It's 11 p.m. on a pleasant early May evening at Havana Hideout in downtown LDub and Tom Regis and his boys are hitting a slow, bluesy version of "Mercy Mercy Mercy," the Joe Zawinul tune made famous by Cannonball Adderley. Jon Zeeman's guitar is easing away for some sly, muted trumpet work by Steve Ahern. Tom's shimmering at the keyboard on clouds of Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, then everyone's down in N'awlins, drummer Gary Berman and bassist Ilkin Deniz popping a groove, and finally all pick up and bounce through the home stretch, a nice gavotte between cubist wafts of sound and the funk.
Two more standards round out the evening -- Miles's moody, soulful "So What" and Thelonius Monk's sprightly "Straight, No Chaser." The quintet dissolves, breaking down their gear and chatting with the crowd. In the space about the size of a public school classroom, walled off from the street by a long-ish tiki hut, with a scramble of tables and chairs on a sand floor under an open sky, the patrons have been right in the players' laps, practically. It's the way jazz should be -- a cozy, collective voyage.
Seeding a woefully sparse patch of Palm Beach's musical soil, Tom's Wednesday night gig has been up and running some six months now, straight-ahead jazz from local veterans with chops and true love for the form. He's traveled a very special and wide-ranging path, musically and geographically, to arrive here.
A child of Boston's North Shore, Tom studied classical piano, drums and guitar from an early age and was a bit of a prodigy, at age nine playing in a band with "some college age dudes." He attended Tufts University "not planning a career in music" but within a year realized he "wasn't going to fit in to the standard ways of society." He went on to the New England Conservatory of Music, studying under legends like Ran Blake and Madame Chaloff. Taking a year off from school for private study, he was introduced to Latin music, an enduring focus.
Since then, Tom's played professionally in New York, L.A. and Tel Aviv (!), working with artists including Phoebe Snow, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithful, Gilberto Gil, Cheb Mami, and Johnny Clegg. He brought salsa (the music) to Israel in 1994, founding the Jerusalem Salsa Band. In 1998 he returned to L.A., spending two years in the West Coast orchestra of Celia "Queen of Salsa" Cruz (!). In the early 2000s he took a degree in law (!) practicing for five years in addition to making music. In 2005, he returned to an early musical love, playing rock, blues and gospel (!). The complete bio is here.
Tom relocated to Palm Beach County in the fall of 2011, to be near his 96-year-old father. He reconnected here with guitarist Zeeman, "a long-time friend from New York," and made his way into the local music scene, meeting other jazz artists largely through the good graces of veteran Palm Beach jazz keystone Susan Merritt.
Tom and Zeeman put together a reggae (!) band and were playing occasionally at Havana Hideout when owner Ben Earhart learned of Tom's history and suggested the Wednesday night gig. Tom added the idea of a thematic approach (a Miles Davis night, a Wes Montgomery night, etc.) and it was off to the races, a core trio initially, now grown to a quintet, visiting musicians sitting in.
"It's very chill," Tom told us. "You've got the intimate space and yet people from the street can hear you. The sound is good. The support of local listeners and musicians has been a special thing. A bunch of the right things connected to make something work."
Tom Regis & Friends, 8 p.m., every Wednesday, at Havana Hideout, 509 Lake Avenue, Lake Worth. Call 561-585-8444.
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