While they don’t sell millions of records or play at Germain Arena, there are a number of impressive, musical and very entertaining rock, variety and cover bands in this area that have devoted followings, and they are busy in or out of season. It is not out of the ordinary for more than a few of these bands to work, if they wanted to, seven nights a week, 52 times a year.
These are the groups that work in local restaurants and clubs, at private country club parties and at the frequent outdoor music nights held in Naples and Marco Island.
Without exception, the player in these groups are seasoned, studied and have the uncanny ability to be fluent in all styles. Most importantly, which is why their followings are dedicated ones, they aim to please and to entertain. And that’s a conscious decision which most of us who play or played professionally have had to make. Do we want to please critics or do we want to make as many people as possible happy?
These two groups, lucky for us, chose the latter.
Chances are, if you’ve ever walked down Fifth Avenue or Third Street in Naples during one of their outdoor Thursday evening events, chances are, you’ve encountered The Moony Mann Trio. Mann, who calls himself “the hardest working musician in Southwest Florida — and who are we to argue? — is a singer, songwriter and bassist who plays virtually every type of music on the earth, with the exception of classical. And that includes vintage and current rock, oldies, country, blue grass, Motown, blues, country, folk, and R&B. And the trio plays all the styles with true feeling, musicality and with a healthy dose of entertainment and showmanship.
Mann, who moved here from his native Houston, Texas, 20 years ago, is also quite the promoter. He books several bands and single acts and produced last years’ successful battle of the bands. There were 36 bands in last years’ contest, held at Lucky’s 951, and the winning group —“ A Dank Season — took home over $1,250 in cash and prizes. Mann is prepping for this summer’s battle and is now in the process of scouting a larger location. However, interested bands can sign up right now online by visiting www.MoonyMann.com.
One of The Moony Mann Trio’s final appearances this season will be on the 700 block of Fifth Avenue South in Naples from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on May 8. And on May 16, they will appear at Wahoo’s Bar and Grill from 6 to 10 p.m.
When I first encountered singer and guitarist Dan Smedile when he was sitting in with singer Jebry’s band at The Island Pub, I was impressed with his playing, but something about him looked and sounded familiar. It turns out that, way back when, Dan and I worked the same “joints” (an affectionate description) for years in the Philadelphia area, though we never personally met until that night here.
What was even more of a pleasant surprise was beautifully clear, straightforward and unaffected singing of his wife, Rosemarie.
I found that their group, Side by Side, was appearing at Jimmy’s Pink Cadillac on San Carlos Boulevard in Fort Myers every Saturday night, and at a number of private, country club affairs. I also discovered, unbelievably, that Rosemarie had only been singing professionally for a few years.
“I am the true late bloomer,” Rosemarie said, “and I have great belief in the power of intention. I have intended to do this since I was 7 and sang at my uncle’s wedding. The Florida lifestyle brought out the best in me and I could no longer keep the music inside of me.”
Highlights of any Side by Side performance — and it is often impossible to believe there are only two people at work — are Dan’s four- and five-part harmony aka The Four Freshmen, and their diverse repertoire which covers songs from the 1930s to the 1980s.
“We want to give our audience what they came out for,” explained Rosemarie, “and that’s entertainment. And that is music that makes you want to get up and boogie, music that makes you just want to remember or music that makes you want to clap your hands or sing along.”
And Dan and Rosemarie love the audiences here, saying they are “some of the most appreciative anywhere, with some of the best musicians the world has to offer.”
I’ve had the pleasure of working with them both, mainly at Norm’s, where Dan occasionally substitutes for Jebry. He’s a great, kind and affable leader, but what astounded me are his “ears.” As a guitarist, Smedile can hear anything, and that’s rare. I’ve heard someone call a song that he’s never played, and somehow and magically, he’s able to figure out its entire harmonic and melodic structure before the first eight bars are finished. He’s a darn good bassist as well, and if it has to do with electronics, which almost everything musical does these days, Smedile knows about it.
That’s talent. And as one half of the dynamic duo named Side by Side, that’s entertainment.
Bruce Klauber, is the biographer of drum great Gene Krupa, and is the “Jazz Legends DVD Series Producer” for Hudson Music, Warner Bros. Publications and Alfred Publishing. Contact him at www.JazzLegends.com or DrumAlive@aol.com