Shared love of traditional jazz keeps musicians on the same page

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 11, 2015

 From left, trombonist Terry Kimura, trumpeter Anthony Stanco, drummer Bob Pinterich, bass player Bill Bolle and clarinetist Mike Jones perform at Marge’s Bar and Grill.

From left, trombonist Terry Kimura, trumpeter Anthony Stanco, drummer Bob Pinterich, bass player Bill Bolle and clarinetist Mike Jones perform at Marge’s Bar and Grill.

Photo by Roy Feldman

GROSSE POINTE PARK — There’s a gulf of generations between them, but on stage, the musicians in what’s come to be known as Marge’s Bar Band are a tight unit brought together by a mutual passion for a style of music that predates all of them.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of regular jazz sessions at Marge’s Bar and Grill, and while the musicians may have changed over the last four decades, the music — largely Dixieland and swing jazz, which originated at the start of the 20th century — has stayed essentially the same. Every second and fourth Thursday from 7-10 p.m., a dedicated group of patrons comes to the bar to hear some of metro Detroit’s best jazz players turn their attention to jazz standards.

Today, the band is led by trombonist Terry Kimura of Grosse Pointe Park, who was born in Japan, grew up in Chicago and headed to Ann Arbor in 1998 to study music at the University of Michigan.

“It might be a strange sight, (seeing) this young Asian man fronting a band with men twice his age,” Kimura said. “(But) the audience seems to appreciate it.”

Kimura, who’s been with the band for the last two years, was mentored by the late jazz great Jim Wyse, a Grosse Pointe Park native who played saxophone and clarinet. Wyse actually took the reins of Marge’s Bar Band from another local jazz legend, his childhood pal, cornet player Tom Saunders, who died in 2010 at the age of 71.

“For me, the most important thing — and this is what Jim wanted — is to continue it and keep it interesting, keep the old customers but make it interesting for new customers,” Kimura said.

The band’s decision to soldier on is in no small part due to their desire to honor their predecessors. The bar’s namesake, Marguerite M. “Marge” DePuys — who started the jazz series for her younger brother, accomplished jazz trumpeter Joe Defoe, in 1970 — died April 12, 2014, at the age of 85. Defoe himself died in 2003, which is when Saunders took over the band. DePuys’ son, Jimmy, now runs the bar and has continued the jazz series in his mother’s memory.

Wyse, a Wayne County assistant prosecutor for 25 years, played the clarinet and saxophone at countless metro Detroit venues for decades. He died on Dec. 24, 2014, at the age of 76.

Sitting around a table at Marge’s Bar, the musicians shared an easy camaraderie, teasing each other like the longtime buddies they are.

“It’s turning into a steady gig,” joked drummer Bob Pinterich, of Dearborn, who’s been with the band for about 38 years. Interviewed last fall, Wyse said he’d been playing with the group for almost as long as Pinterich.

“We were networking before there was networking,” Wyse said, noting that the musicians would call peers they didn’t know to set up gigs with them. “It’s been 50 years of telephone calls. … That’s how we all met. It has to do with mutual respect. It has to do with trusting each other. If Terry says a guy can play, you assume the guy can play.”

Kimura, a recent transplant to Grosse Pointe Park, said he got his start with the band by chance, stopping in to play a few songs with them while he was passing through town. He was invited to stay with the group, and he’s been a fixture ever since.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find people who can play this style of music,” Kimura said. “There’s really no other way of learning it” aside from performing it.

Bass player Bill Bolle, of Troy, who has been a district court judge in that city since 1978, has worked with the band off and on for about the last 20 years. Keyboardist John Hammer, of Birmingham, has been with them for about 15 years. Another band member is clarinet player Mike Jones, of Dearborn.

“We all have played with each other in other bands — bands of every description,” Hammer said.

They don’t practice together, but you’d never know it from the seamless way the members of Marge’s Bar Band perform, picking up unspoken cues from each other.

“It’s part of a jazz musician’s apprenticeship to learn tunes in such a way he can integrate into any jazz (group) with reasonable coherence,” Hammer said.

Pinterich said traditional jazz is “a comfortable language for us,” enabling them to communicate with ease. Like his peers, he got an early start in music, taking classes in grade school “so I could get out of (taking) history.” Wyse said his mother played a piano that was delivered to her farm home via a boxcar.

“I grew up with it,” Hammer said of this type of jazz. “My dad was a Dixieland trumpet player.”

Marge’s Bar is a sports Mecca, with the TV always tuned to a sporting event, and the band has been known to take a break during hockey playoff season if the Detroit Red Wings are in the running. Wyse recalled one particularly memorable sports-related moment in the band’s history.

“One night, I got great applause and I took a bow,” he said. Wyse was a bit chagrined to learn the applause was actually for a goal scored by Red Wing Steve Yzerman.

While they may have played some songs many times over the years, in typical jazz style, the musicians add their own flourishes at each concert.

“We typically never play the same song the same way (again),” Bolle said. “As long as you play the same chord structure, it’s correct.”

Kimura said that while they play standards, they play them in a way the composer “may have never intended.”

“If we know a tune well, we can really embellish on it and enhance it and make it even prettier than the last time we played it,” Pinterich said.

At a gig in September, Kimura introduced the audience to someone who has since become the latest regular, trumpeter Anthony Stanco, of Fraser, who’s in his 20s.

“We’re really excited to have Anthony here,” Kimura told the audience, kiddingly adding, “I know I’m excited, because for the first time, I’m not the youngest (in the band).”

Performing in a small area around the bar’s front window, facing Mack Avenue, there were so many instruments and musicians that Kimura was practically playing in the doorway. The setting might not have been fancy, but the sound was as sophisticated as anything you’d expect at a more upscale venue, and, as an added bonus, there was no cover charge.

Judy Morlan, of Grosse Pointe Park, said she and her husband, Gordon, have been coming to these concerts for about 30 years now to hear “real Dixieland. They play the traditional (songs).”

Gordon Morlan agreed.

Marge’s Bar Band plays “a good variety, but a lot of standards,” he said. “You would think you were in New Orleans.”

Nancy Blake, of Clinton Township, is another longtime patron, having been a regular since around 2002 or 2003.

“Every week, it’s good,” she said. “It’s true Dixieland. … It’s always been fabulous. (The musicians) really mesh with each other. … They sound great.”

Although some of the more seasoned members of the band aren’t as enthusiastic about social media as the newcomers, Kimura said he launched a Marge’s Bar Band Facebook page last fall and has been using that to reach out to a broader audience.

“It’s really helping,” he said.

Kimura said he isn’t looking for a musician to replace Wyse.

“Somebody like Jim doesn’t get replaced,” he said.

Instead, Kimura is now recruiting a rotating roster of players to join the band for individual gigs, which means audiences can expect to see a variety of instrumentalists and vocalists take the stage.

“I want to go for a really healthy mix of young people and veterans,” Kimura said of the musical lineup, which recently included a guitarist in his 20s.

In the same way, he wants to introduce this spirited, swingin’ music to a new generation of listeners.

“I think there’s something (special) about this era of jazz — there’s a sheer joy to it,” he said. “A person who has no musical training can walk in and enjoy the atmosphere of it.”

Marge’s Bar Band performs from 7-10 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at Marge’s Bar and Grill, 15300 Mack in Grosse Pointe Park. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook page or contact the bar at (313) 881-8895.