RIP Uncle Lionel Batiste

I was saddened to hear the news of the passing of Lionel Batiste – known to everyone in the Vieux Carre as “Uncle Lionel” – one of the most colorful and recognizable figures of the neighborhood.  Always superbly dressed and with an almost regal carriage, he was a kind of ambassador of the Quarter – whether greeting folks with the tip of his hat, a warm and enthusiastic handshake, or stopping by for an impromptu “sit-in” as guest vocalist with a band at the Palm Court.  Uncle Lionel was strutting on the street in front of the first band I ever jammed with down in Jackson Square when we were first introduced. It seemed almost inevitable that I would cross paths with him at some point on every subsequent visit I made to the city.  In a city with a history filled with notable nicknamed characters, Lionel Batiste always offered encouragement to players and bands, surely becoming a symbolic “Uncle” to many who will never forget him.  As they say, “He was a good-timer…”.Photo of Uncle Lionel

June is busting out all over…with Sunnyland

A brief missive to inform our followers of a flurry of activity this coming weekend.  Thursday is the regular night for the Sunnyland trio at Bonnie Jean’s in Southold.  We’ve been happy to see so many of our steady fans showing up to support us and enjoy the great food, too!

If you can’t get out to Southold on Thursday, then come on down to Friday’s concert for Riverhead Townscape.  The performance takes place behind the East End Arts Council at 7 PM, and features an expanded lineup with John Pinto on saxophone and Henry Newberger on trombone.  It promises to be a great night of music & fun – don’t forget to bring your chair.

Finally, for those on the South Fork, the Sunnyland Jazz Band will be performing as we have for many years at the Sag Harbor Yacht Club holiday fireworks.  While this is properly a private affair where we perform for the yacht club, there are plenty of people who come to sit within earshot of us by the bulkheads nearby, enjoying the music until the grand fireworks display takes place over the harbor.  Every year I am astounded by the quality of the fireworks show put on by the SHYC – it’s the best on the East End for sure.

There will be still more Independence Day celebrations the following week….more later!

Sunnyland Jazz Band returning to Bonnie Jeans!

Ah, as the swallows annually return to Capistrano and the crabgrass and dandelions come back with a vengance …we mark the return of the Sunnyland Jazz Band to Bonnie Jean’s on Route 25 in Southold for another season of jazz jubilance featuring triumphant trumpet and tuba and banjo beatitude.  Come on out & enjoy great food, fun music and a great cup of coffee too!

——- UPDATE ——– UPDATE ——– UPDATE ——–

A fantastic time  was had by all last night.  Thanks to everyone for coming out & celebrating our return (and Sherrie’s birthday, too!)

A Presidential Day Phrase – “A Return to Normalcy”

President Warren G. Harding is probably most remembered for the scandals which sullied his administration and reputation (particularly after his death in office), but he also provided us with the invented vocabulary word “normalcy” to describe the return to regularity or normality.  By whatever label is placed upon it, I am happy that my family’s health issues seem to be gradually moving into the past.  The only exception is a rotator cuff injury in my left shoulder diagnosed this week; I am hoping that it can be addressed promptly to have minimal effect on my playing this summer.

On the present horizon, tomorrow will be the Vail-Leavitt Fat Tuesday fundraiser.  I will be performing with some old friends including Bob Hovey, John Lovett and Marty Stromsten along with some new musical acquaintances where we will perform a mix of New Orleans-style standards along with a few tunes reminiscent of our long-time Thursday night jams at EastEnders Coffee House.  Visit the Vail’s website for more information.

I was also informed by Eric Devine that he has made some videos available from my recent exploits at Jeff & Joel’s House Party featuring all-star jam sessions throughout the weekend event.  Here’s a link for “Them There Eyes” featuring the lovely and talented Bria Skonberg and some of the featured performers.

Report on a great weekend & upcoming events

I returned from Connecticut after a fantastic musical weekend at the home of Joel & Donna Schiavone (hosts of the house party which I posted about) which was as great as one could expect.  Fifteen of the best musicians around played to a capacity audience in three 5-hour performance sets over the weekend, and the rotation of musicians varied their lineups without a single tune repeated over 15 hours of musical joy.

