Longtime jazz man Jimmy Foy leads the Maitland Stage Band, readying for a jazz swing concert this weekend at the Maitland Arts Center
The whisper of a flute lifts into the air of the cavernous main hall in Maitland’s Venue By the Lake, a tease of the prelude to Debussy’s “Syrinx” flitting like butterfly wings. The man standing in the middle with the high-rise trilby hat was motionless before, but now he’s rhythmically rocking back and forth in black size 9 Reebok sneakers, about to light a fuse. With the wave of an arm, boom. He lifts a trombone to his lips and 15 musicians in front of him all fire at once, a concussive blast wave of jazz.
They’re playing “The Flintstones” theme. Jimmy Foy, all 81 years of him, leads with his slide hand moving in abrupt rhythm while he bounces in his shoes, an incongruous silver-haired ball of energy. For two verses that familiar Saturday morning showtune vibrates the room before the powerful echo of the last note falls to the floor in an abrupt heap.
He walks off to the side, and with a mischievous grin asks, “How’d you like that?”
The 90-odd minute tour of half a century of big band favorites that followed at Monday night’s final practice shook out the cobwebs, or what few remained for the show coming up at the Maitland Art Center Sunday afternoon. It’s rip-roaring jazz with some mid-century twists, and as Foy boasted, “it’s gonna be good.”
You might recognize the name of the leader of the Maitland Stage Band, set to zoot up in black and white and take a trip back in time. Foy’s played with Tommy Dorsey, James Brown, Harry James, even the Disney Dixieland Band.
If some of those names are fuzzy, listen four bars into Dorsey’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and the memories should come flooding back. Listen to the right recording and chances are that lead trombone coming through the speaker is Foy’s. In 1956, Dorsey passed away and Foy took over the lead trombone on some of the biggest jazz hits in the country.
He still has that same Conn trombone, all silver and brass, with a spare part or two plus some modifications to get it just how he likes it Monday as the band starts to take a slow walk through Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Just as the horns rise together, a train blows past the open door and plays a short off-key accompaniment, falling off due north.
Foy used to travel the country with the best in the business. He can name drop acts he’s recorded with all night, but he’d rather set the stories inside the clubs. There was the Riverboat Room in the smoky basement of the Empire State Building. There’d be Chivas Regal passed around at either end of long hauls cross country.
“We might be in San Francisco one night and New York the next,” he said.
It was a long trip before he stopped in Maitland. Nevertheless, three years ago Stage Band leader Gary Blaylock was hit with health problems, and the metaphorical baton passed to Foy. It’s been his band ever since, but it’s not really his, he said.
“The band still belongs to Blaylock,” he said. “When Blaylock gets better, it’s his.”
In the meantime he’s managed to pull together what he calls some of the finest jazz players in Florida. On sax Monday night, Eddie Marshall races up and down the scales and the energy of the room jumps up a notch.
“Eddie Marshall makes us all play better,” keyboardist Dave Sheffield said.
For Foy, the challenge has been finding players with that kind of mutual respect. It helps when they get along with the band leader too.
“I’m very fortunate that they all respect me,” he said with a smirk in his voice. “I don’t know why.”
Every show he trots out a completely different set of songs. That means he’s pushing his players for new tunes every few weeks. They don’t seem to skip a beat, he said. At least, not many.
That means Sunday afternoon, everybody in attendance will get to hear something new, if a little familiar for jazz swing fans.
Eight o’clock rolls around and they’re feeling punchy.
“Alright are you ready for this one?” he asks.
“Are you ready?” a voice from the trumpet section fires back.
They take a slow roll into Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” and as it builds up steam Foy’s slide hand jabs at the air for emphasis.
It’s getting late now, and Foy seems to realize it. At 8:49 p.m. it’s a few minutes until everybody’s expecting to pack up, and he lets the last note of Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?” settle for a few seconds. His eyes scan three rows of chairs and the chatter stops as his mouth hangs with a pregnant pause. Another beat passes.
Then in an instant he snaps them up.
“Here we go!” and they’re blasting off again toward 1956.
The Maitland Stage Band will play at the Maitland Art Center, 231 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland, from 4-5:50 p.m. Sunday.