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

Teixeira and Turk agree that the band will start without him and he'll come in on the second or third song. Turk puts his sax together and puts it on a stand by the piano before heading to the bar for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Once the band is warm, Turk grabs his sax and kicks off the night with an up-tempo "Secret Love," his thick fingers working the instrument with dexterity. He's just loosening up and doesn't stray far from the melody, and he doesn't bear down. A week prior he snapped a bridge in his mouth in half while playing, and he's still getting used to the feel of the new one.

At the break he walks out to the parking lot for a smoke. On the bandstand he's in charge of the music, in command of his horn, and in the direct flow of a river of goodwill coming from people who appreciate his one real talent. Everywhere else things have been weary of late. "I'm tired of living," he says, meandering along A1A from the parking lot back to the club. "I've done it all. Why go through the same bullshit over and over again? I've fucked 100 women, been married three times, gambled away thousands of dollars…." His voice trails off, and Turk stares into the night.

Joshua Prezant
Joshua Prezant

But you can't play the way Turk plays unless you live the way Turk lives. Charlie Parker said it best: "There is no boundary line to art. Music is your experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." The quote tops the liner notes on Turk's Love Songs record.

Three minutes later he's back in the spotlight for the second set, blowing a perfectly raunchy blues number that could drift out of a roadhouse juke joint and into a delta night as easily as it spills into the streets of Cocoa Beach. Between runs he pulls the horn out of his mouth, turns to the band, and admonishes them with a withering look. "Blues! Blues!" he prods, not quite under his breath. They're not playing to Turk's liking. They're not swinging.

But Turk is. He's warm and loose, stomping his feet and throwing his head back as he fills the room with his trademark big, fat tones. When he sucks in a breath, it's audible 15 feet away over the sound of the band.

Divorce, death, bankruptcy, lawsuits, yesterday, today, tomorrow… What does any of it really matter? Right now it's 11:30 on a sultry South Florida evening, and Turk Mauro is just getting started.

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