Last week, Mustafa went up to a young couple having a drink and had the lady push the valves at varying speeds as he blew air into the trumpet. As the bright and brassy sound came out, crowds laughed and smiled. Mustafa got the chance to make a few more audience members his students that night and entertain the bar in the process.
For the past five weeks, Eric and the Jazzers have been playing at the Kreepy Tiki for their new Wednesday jazz nights. Mustafa is just one of the talented musicians in the group who play, in addition to singer Yvette Norwood Tiger, drummers Doc Allison and Jose Duque, pianist Ken Burkhart, and saxophone player Cornelius Juju Johnson. Manager of the Jazzers, Eric Trouillot, often brings in guest musicians and singers as well to vary the set and give different people the opportunity to perform.
Owner of the Kreepy Tiki, Jackson Valiente, and his partner Ayme Harrison started jazz nights in an effort to fill the bar on weeknights. But Wednesdays are more than just a way to bring in more business during off nights.
“We’ve been trying to do a jazz night for eight years,” Valiente said. “But it’s been hard finding the right band to play the style we want, and getting enough people interested. Now that I have Ayme helping me with the bar, it’s been great. We have different tastes in music, but the one thing we could both agree on was starting this jazz night.”
Though Eric will tell you that getting the gig at the Kreepy Tiki and forming his band of jazzers was “pure luck”, his pursuit to play jazz music was definitely not. Born and raised in New York, Eric grew up listening to jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and started playing the drums when he was 18. Though life took him in a different direction career-wise (leading him into the medical field), jazz music was still his greatest passion. It wasn’t until Eric had a heart attack that he got back into playing jazz music.
“If you know anything about heart disease, and having a triple bypass surgery, afterwards your whole lifestyle has to change,” Eric said. “You have to watch what you eat, and you have to exercise most importantly. My wife, who happens to be an RN, noticed I wasn’t going to the gym as often as I should. And she knew I loved the drums and that I knew how to play the drums when I was younger. So one day I come home from work and I see a drum kit in my house. She heard from a coworker that drumming is a great means of cardiovascular exercise. So she thought since I love the drums so much, and I’ll probably play them, that she was knocking out two birds with one stone. So I’m getting the exercise I need, and I’m doing what I love. She was right.”
Even though Eric was getting to practice his passion, after awhile, playing by himself started to get boring. When he saw that Florida Memorial University was putting on a free jazz music program, he jumped at the opportunity to learn more. Professor of Jazz Studies, Melton Mustafa, started the jazz classes to teach the community how to read music, learn an instrument, as well as give his students the opportunity to fulfill their community service requirements.
As Eric made the long drive from Coral Springs to Miami every Monday, he got to meet a lot of amazing musicians in the process—like Yamin, Professor Melton’s son. It wasn’t long until Eric formed his jazz band and started performing in bars, casinos, and other venues across South Florida.
“It was a passion that was burning inside of me,” Eric said. “I wanted to do it so bad. And now I am surrounded by great musicians, and we are going to go as far as we can. It’s exciting!”
In a very short period of time, Eric has watched the jazz scene escalate and grow. Even though his audiences tend to be more mature, he’s also been noticing younger crowds coming out to see his group perform.
“We’ve been playing here for about five weeks now, and we’ve noticed the crowd getting bigger and bigger, so it is working. Whatever is happening is working, so obviously there are a lot of people out here who are as passionate about this type of jazz as we are.”
Eric and the Jazzers focus on playing Swing, Bebop, and music from artists like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. For a few Wednesdays, Eric has brought in an 19-year-old trombone player named Joel Perez to perform some New Orleans, Dixieland-style music.
“It makes my heart feel good when I see a young man like that who is my kids’ age playing the jazz I love so much, and is keeping jazz alive,” Eric said. “ I hope we get a lot of more young people that will follow our path and make it real, because its really great music.”
For Eric, Yamin, and the rest of the Jazzers, it’s about having fun and bringing a new appreciation of jazz music to South Florida.
Jazz Night at the Kreepy Tiki, 2608 S. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Every Wednesday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Cover $5; 305-803-9014; kreepytikitattoos.com