Ben Stocker is a tenor saxophonist from Hollywood, this weekend playing at Books and Books in Coral Gables, one of his last South Florida gigs before he heads off to college and, with hard work and perseverance, a career as a musician. He hopes he’s still performing 70 years from now.
Jimmy Cavallo is a tenor saxophonist from Pompano Beach, this weekend playing at Blue Jean Blues in Fort Lauderdale, one of his regular gigs before he heads off on a quick tour of his old stomping grounds in upstate New York. He’s been performing for more than 70 years.
“That’s … that’s a long time,” says Stocker, by phone, sounding a little intimidated. The 18-year-old recently graduated from the acclaimed jazz program at Dillard Center for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale and will attend Michigan State University on a music scholarship. “I wonder if he thinks it’s the music that has kept him going that long.”
Cavallo has performed with Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole and Bobby Darin, and sounds like he’s never been intimidated by anything.
“Oh, it’s been my lifeline. If I stopped, that’d be it,” says Cavallo, 87. “My wife wasn’t feeling so well awhile back, and I took July off to be with her, and I was going nuts. I’d go out and play for free.”
No matter the age, the vernacular of the jazz musician is similar, especially when it comes to the prominent swagger of the tenor sax. Asked about their upcoming sets, both reference similar leading men: John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Charley Parker.
“It’s one of the most powerful instruments in jazz. It has such a commanding place,” Stocker says. "The tenor player has to be coming with a lot. It’s a cool role, that I like to have on the bandstand.”
Echoes Cavallo, a former alto saxophonist: “Once I saw Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five doing ‘Caledonia’ and songs like that, I knew I had more to say. I knew I had to be out front, playing the solos, singing. That was for me.”
And the ladies love the tenor, right? “Oh, yeah. Of course,” Stocker says with a laugh.
“That’s if you’re a performer,” says Cavallo, a showman with an easy gift of gab and plenty of stories, which he'll soon be sharing again at his regular gigs at the City Pub in Deerfield Beach and Nick's Italian Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. “Some guys just sit there and look at their instrument when they play. I always want to bring the audience into my world. I might introduce a song with a story, but I don’t put on airs," he says. "When I tell them Bobby [Darin] and I used to have pizza every night in Wildwood, N.J., that’s the truth."
And that's the advice that Cavallo has for Stocker: Enjoy yourself and share your enthusiasm. "I make sure to keep smiling, like Bobby did and Sammy [Davis Jr.]," Cavallo says. "I get so much enjoyment out of this. It’s natural. I’m just being me.”
The Ben Stocker Quartet (which includes Zachary Auslander on guitar, Chris Mills on bass and Zack McKinney on drums), will perform in the courtyard at Books and Books 8 p.m. Saturday. The band’s final South Florida performance will be at Books and Books on Aug. 16. Info: BooksAndBooks.com.
Cavallo's trio (Dolph Castellano on piano and Danny Burger on drums) will play 5-8 p.m. Saturday at Blue Jean Blues, a weekly gig throughout August. Info: BlueJeanBlues.net.
Here's a look at both saxophonists doing what they do, stylishly:
Looking ahead a little, Acoustic Garage is the name of a night of acoustic guitars and 100 craft beers on Aug. 15 at the Inkwell Pub (238 N. State Road 7, Margate). Among the merry noisemakers will be Mark Dubin (the Johnsons, Los Diablos), Jim Wurster (Black Janet), Dan Bonebrake (Vacant Andys, Dashboard Confessional) and Russ Rogers (New Way To Live Forever, Dot Fash). If you have not heard Wurster’s dark and cinematic new album, “Raw,” you are in for a memorable ride. Info: 954-532-3511, InkwellPub.com.
This weekend’s beneficiary of the Funky Buddha Brewery’s Saturday Yappy Hour is the nonprofit 100+ Abandoned Dogs of Everglades Florida, which has rescued more than 2,000 dogs (and some cats) in less than three years of existence. On Saturday, for a donation of $5 or more, you’ll get a wristband good for an extended Yappy Hour, which offers $1 off Buddha drafts from 2 to 6 p.m. Down the road, the Aug. 16 deal will raise money for Shepherd Help and Rescue, which works for German shepherds. Info: Facebook.com/FunkyBuddhaBrewery.
Who’s your favorite Jay Pharoah? Is it Kanye Jay Pharoah? Barack Jay Pharoah ? Denzel Jay Pharoah ? Clearly, right here, it’s Stephen A. Jay Pharoah. Clearly! Especially when he goes off on LeBron and the Heat, as he does below. Catch the real Jay Pharoah at the Palm Beach Improv in West Palm Beach Friday-Sunday. Tickets. $22. Info: 561-833-1812, PalmBeach.improv.com.