Jazz Drummer 'Sticks' With Payson

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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.

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

But when he retired from Maricopa Community College (where he was in charge of the student loan program) Reynolds and his drums were 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 nonprofit 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 in Payson, he plays every Wednesday night at the Pita Jungle Restaurant in Scottsdale and every Thursday night at the Chandler Pita Jungle. The Scottsdale restaurant is at the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Shea roads near the Harkins theater; the Chandler restaurant is at the southeast corner of Dobson and Ray roads.

"It's a trio and an open jam," Reynolds said. "Musicians and vocalists just walk in, and we always get some great talent.

"It attracts a very mixed crowd -- young and old," Reynolds said. "It's economical and healthy food -- a lot of pita wraps, a lot of chicken, salads -- kind of modified Mediterranean."

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.

Although Reynolds has moved back to the Valley to be closer to where he plays, he maintains his ties to Payson and his many friends who live in the Rim Country.

"I connected to everybody up there," Reynolds said. "(The jazz concerts are) a really great vehicle for me to get back up there and keep in touch with everybody and keep the friendships up."

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