Part VIII – Of Micro Swine and Sunnyland…
During my college days in the 1980’s, I enjoyed playing a great range of material with various bands. In addition to the variety of old jazz bands I was playing banjo with, I also did some classic rock and eclectic tunes with bands named “Paradox”, “Tough Knights”, “KCMO” and “No Exit” and was part of a recording project/comedy group called “3 Wise Guys”. I worked in collaboration with people I met in college on special projects running from avant-garde art project recordings to early funk & rap bands. I eventually felt enough confidence in my capabilities to try to lead a band of my own.
Through a combination of personal contacts and a fortuitous advertisement at a local music store, I was finally able to get a trio of players together. I had met the tuba player, Colin Forsyth, when the Banjo-Aires were playing a party thrown by his father and Colin was tending the bar. Our regular tuba player was unavailable, so I was filling in with the group on bass banjo. Colin pointed out that the group could really use a tuba and that he was himself a tuba player…and so the first connection was made. Through the music store ad, I contacted John Klumpp. John had been a trumpeter in high school but was looking to get back into playing in a different style. I organized an initial get-together at my house, leaving briefly to get pizza for all of us. When I came back with the pie, the first words I heard when I entered the room were John & Colin discussing a particular breed of pig – the Yucatan Micro Swine – and a band name was born.
The Micro Swine took on some ambitious and slightly obscure material to differentiate our playlist from other groups. We included “Black Bottom Stomp”, “I’m Going Away to Wear You Off My Mind”, and a version of Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” incorporating a wildly high key change which could stun even the most jaded jazz listener. We played a few gigs and got to play a live radio program which was normally dedicated to political commentary on the day when Manuel Noriega was deposed from power – so of course, the lead-in tune for our segment was “Panama”. One of our last performances was at my wedding reception in 1990 when we got to play “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby”. Sherrie designed a logo for our band with three pigs playing banjo, trumpet and tuba.
Eventually, Colin moved to Tennessee and started a family, but John & I continued to play on occasion – particularly with Howard Hovey and Irv Petraszewski at the Osborne Inn gig. During a stint at a Riverhead Country Fair, Howard introduced me to Jeff Furman. Howard had been encouraging Jeff to start playing a more improvised style and over time Jeff started becoming the first call substitute for Howard on our gigs. It was a natural progression for Jeff to become our regular tuba player over time, but we felt the band name needed to change. Ultimately, I was faced with a gig where I needed to use a new band name and had none. The only source of inspiration at that desperate moment was an old washboard I had picked up with a logo and name – “Sunnyland”. I felt it conveyed both the connection to an earlier time and the sometimes unrealistic optimism embodied in the songs of that era. The name stuck, as did our pigs logo (which was too distinctive for me to part with).
Since I established Sunnyland Productions as my business name, I have used the label of “Sunnyland” for a variety of projects I have produced, including a 2001 CD with an all-star ensemble playing lesser-heard tunes of great Tin Pan Alley songwriters. The core local trio of Sunnyland – myself, John & Jeff – have been actively playing regionally for almost 15 years as of this writing. We have had a couple of years of regular gigs – first at Le Chef in Southampton and later at Bonnie Jean’s in Southold – as well as a number of recurring performances for local events.
Additionally, I would like to acknowledge some special guests who have either “sat in”, substituted or supplemented the band over the years (with apologies to any I may have neglected):
- Tuba – Bill Troiano, John Lovett, Jay Rosen, Art Hovey
- String Bass – Chris Jones, Rays Williams
- Guitar – Greg “Clutch” Reilly, Bruce MacDonald, Brian Campbell
- Reeds – Don Howard, Carl Obrig, Matt Koza, Artie Miller, Roe Coletta, Bernie Lee, Pat DeRosa, John Clark
- Trombone – Bob Hovey, Henry Newberger, Fred Hines, Jerry Cohen
- Trumpet – Earl Rishel, Ken Butterfield
- Percussion – Ron Hammond, Pat Petrosini, Jimmy Pirone, Glenn Brewster, Artie Schultz
- Piano – Larry Pearlstein, Charlie Notturno
I’ve gotten to play with a bunch of other groups over the years…even recorded with a few. I’m on a CD as special guest with the Galvanized Jazz Band (Connecticut) as well as the Wolverine Jazz Band of Boston (where I occassionally get to “sub” for the great and distinctive Jimmy Mazzy) and the Loose Marbles of New Orleans. My eternal thanks, too, to ALL OUR FANTASTICALLY SUPPORTIVE FANS who keep showing up !! It is for them that we try to keep a fresh approach each & every performance – “Never the same way once”.