Students find jazz outlet with local group
Davis Baker just wanted to swing.
The pre-business junior, along with fellow UA student Ryan Brock, now plays drums in the Tony Frank Quartet, a local jazz group that can be found playing at Las Margaritas on Grant Road and Palo Verde Avenue on Friday nights from 8 to 11 p.m. and at Dante’s Fire from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturdays.
This weekend, the quartet will be celebrating their one year anniversary at Elliot’s on downtown Congress, starting at 8:30 p.m.
Originally a music major, Baker played in almost every undergraduate percussion-inclusive ensemble, both UA orchestras, graduate level recitals, the Steel band, the World Music Gang, the pep band, the drum line, the Pride of Arizona, just about everything — except for any of the jazz groups at the UA.
But he wanted to find some way to get into jazz.
“I was dying at home, playing to the music on my iPod,” Baker said. “I played Bach a hundred times, and I just [wanted] to play jazz.
Baker soon found a place to jam jazz music at Old Publo Grill during the second semester of his freshman year. He was hooked, he said. But usually only getting one song at the end of the last set when many people had already gone home, Baker said he eventually got restless.
A private theory teacher told Baker about Tony Frank’s jams on Monday nights and started sitting in with the group. Instead of the usual one tune at the end of the night, Frank allowed Baker to play three or four songs. Baker and Frank got to know each other, and the group started playing together officially last September.
At the end of last semester, Baker told Brock, a percussion performance junior, about Frank’s gigs on Monday nights.
At the UA, Brock has played in the percussion ensemble and the UA Wind Ensemble. He has also played with the World Music Gang, where he said he especially enjoyed the West-African style of music.
The Tony Frank Quartet focuses mainly on jazz standards, often performing them with a Latin or blues twist. The group’s songs include from Miles Davis and John Coltrane to Frank Sinatra.
Singer and trumpeter Tony Frank gives the jazz standards a Latin effect by singing in Portuguese and Spanish while performing the song “Girl from Ipanema,” a famous song composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim.
“We create Latin arrangements from jazz standards,” Frank said at a table inside Las Margaritas last weekend. “For this gig, because of the room, because of the style of food, we keep it at a Latin pace. We can take any standard and turn it into a cha-cha or a mamba … It’s all about texture, not necessarily about song choice.”
Because of the wide recognition of jazz standards, musicians are able to jump in on the music at any time, Baker said.
“It’s like a language,” Baker explained. “I could fly to Japan right now, and not speak a lick of Japanese, but I could start playing a certain song and they would all know it.”
Baker said that the scene gives the group the opportunity to “hang out, have a couple drinks, play low-key. And just have a cool, fun time.”
Now a year into their tenure with the quartet, Baker and Brock said they hope to expand the live music scene in Tucson.
“The pursuit of going out to see live music is dying, especially with people in our age group,” Brock said. “Think about how many people our age who go out to see music, it just doesn’t happen as much anymore. You can sit there and listen to your iPod and think it sounds great, but it’s not the same as going out to see live music, and it’s never going to be. I want people my age to start going out to see music.”