The Underdog

Jazzman Turk Mauro rode high in New York, Paris, and the south of France -- now he's hanging on for dear life through a South Florida streak of the blues

All of it was on his mind that night at O'Hara's.

Turk had a drink before he left his Hollywood apartment and arrived at O'Hara's about 9:20 p.m. The show started 20 minutes later. He doesn't like to arrive early to shows. He got there, put his horn together, joined his bandmates on stage, and started playing. About 10:20 p.m., after a few opening tunes including his standard "Secret Love," Turk and Burger lit cigarettes on stage while Coffman introduced Beverly Barkley. She stood out front with Coffman and Turk behind her, Burger to her right and Silvano Monasterios to her left. Coffman recalls that the band was really on that night. "Better than normal," he says. "I thought Turk was playing exceptionally well and we were being well received."

As Barkley stepped to the microphone, she commented about the cigarettes and waved her hands in the air to dissipate the smoke. Then they played the first set, which lasted until 11 p.m. At the break Turk and Burger went out the back door for a smoke. Barkley came out a few minutes later, mad as hell.

Hanging with Buddy Rich (left), and jamming with Billy Mitchell
Turk Mauro
Hanging with Buddy Rich (left), and jamming with Billy Mitchell

"I was outside, just breathing the air, when she comes out in a rage saying, "You always smoke on the bandstand?' and whatnot," he recalls. "I was unnecessarily nasty right back to her. I said, "Yes I do,' something like that, you know. We had a few words about it, nothing more. She said something like "We'll see about that' and all this kind of thing."

Barkley went back inside. Turk followed her, shot her a dirty look, and walked away. Then she followed him, catching him in a hallway. "She started to berate me, cursing at me, taking personal potshots at me," he says.

Turk lost his temper and stuck his finger in her face. He recalls saying, "You're in trouble now, you're in trouble now." By that, he says, he meant he was going to complain to the O'Hara's management. Which he did.

Barkley apparently took the comment as a personal threat and reported it to O'Hara's owner Kitty Ryan. (Neither Ryan nor any other O'Hara's employee returned phone calls for this story.)

Burger came up with the idea that Turk and Barkley rotate stage time. When she sang, he was offstage, and vice versa. The band cranked off two solid sets that way, playing until well past 2 a.m. Sunday.

Turk sat with friends or at the bar, stewing. "Let me put it this way," he says, "the way she talked to me, I had never been talked to like that by anybody in my life. I was 55 years old at the time, and I was completely shocked by her berating me over such a little thing like that, how angry she was about it." He had four drinks that night -- a lot, given the fact he hadn't been drinking at all because of his recent surgery.

Barkley was up last. Turk watched her from a nearby table. Her penultimate number was Aretha Franklin's "Respect." As she finished and stepped from the bandstand, Turk got up from his table, strode the ten feet to the stage, and punched her in the left side of her face with his right fist. She fell backward. Turk turned, picked up a nearby chair, and held it as if he were going to hit her with it, but somebody in the crowd stopped him.

A Fort Lauderdale cop working security at the front door that night saw everything. In her report she wrote that Turk "suddenly lunged at the victim and knocked her to the ground." Then while she was still on the floor, he "grabbed a chair and stepped toward her as if to hit her with the chair."

That night in jail, nursing a bruised thumb, Turk tried to re-create the scene, to remember every detail. To this day he can't quite do it. "I have spoken to a lot of people," he says, to try to reconstruct the night.

He threw the punch; that's not in question. What he's really trying to discern is the truth at the dark heart of that night: Did he or did he not call Barkley a "nigger" during the attack?

She says he did. Barkley's lawyer, Thaddeus Hamilton, says it happened this way: "He rushed the stage, called my client a nigger, and hit her. As a result my client was injured, and that's it."

Turk figures he didn't. But there's that uncertainty. For the last eight months, he's called everyone he knows -- friends, relatives, witnesses, enemies -- and asked them candidly: Could I have done something like that?

Burger and Coffman say they didn't hear any such slur, and they were on the bandstand. Heidi Lee Rosenbaum, a drummer who happened to be sitting in the front row watching the show that night, says she didn't hear anything either. After Turk attacked Barkley, says Rosenbaum, other audience members pulled him away and shoved him toward the bar. "He said, "That will teach you to "f" with me,'" she recalls. "That was it." (Monasterios, who was also on the bandstand, could not be reached for comment.)

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