Movin’ Uptown. Well, moving to Brookfield anyway. This year’s show is at the beautiful Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts (www.wilson-center.com) located at 19805 West Capitol Drive. This show promises to be the best one yet.
Mark the date on your calendar, if you still have one, or set a reminder on your phone for Sunday, April 2, from 2-5 p.m. for this show. It is not to be missed by jazz devotees and students alike. Jazz Unlimited of Greater Milwaukee (www.jazzunlimitedmke.org) is sponsoring the show which serves as the number one fundraiser for the organization’s High School Scholarship Fund. Each year, a $1000 scholarship in Chuck’s name is awarded to the student musician, age 14-18, who best
exemplifies the spirit and passion for jazz that Hedges brought to his performances with every note he played.
Chuck was truly one of the best players to ever come out of our area and Jazz Unlimited has been fanning the flames to keep his memory alive.
Many of us can recite chapter and verse the great times we had seeing Mr. Hedges at work. Chuck would wail on his clarinet at venues such as The Grove and The Red Mill while leading tight combos that featured the A-list of Milwaukee’s best jazz players. To say that Chuck was beloved by his fans and the musicians who played with him would be a major understatement.
Many of Chuck’s bandmates from The Milwaukee Connection, Russ Phillips, Andy Brown & The Chicago Friends (his band from down the road apiece) and the Andy Lo Duca World Jazz Band will fill the air with sweet sounds for the three hour show. These guys will most certainly be in top form as if the master himself was still out front urging them on to perfection.
Prior to the concert at 1 p.m. guitarists Dave Sullivan, Dick Eliot, and upright citizen on the bass, Hal Miller, will play in the lounge. Food and beverages will be available for purchase outside of the hall as well.
The Chuck Hedges Tribute Concert promises to be a win-win for all who attend. The beneficiaries are the student musicians who compete for scholarships in a live audition at the Steinway Gallery on Sunday, March 19, at 1 p.m. And those attending the tribute concert will benefit from hearing great music that’s inspired by one of Milwaukee’s best jazz artists while also supporting a worthy cause.