After sixty-five years of playing together and sixty-four years of marriage, Bob and Fran Tyler help keep jazz alive by sharing their combined talents and mutual love of music with local seniors.
Along with seven other gifted musicians of the Insight Band, the couple entertained a group of more than seventy senior citizens earlier this month at the Senior Jazz & Lunch Program held at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead.
Fran Tyler, an 81-year-old vocalist and drummer, always wanted to be a singer when she was young. “Singing is my forte.” When she was in high school, a friend invited her to a jam session. “In the old days, you could go in and listen to music.”
Bob Tyler, 87, was part of a radio show back then on WGBH called Young America Speaks. She recalled their first meeting. “Bob was playing his sax. He gave me his number and I called him. Before long, it became the Bob and Fran Show. Those were wonderful, crazy times.”
The couple started a trio together to get work. That was the beginning of The Storm Trio of the 1950’s. They played in local lounges and did radio shows. “We were playing seven nights a week and had to rehearse every morning. We had a good agent.” Sherm Feller, who later became the address announcer for the Boston Red Sox, got them a recording contract with Jubilee Records. Their records were sold in stores and supermarkets.
The Insight Band got its start when local musician Irv Galis began doing a solo act for the visually impaired at the JCCNS in Marblehead. It grew into a jazz band and a monthly tradition. Sighted people went to dance with them and listen to their favorite old standards. The Tylers dropped in one day and became regulars, eventually taking over when Galis could no longer do it.
Today, they bring their music to those who are not able to come to them. Four members of the original Storm Trio make up the core group: Fran Tyler, vocalist and drummer, Bob Tyler, woodwinds and piano, Dave Matabas, bass, and Ted Knowlton, piano. Others in the March 6 performance included Tony Lenno on the trumpet, Bob Druckman, sax, Joe Lentino, trombone, Dave Rasmussen, clarinet, and Mike Elman on the violin.
Listeners enjoyed an hour of instrumental jazz and solo performances of each musician. Knowlton sang and played keyboard. Tyler played accompaniment on the keyboard while his wife sang “Old Cape Cod,” a tune made popular by Patti Page in 1957. Children from the day care program sat and listened to the music from a bygone era as the audience sang along to “Button Up Your Overcoat.”
Tyler, who is retired as choral director at Burlington High School, introduced the band and reminisced about gigs at various clubs in Boston and on radio stations WBZ and WEEI. He recalled playing at Motorama in the 1950s, a traveling car show put on by General Motors, at the Commonwealth Armory in Boston. After GM showed off its latest models, singers, actors and musicians would perform. “We were on a stage toward the back. Ed Sullivan was there. It was better than following a dog act,” said Tyler.
The Insight Band performs four to eight times a month at local nursing homes and senior centers.
“This is wonderful. I love coming here and playing with this group,” said violinist Mike Elman.
Swampscott resident and concert pianist Sandy Yagendorf enjoys listening to these musicians. “It brings back memories. There’s always a big crowd. I look forward to the first Monday of every month.”
Fran Tyler loves what she’s doing today. “I’ll continue doing it until my voice goes.”
“Senior Jazz & Lunch has been one of our signature programs for several years,” said Sara Ewing, Adult Programming Director at the JCCNS. “On the first Monday of every month seniors gather to listen to jazz standards by the Insight Band and stay to socialize over lunch.”
Lina Rehal is a freelance writer and independent author. Visit her website, www.thefuzzypinkmuse.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.