Perf. Arts

Smooth start
Musician's passion for jazz began at a very young age



By KRISTYN ADAMS - Special to TimeOut

June 5, 2014

WEST BEND - Local saxophonist Dave Petty is happy to have found the perfect name for his jazz combo.  

From venue to venue, Impromptu may be a solo, duet or quintet performance depending on the available talent at his side. Digital backup fills the gaps and off he goes. Wherever he plays, as long as his clarinet and tenor sax are within reach, Petty is ready to smooth things out.     

A native of New Jersey, he discovered his love for jazz in fifth grade. The genre made its presence known from within a rural environment. If youve lived in New Jersey, you know why they call it the Garden State, Petty said. Where I lived, it was all farms and countrysides. I worked for a dairy farm out there. The music came from grammar school.  

Petty recollected his chance introduction to jazz and brass. We had a grammar school band that was very good, Petty said. The more I listened, the more I thought jazz was so cool. I went and talked to the band director. He said I could be in the band only when I was good enough, so I wanted to start lessons right away. Because musical instruments were not rented during those times, Pettys choice was extremely limited.  

A baritone (saxophone) was the only instrument the band director had left, Petty said. I can remember the first day I came home from school with a baritone sax. My mom and grandma saw me through the kitchen window bringing this huge instrument up the driveway. It was longer than I was tall, but I took to it right away.   

Later, Pettys father bought him a tenor saxophone. To this day, Petty enjoys playing tenor sax and jazz clarinet at local intimate venues. A faculty member at West Bend Music Academy, Petty said finding and developing your own sound is worth the time it takes.  

Start off by listening to players you really like. They cant be duplicated of course, but there has to be a target. With some musicians, distinct tone quality develops naturally. Imitation has a lot to do with the result but in the end, you will always end up sounding like you.  

As a musician, you always hope the audience enjoys the music - thats No 1. In this day and age, thats tough, said Petty.

In the past, people were more attentive but times have changed. Theres no more dancing, either. It would be great if people truly listened as they did 30 or 40 years ago, but sometimes live playing is no different than when a radio is on. The music is off in a corner somewhere, but there are special moments. Its so pleasing when couples come up and strike up a conversation; if they say something like, I hear a lot of Zoot Sims in your playing.   

Petty describes his tone as dark, smooth, and smoky and said songs like Joseph Kosmas Autumn Leaves and Duke Ellingtons In a Sentimental Mood are good material examples.  

My sound isnt of the bee-bop variety, Petty said.  

Petty cites Sims, a saxophonist who played with Benny Goodman in the 1940s, and jazz icon Jimmy Hamilton, who worked with Duke Ellington for 25 years, as major influences. 

Jimmy Hamilton played at the Jersey shore when I was there. He was a nice guy and a great player with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He took me under his wing for a bit and was a huge influence, Petty said.  

Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton are just a few jazz greats who inspire Impromptu vibraphonist Bob Maynard of Wauwatosa.

My dad was a jazz musician so I always had jazz in my life, Maynard. Ive been playing almost 58 years and I would never think of stopping. I learn something new every time I play and every time I practice. Its no different than being an athlete or any other occupation, but whether its a ballad, swing, or a waltz, music is the finest motivator there is.  

Drummer Bill Schmidt of West Bend also performs with Petty and Maynard. The groups next performance is from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Poplar Inn, 518 Poplar St., West Bend.