Most of the players were past associates from recordings, concerts & festivals in the past – Jeff Barnhart, Jimmy Mazzy, Lew Green, Noel Kaletsky, Robin Verdier, Kevin Dorn, Albie Bernard and Vince Giordano (musical director for the Grammy-winning HBO series Boardwalk Empire).  Additionally, I got to play along with Fred Vigorito, Tom Palinko and Herb Gardner – three great musical friends who I have too rarely gotten the chance to work with.  Lastly there were three new musical introductions for me – Bria Skonberg, Joe Midiri and Craig Grant – players who I’ve heard and admired in performances before and got to work with for the first time.  It was an incredible lineup and great fun.  I especially enjoyed an unplanned early mini-set Sunday when Jeff, Jimmy and I played a few old favorites together.  The house party was a success and is likely to become an annual event – stay posted for next year’s edition as I expect it will sell out quickly in advance based on this year’s buzz.

On a more subdued note, it was a rather nerve-wracking week personally as both my mother and wife each suffered TIA’s (more commonly expressed as “strokes”).  Sherrie’s was resolved rather quickly…likely the result of some shifting of scar tissue in her brain from her past health issues.  My mom’s attack was more severe, but it fortunately (?) occurred while we were visiting my nephew Connor at NYU Medical Center which resulted in very prompt attention and treatment.  She is now back at home, but will be starting a combination of physical, occupational and speech therapy to assist her recovery.  To those friends who have met her at performances in the past, we appreciate all you wishes, thoughts and prayers for her speedy and thorough recovery.

I’m involved in a couple of upcoming events worth noting – one coming up quickly and the other is a date to hold on your calendars in the summer.  First up is the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall‘s Mardi Gras fundraising event to be held on “Fat Tuesday” February 21st beginning at 7:30 PM.  I will be playing with an assortment of friends as the opening act.  The featured performer for the event is Joe Lauro’s “Who Dat Loungers” playing energetic and entertaining New Orleans-style music.  There are a number of local downtown Riverhead restaurants who are participating with promotional discounts for folks who buy their tickets online. Tickets for the event are $20 each.  Connect to the Vail-Leavitt’s website here for more information.

And speaking of the Vail-Leavitt, I’m happy to report the return of the Riverhead Blues & Music Festival to downtown Riverhead on June 16th & 17th.  This signature event is the primary fundraiser for the historic Music Hall’s mission for the cultural, educational and social benefit of the community.  This year we’re happy to report that blues legend Johnny Winter will be one of our featured headline acts.  Hold the date & stay posted via the Vail-Leavitt website as more details become available.

Return from Florida (Yet another Sunny-land!!!)

Just came back earlier this week from Florida – visiting with family in Naples /Marco Island and friends & family in the St. Petersburg area – and wanted to provide a bit of an update to begin the new year.

First, all prayers & good wishes are appreciated for my 12-year old nephew Connor Cosgrove.  A little less than 2 weeks ago, he suffered some symptoms and was quickly diagnosed with a brain tumor.  (For those who do not know, we have some prior experience…my wife Sherrie is now a 15-year brain tumor survivor.)  Connor underwent two brain surgeries in two days at NYU Medical Center, first to remove the mass and a second to remove a blood clot which presented itself on the following day.  As he starts his rest and recovery from this ordeal, a website provides updates on his status.  You can leave messages of support there for Connor and his family as well at: . Once there, you may create an account using your email address or sign in with Facebook Connect.  Good luck & stay strong, Connor!

Second, on the final day of our trip I made a most pleasant musical discovery – a music store in Madeira Beach that must certainly be considered the Gulf Coast Mecca of Ukulele, Compass Music.  I had brought my Kamaka concert uke in a “chipboard” case as my traveling musical device, being less bulky and more portable than my regular banjos.  I spotted the shop a day or so earlier and fortuitously chose to peer in the window.  When what to my wondering eyes should appear but … a WALL FULL of UKULELES!!  I stopped in and met Chris Rooney – the extremely helpful & knowledgeable proprietor – who provided me with an unexpected choice (!!) of properly sized hard-shell cases.  I also purchased a wonderful little 17-fret Vega tenor which will soon be transformed into a nice compact travel banjo.  Visit the website & definitely check the store out if you are in the area.

Third – time is running out for your opportunity to be part of the unique and singular event that will be Jeff and Joel’s House Party.  Check out links and info in my previous post – don’t miss out on what is sure to be a most memorable musical experience!!!


Jeff & Joel’s House Party – February 11th & 12th, 2012

Let me tell you about a MOST SPECIAL AND UNIQUE event which I will be part of on February 11th & 12th, 2012 in Guilford, Connecticut –  Jeff & Joel’s House Party.

The coordinators of this event are both legendary musical figures.  Jeff (Barnhart) is a world- renowned pianist and entertainer, stars on a multitude of recordings and playing with groups around the world – notably the Titan Hot Seven, who are generally acknowledged to be among the finest and popular ensembles on the festival circuit.  Joel (Schiavone) is a well-known entrepreneur, banjo player and musical promoter/impresario.  He was the force behind the national chain of clubs named “Your Father’s Moustache” which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary at no less a venue than New York’s esteemed Carnegie Hall.

