Jazz is America’s indigenous classical music. But many people find it a bit intimidating. If you’re one of those people, take heart, because Bryan Lee Guevin and his Island Jazz Project are in the house — The Tremont House in the island’s downtown, to be exact. The Island Jazz Project is the headliner at The Tremont House Jazz Series, which runs every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. through Dec. 19 in the Toujouse Bar.
The Tremont House, 2300 Mechanic St., is conducive to jazz. The audience is refined and the room is perfectly intimate and comfortable.
Guevin has assembled a bona fide acoustic jazz trio that could be airdropped into any New York City jazz club with full credibility. These guys are just that good. They are the real deal.
The Island Jazz Project has been around for a decade, or so, which means they know each other’s timing and can improvise with precision. The group plays classic, acoustic jazz reminiscent of the style of Bill Evans and Miles Davis.
Guevin, bandleader and piano man, was born in 1957 to piano-playing parents in Fairfield County, Conn. At age 6, he began with classical lessons, followed by more lessons from Rosa Rio, queen of the theatre organ for 75 years, and John Mehegan, the father of jazz theory and reviewer for magazine Down Beat. It was Mehegan who introduced a young Guevin to Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan and the legendary Bill Evans.
In 1982, Guevin married Karen A. Brandt, of New Orleans, and a year later he graduated from Louisiana State University with a master’s in archaeology. In 1991, with his degree, he moved to Galveston and landed a real job as principal staff archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Spending time in South Louisiana, he got to meet many of the famous piano players of New Orleans, including Dr. John, Henry Butler, Allen Toussaint and Ronnie Kole. Guevin has had a charmed life, playing all types of venues; including author Anne Rice’s house in the Garden District of New Orleans and Gino’s in Baton Rouge. He also has worked with musicians Alvin Batiste, David Torkanowsky and Charmaine Neville.
Asked whether he rather sit in with Fats Domino or Ray Charles, he said: “I’d probably pick Fats over Ray because the Fat Man was always a piano player in the end. Ray is kind of like Sinatra to me — just too huge and too big — can’t get my little brain around his gargantuan talent.”
His bandmates are musical talents in their own right. Bassist Reginald “Reg” Loudermilk was a Marine who played in Vietnam with Arthur Godfrey’s USO Band before landing stateside at the height of the Whisky a Go-Go scene in Los Angeles. That’s where he hung out with such legends as Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne. Nowadays, he can be heard at Rex Bell’s famous Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in downtown Galveston.
For the Island Jazz Project, Loudermilk can play drums, but is playing a rugged 3/4 Englehart upright bass made from plywood. This clever design from World War II offers the advantage of resisting changes in the instrument’s tone caused by humidity.
Loudermilk is from Brownwood and is a distant cousin to the 1970s songwriter, John D. Loudermilk, who wrote “Tobacco Road.” Loudermilk studied music at North Texas University in Denton. Before escaping into jazz, he was a navigator on a seismic research vessel based out of Louisiana. He also has repaired guitars, built furniture, and even helped restore the historic tall ship, Elissa, docked in the island’s harbor.
The third man in the trio is Jake Walsdorf, a jazz drummer with musical roots in New Orleans, where his father played upright bass on Bourbon Street. Walsdorf was lucky enough to be tutored by Johnny Vidacovich, a highly regarded Crescent City drummer. And, like his bandmates, Walsdorf has an impressive résumé. When he’s not keeping the back beat for the Island Jazz Project, he’s a landscape architect for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the island.
Most nights, Guevin will invite fellow musicians to sit in. The regular fourth man in this trio is Dr. Giovanni Piovesana, a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Piovesana, 37, plays baritone sax. On other nights, the audience has been enthralled by Giorgi Berishvili and his soulful alto sax. Berishvili is from the state of Georgia in Russia and is a student traveling through America. Another recent guest horn player is Dale Gothia on alto saxophone, who is a Boogie Kings alum.
The Tremont Fall Jazz Series is free and open to the public.