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

People who know Turk characterize him as something of a hothead. But that doesn't make him a racist.

"Yeah, he has a temper," says pianist Billy Marcus. "But I will stick up for him. He is dead right about it. It is not racially motivated in the least. I know him. He has worked all his life with black people. Some black people are his heroes."

Burger, the drummer, says: "We have all worked together for a lot of years. I think in our realm he is the last one to have any problem with [race]." He adds, "He is volatile, and he plays that way, but that is his character. Turk is Turk. Sometimes he's grumpy."The Sun-Sentinel quoted O'Hara's manager Todd Whitt saying Turk "would never work in this town again." So far he hasn't. Not because no one would hire him; in fact Turk turned down a gig at the Anne Kolb Nature Center. He wasn't sure how the audience would react. "I backed out of it. I said, "You better get somebody else. You might get some picketing or trouble.'"

Joshua Prezant
Joshua Prezant

Or maybe people would have come out in support. But that would have been just as uncomfortable, he says, because "what is there to support? This isn't a thing like "Did he do it or didn't he do it?'"

Marieken Turso, who also did not return calls from New Times, divorced Turk a few weeks after he got out of jail. She'd had enough of the gambling, he says, and enough of his jazz musician's lifestyle. She wanted him to get a real job. "She really pressured me to get out of music," he says. "She never understood my place in the music world and in jazz. She had no comprehension what it meant to me, that it was my whole life."

Their divorce papers tell the story of a lopsided financial ledger. Marieken is a tour guide, and she made $32,000 in 1998. She paid the rent and utilities, put gas in the car, and kept it insured. She had a retirement plan and some cash in the bank.

Turk put down "self-employed musician" as his occupation. His pay rate of $150 per night wasn't bad, but his gross monthly income came to only $300. Subtract $100 a month for food, $66 for a life insurance policy, $89 for credit cards, and $125 a month for "smoking," and that left him $80 in the hole.

He left Hollywood and moved north to Micco (about halfway between Melbourne and Vero Beach) to take care of his father full-time, who by then was in very bad shape. Though his dad had Alzheimer's, Turk is sure he knew about the trouble his son was in. "He had to know about it," says Turk. "How are you going to keep it from him? I'm calling him up from the fucking jail."

Dominick Turso died in early February.

Turk pleaded no contest to charges of battery and disorderly conduct and got one year's probation. He has to attend weekly anger-management classes and perform 50 hours of community service, which he serves at a church cleaning up after Wednesday night bingo. He's also required to have a job, so he worked 17 hours a week at a liquor store for $7 an hour until two weeks ago, when he got fired because business was slow. Since the divorce he's had to file for bankruptcy.

Then there's the lawsuit.

Barkley is suing Turk for hitting her and O'Hara's for failing to protect her. In the suit she claims that she told Ryan, the owner of O'Hara's, about Turk's "violent propensities" before the attack and that Ryan "failed to take the appropriate safety precautions to prevent this violent attack from occurring."

Turk lives in his dad's doublewide, in limbo until things sort themselves out. He had a line on a gig in Las Vegas that paid $2500 a week, but that hasn't panned out yet. He's been thinking about going home to New York to find work, and he's also sent off a demo tape to Verve records. Maybe they'll want to record him. Maybe not.

The good news is that he kicked the gambling habit on his own and has a paying gig Fridays and Saturdays at Heidi's Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach, about 45 minutes north of his trailer. He opened the first week in July.The gig starts at nine. Hanging around the trailer in shorts, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap, Turk looks like another South Florida early retiree who watches too much TV.

At 7:20 p.m. he disappears into a back bedroom. Fifteen minutes later he's back wearing black dress slacks, a tan short-sleeve shirt, and shiny black shoes. Florida swing casual. And he wears it well, like a man as comfortable in high fashion as most are in jeans.

Turk packs his 45-year-old tenor sax into a soft case. On the way out the door, he pours himself two fingers of Grant's whiskey, then hops into his inherited Pontiac four-door for the drive to Cocoa Beach.

Heidi's is an intimate jazz room with a blond wood bar, modern art on the walls, and small, candlelit tables. Thirty people would be a big crowd. Turk is a known and welcome quantity. As he walks in people at the bar turn and call his name. A woman hugs him. It's 9:10 p.m., and pianist Ron Teixeira, bassist Jim Crutcher, and drummer Dave Dunscombe are eager to add Turk to the mix.

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