Musician Brings Jazz To Payson



Gerry Reynolds had been playing drums pretty much all of his life -- until the real world intervened.

"As a little kid, I was in a state champion drum corps," Reynolds said. "In college (at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo), I marched up and down the field at halftime. I was a drummer in my Coast Guard band.


Gerry Reynolds

"Then I got serious and went to work and put away the sticks for years and years and years."

Fortunately for Rim country jazz fans, Reynolds and his drums have been reunited.

"Eight or nine years ago, I got back into playing, and it's been a pretty good rise the last few years," he said. "All of a sudden, I'm playing with the best musicians."

Reynolds is the president of Jazz in AZ, Inc., a non-profit organization that stages a variety of concerts and events at Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and other venues.

When he retired to Payson three years ago, he brought his passion for jazz with him. Eventually he linked up with other jazz fans and began staging monthly concerts at Community Presbyterian Church.

He admits that the musicians he brings to the Rim country have little choice but to let him sit in on drums.

"I sort of manufactured that," he said with a laugh. "You know, you create a venue and they will come, and if you're the drummer they gotta get along with you."

Fortunately for all concerned, Reynolds can hold his own with anyone. In addition to his Sunday afternoon performances, he plays every Thursday night at the Pita Jungle Restaurant in Chandler (for those who want to see him, take Highway 87 to 202 loop to 101 loop, go south on Ray Road for one block and you're there).

You can also catch him on Friday and Saturday nights at Mad Dawg's & Mel's Restaurant on Main Street. His Payson Jazz Trio includes pianist Bob Smolenski and bassist Mike Buskirk, the Rim Country Middle School music teacher.

We play from 6-9 p.m. -- early stuff, because people are early in Payson," he said. "And that's all right with me."

The people of Payson have turned out to be the best part of living here for Reynolds, who retired from Maricopa Community Colleges where he was in charge of the student loan program.

"I didn't have a need to move out of the area," he said. "I thought, where can I go to get out of this mess in the Valley. There's too much traffic and it's too hot.

"First it was the air. It was cooler (in Payson). This is a good elevation, and I understand people live longer at higher elevations.

"I thought, that was good. But then the other thing was the small town. I'm a small town guy. I grew up on a ranch. I was a 4-Her. But the real reason I'm here is that the people are so nice."

While his jazz concerts are very well received among the Rim country's older audiences, Reynolds bemoans the fact that the genre is declining in popularity among the young.

"Young people coming up through school in the last 20 years never hear it," he said. "They hear what their peers want to hear -- rap. It's a cultural thing."

Reynolds still remembers the event that turned him on to jazz.

"In the late 50s when I was in elementary school in Walnut Creek, they said, ‘We're going to go next door to the high school for an assembly. We're going to sit on the floor on the mats around the piano, and we're going to hear some new music.'

"It was Dave Brubeck himself, just before he did "Take Five" and got hot. I'm going, ‘I don't know what it is but I sure like it.' He was just totally different, and to hear it live.

Reynolds jazz heroes also include drummers Art Blakey, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and a contemporary Valley drummer named Louis Nash.

Next week will be a busy one for Reynolds, and for the Rim country's jazz fans. No fewer than three jazz concerts are scheduled during what he has dubbed Jazz Week in Payson.

Pianist Les Czimber appears at 2 p.m. Sunday at Community Presbyterian, ragtime pianist Mark Allen Jones appears Wednesday (St. Patrick's Day) night at Mad Dawg's & Mel's, and then Grammy nominee vocalist Judy Roberts appears Friday evening at Community Presbyterian. Reynolds will play drums at all three.

Toss in the Payson Jazz Trio's appearance Saturday night at Mad Dawg's, and he should be one very tired drummer. Good thing he'll be doing it all at such a healthy elevation.

For more information or reservations to Jazz Week in Payson events, call Reynolds at (928) 468-1381.


Name: Gerry Reynolds

Occupation: Retired from Maricopa Community Colleges to make music and be an officer in a nonprofit arts organization.

Employer: Jazz in Arizona, Inc., but I'm still waiting to be paid.

Age: 65

Birthplace: Oakland, Calif. Northern California native (which is really a separate state).

Family: None in Arizona, but many friends fill in for them.

Personal motto: He who hesitates has (or is it "is") lost.

Inspiration: Soulful jazz music, which comes from God and not the Devil.

Greatest feat: As a "Coastie," helping to save a mariner in the open sea.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: You guessed it, playing drums and listening to jazz at clubs and festivals.

Three words that describe me best: Not that old.

I don't want to brag, but: I won a silver cup for showing a Hereford bull.

Person in history I'd most like to meet: One is Art Blakey, drummer and leader of the Jazz Messengers for 30 years. He coached and played with some of the greatest musicians of all time. He never went to school, never had a lesson, but he was the greatest.

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