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Downtown Jazz

Tune into easy-listening radio stations around the country, and you'll likely hear jazz music. Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis are now played side by side with Kenny G. But is all of this truly jazz music?

Not according to jazz musician Tony Frank. He believes people are confused about what real jazz truly is.

"So many (stations) you go to are labeled jazz around the country, and you hear Motown and R&B. There is no denying that is valid music, but it's not real jazz."

He defines real jazz as music that includes Dixieland, big band, swing, Latin jazz and traditional blues. He is passionate about this music and wants to keep it alive on the airwaves and at concert venues.

Frank's love affair with jazz began as a child. Hailing from Detroit, his family ran a dinner theater. Music and performing were in the family blood.

"I was a professional actor by the time I was 10. I had done 100 stage plays. ... My grandmother was a vocalist in the USO and sang with big bands. Big-band music was permeating through the house when I grew up.

"My grandmother gave me my first trumpet. She looked me dead in the eye and said, 'If I buy this for you, you will play it every day and play like Harry James.' I stayed true to her word."

Frank says he started listening to Miles Davis as a teenager.

"I was 12 when I got my first trumpet. I loved the sound of it. It appealed to me. Miles said he liked the trumpet because he thought it was closest to the sound of the human voice. I agree. I loved how Miles played. I wanted to make that sound."

These days, Frank continues to play the trumpet, and the piano, at gigs and private parties around town. He also runs Tucson Jazz Radio, a Web-based broadcast that just passed its two-year anniversary. His newest venture is the creation of the Jazz Guild of Tucson, an organization dedicated to the preservation of classic jazz and the Tucson jazz community.

"(We've) come together to provide concerts that focus on real jazz music. ... We want to offer a year-round series of jazz concerts," he says. Frank is working with local jazz musicians and folks at La Placita Village and Beowulf Alley Theatre to accomplish his goal.

"We want to give a nice cross-section of the best musicians in town and some of the people not seen as much. These are all working professionals who have demonstrated through the years that they are down for the cause of great jazz music. Their sound comes from the roots of jazz."

Since Frank believes jazz to be the "music of the street and of the people," it seems fitting that his concerts are taking place downtown. He is eager to bring people back to the heart of Tucson to hear his favorite music.

"Our focus is to bring the arts to downtown. We are making it affordable so people don't have to go up to the foothills to hear jazz. We hope to help the city and bring soul back to downtown."

First up on the Jazz Guild's lineup are the Lamont Arthur Quartet and Daniel Slipetsky Jr., otherwise known as Sly. Arthur and Sly will play jazz standards on the piano at the opening concert on Saturday, Nov. 10, at La Placita Village.

"Sly is (one of the most) expressive, creative players, as you'll hear. He has a passion for jazz. Lamont comes from a gospel background. He is so full of soul. ... When these two play together, they push each other. It's a great collaboration of creativity," says Frank.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, again at La Placita Village, Mike Kuhn's Unsung Heroes take the stage. The concert will be instrumental with musicians performing music of the hard-bop era. On Nov. 24, Frank is joined by guitarist Ed DeLucia. On Dec. 1, it's Pete Swan's super jam. On Dec. 11, the concert series moves to Beowulf Alley Theatre on Sixth Avenue, where it will reside through February 2008.

Frank is both determined and optimistic about the survival of classic jazz.

"You gotta focus on the positive and have to try to make things better. I want to see jazz, the arts and downtown succeed. This style of music can be appreciated and supported."

The Jazz Guild of Tucson presents the Lamont Arthur Quartet and Sly, from 4 to 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at La Placita Village, 110 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $10 general admission, and $5 for students with ID. Tickets can be purchased at the gate. For more information, call 203-7901 or e-mail the Jazz Guild.

More by Irene Messina

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