What other kind of a house party would you expect to be thrown by Jeff & Joel but one which features 15 of the East Coast’s most outstanding purveyors of traditional jazz – including notables such as Vince Giordano, Lew Green, Jimmy Mazzy, Herb Gardner, Bria Skonberg and Kevin Dorn.  (I am honored to be included among such “fast company”.)

Anyhow, this party should not be missed by anyone considering themselves a serious fan of this musical style.  The musicians are a dynamic group which will undoubtedly be mixed into a variety of creative aggregations which could astound even the most jaded of listeners.  I can promise that the musical excitement and enjoyment will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone involved….potentially more fun than humans should be permitted to have…. FOLLOW THE LINK TO THE EVENT WEBSITE FOR MORE INFO!!!

Have a Sunnyland Xmas!!

Just released!!  “ELF BLUES” – an original Xmas tune for economically challenging times…


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 <<< HERE!!!

Then, go buy it at one of these fine download suppliers:

iTunes  –  Amazon mp3  –  Spotify  –  Zune  –  Rhapsody

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I’ve also posted up my first “solo” video on YouTube, playing a vintage Epiphone tenor guitar.


Happy holidays to everyone!



New updates to site & schedule

“There’ll be a change in the weather, there’s a change in the sea…”

Nature has flipped a switch from  the season of open windows to layered clothing here on Long Island, so it seems an appropriate time to note some changes in the world of Sunnyland.

First, our gig at Bonnie Jean’s has moved to a winter schedule.  We will be playing on an alternating week basis beginning November 3rd, so keep an eye on our upcoming appearances schedule to confirm; I don’t want friends who travel long distances to arrive and be disappointed!  The food is still great – Bonnie Jean’s just won several “Best of the North Fork” awards from Dan’s Papers for this year including “Best Late Night” (I’d like to think that Thursdays clinched that prize).

Members of Sunnyland will also be appearing at the Howard Hovey Tuba & Euphonium Concert at Sayville Middle School on Johnson Avenue in Sayville (South of Sunrise Highway/Route 27).  The day of bass horns is named for Howard Hovey, founder of the festival & my musical associate for over a decade as a member of his trio.  John Klumpp & I play a short opening set with Howard’s two sons – Arthur on helicon and Bob on trombone – who are outstanding musicians in their own right.  Arthur is the lynchpin of Connecticut’s famous Galvanized Jazz Band, while Bob is well-known as a music educator and virtuoso trombonist with an eclectic variety of groups in the New York area.  After our opening set, the free concert features hundreds of tubas & euphonium including small groups and with featured world-class soloists.  In fact, the hometown favorite Long Island Tuba Quartet features two Sunnyland stalwarts – Jeff Furman and Bill Troiano.

Finally, I was encouraged by friends to give some more detail about my musical background and history.  Rather than create a single long text entry, I am breaking up the details into smaller bite-size chunks covering specific experiences.  More segments will be added in “ABOUT BOB BARTA” as I get time to write them…check out the newest entries about two of my teachers.  The first is a re-print of my 1984 interview with my old teacher & “Hobsie-pal” Roy Smeck.  The second is a tribute to Sy Shaffer, a teacher who re-shaped the way I listened to music ever since.

Be well, and hope to see you soon!

Sunnyland at the 2011 Riverhead Country Fair

We had a fantastic day Sunday, October 9th at the Riverhead Country Fair.  I figured out that it marked my 30th year playing the fair with a musical group, dating back to the “Singing Banjos” !  I recall back then that Al Shields was the master of ceremonies – known for his crazy hats & outfits on stage.  I also remember being there when Harold Smith and a group of preservationists from Riverhead Townscape marched around publicizing their efforts to save and restore an old theater nearby the fair, the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, which I had not seen and was totally unaware of.  Thirty odd years later, I’m the president of the non-profit which runs the Vail-Leavitt.  Who’d-a thunk it??

Anyway, here’s a link to a nice little story & clip of video from Riverhead Patch’s Paul Squire.  The lineup includes John Klumpp on trumpet & Bill Troiano on tuba.  The reporter did mix up quotes in the story, however….I know I never said anything about the weather & John doesn’t have kids.

Link – > SJB at the Riverhead Country Fair (from Riverhead Patch)

RiverheadLOCAL also put up a couple of pictures (#16 & 17) and video (we’re about 1:40 in) – all shot by the multi-talented Katie Blasl – included in their report on the fair. Link to that report here.

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