If you've still got your hand up, congrats! You know your way around some of what makes Tucson's musical heritage so rich. But if you aren't yet aware of the Tucson Musicians Museum, it may be time to get acquainted with a local institution that, since 2007, has been celebrating Tucson's rich musical landscape.
The museum's founder—and for the most part, the driving force behind it—is George Howard, a drummer, singer and band leader who has been playing professionally most of his adult life.
"When we started this, the idea was to educate Tucson about so many of the elder musicians who set the bar (so high) for everyone else," Howard says. "We also wanted to have not just people who played here but also lived here and did community service. It's not just about being a great player or having a hall of fame."
As such, the first class of inductees was incredibly diverse. It brought together a collection of stellar players, many with superior jazz and classical chops and who might be considered icons within their respective musical worlds, along with folks few have ever heard of. People like Stefan George, Tommy Walker, Anna Warr, Steve Grams, Mary Redhouse, Larry Redhouse and Cass Preston, all of whom have a certain amount of name recognition, are right alongside little-remembered folks like TC Turner and Rusty Terry, both blues players of the 1960s and '70s respectively. Add to that mix players like Willy Sams (member of the legendary Blue Lizards), saxophonist Jesse Tovar (who played with such beautiful tone) and classical conductor Buckey Steele, and you begin to have an appreciation for the diversity and scope of the project, whose honorees include promoter Jeb Schoonover and DJ Marty Kool, longtime host of KXCI's Blues Revue. In all, 56 people were inducted into the Museum in that first year.
In addition to honoring the musicians, the museum's mission is about education and community support, including projects in a number of schools and with the Tucson Junior Strings. The museum has also provided funds for musical scholarships and instruments while members have served as mentors to aspiring young musicians, particularly from underserved communities.
To boost the representation of folk artists—a quick perusal of the museum's inductees can only find a small handful of folk artists—Howard has recently reached out to the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association, which stages Tucson's annual folk festival, where literally hundreds of singers, songwriters and players of all stripes come together for a weekend of free music.
In partnership with TKMA President Diane Perry, Howard has crafted an upcoming show that features close to a dozen TKMA artists teaming up with various members of the Tucson Musicians Museum, with the museum crew forming a house band for the Kitchen Musicians. Because there are almost 20 acts involved, each act only gets one song. For the songwriters among the Kitchen Musicians, it's an opportunity to showcase one of their tunes with perhaps new or added players and instrumentation.
The core band will feature a rhythm section of drummer Marx Loeb and bassist Evan Dain, along with guitarist Alvin Blaine and keyboardist Lew Lepley. They'll be backing Kitchen Musicians such as Nancy McCallion, Eric Schaffer, Mitzi Cowell, Sabra Faulk, The Determined Luddites, Big Grin, Joyce Luna, Tom Poley and Emmy Creigh (Way Out West & Dharma Poke), Don Armstrong and Wally Lawder. Other musicians who are also in on the gig include Big Jim Griffith and Tom Walbanks (together!), Katie Haverly, Mark Insley and Ned Sutton.
The concert, scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 24, will also bring a spotlight to Site 17, an ambitious project by TMM member Tom Kusian. Located within the former 17th Street Market/17th St. Music (which both shut down in 2012), Site 17 is part of a larger, 50,000-square-foot complex (that also sustains Tucson Party Rentals).
On the horizon, Kusian plans to open the 17th St. Music Club as a venue for smaller performances. The club, which will seat five or six dozen audience members, will offer a space for workshops, jams and open mics. Howard hopes Site 17 will serve as a TMM annex for future events.
From the beginning, Howard—who is also a professional photographer—has made portraits of Tucson Musician Museum honorees. Over the years, these inspiriting portraits have hung in the Rialto Theatre and 17th St. Music, but they're are now on display within the Tucson Convention Center, available for viewing Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.