Tucson Jams: The Bryan Dean Trio
Bryan Dean Trio brings Tucson an even bigger NYC jazz sound
Arts reporter Christianna Silva will check out the hype behind the Old Pueblo's most beloved local artists in Tucson Jams, our new local music feature.
Walking into The Boondocks Lounge at 6 p.m. on a Monday is like walking into a New York City jazz bar — only bigger. Musicians Bryan Dean on the guitar, Ralph Gilmore on the drums, Koko Matsumoto on the bass guitar and Frank Arciuolo sitting in on the tenor saxophone, chat on stage and fiddle with their respective strings, sticks and keys. They're preparing for another show in their eight-year long Monday night gig.
"We always start off scared that no one's gonna show up," Dean joked to the audience. "Then Kit gets here and starts dancing."
Kit Estes is not easy to forget. In all white, including his hair that is tied half up, he stomps through each song on the checkered dance floor. He keeps on his dark, Lennon-style sunglasses the entire night.
"I've been dancing in front of bands for over 50 years," Estes said.
That's not to say the Bryan Dean Trio is the perfect music to dance to — although Estes thinks so.
Their music is a mishmash of so many different genres, I wasn't sure whose concert I was at. They have a solid blues undertone, but each song is taken over on top by jazz, samba, rock, country and funk or something lower and junglier. The trio does have an obvious overlying theme, though. As the song goes on, they begin to jam and each musician gets louder, harder and more bluesy in their solos. They're having fun and the audience is feeding off that.
Dean is a true jazz musician. He utilizes the entire stretch of the neck of his guitar from the first song, keeping each solo rhythmically interesting and tonally exciting. His guitar style is smooth and his vocals attempt to mirror that. His vocal talent doesn't match that of his instrumental, but when the whole trio harmonizes during the second set, it's hard not to smile.
Jim Beavers sits alone at a long old wooden table sipping a drink out of a red cup. His hunter green polo and messy gray hair call no attention him. He keeps coming back to see the trio because Dean is "... the best! And the best will tell you so."
"Plus he gives me guitar lessons," Beavers said with a smile.
Gilmore, the drummer, is the obvious heart of the band. He plays with his eyes closed and his mouth tight and all of the motion comes from small flicks in his wrist. Never too snare heavy, he drives the songs forward no matter the style — although his samba is particularly thrilling. He's played drums all across the country, but landed in Tucson for the music environment.
"It's not as much cutthroat," Gilmore said. "We can all intermingle."
As an unashamed fangirl of all things female bassist, I came in with a slight bias and left convinced that girls really do it better. Matsumoto held the band steady with funky bass lines and ripped through solos, making the audience stare in awe at the normally talked-over lower notes. Her long black hair was parted in two in front of her and it moved as her fingers found their home on the long neck of her bass.
Matsumoto confidently said her favorite of the Trio's genres is "anything funky."
Arciuolo isn't a member of the band, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from watching. He actively plays in each song, moving up to the higher notes on his tenor saxophone with purpose and ease. He jams with the others as if he has been for years and it sounds as if it belongs with the Trio.
Natanya Siegel, who has been coming to hear the live music at Boondocks for years, said the reasoning behind their flow is simple.
"There's only one band in Tucson," Siegel said. "Everyone tries to help each other out."
The audience sits at the wooden tables or stands at the bars that surround the checkered dance floor and greet everyone who walks in the door like they've known each other for a lifetime — because they have.
"It's like a family here," said Tom Russ, who says he's seen the Bryan Dean Trio hundreds of times.
His wife, Barbara Russ, said there's one thing that keeps everyone coming back to the Bryan Dean Trio: "They jam and it's different every time."
"It makes you wonder why some people make it big and others don't," Tom Russ said. And it does.
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