After several months of practicing in his living room, Kent Rylander (second from right) is ready to debut his new jazz combo this Friday at Hanna Gallery. This is the first band the retired ornithologist has ever tried putting together. Members left to right: Carol Wills, Randy Richter, Barry Sikes, Rylander, and Ken Owens. Photo by Phil Houseal
Birth of a Band
by Phil Houseal
Did you ever want to start a band? You know, get some guys together, find a barn to practice in, then book a gig at a local event?
Kent Rylander has... and did. Kent and the [INSERT BAND NAME HERE – the band is so new, it doesn’t have a name as of two days before its first gig) makes its world debut this Friday at Hanna’s Art Gallery for First Friday Art Walk.
What makes this a bit out of the ordinary is that Rylander is a 76-year-old retired professor of biology, who is a recognized expert in ornithology and animal behavior. He also plays the trumpet. For about a year it has been his dream to get a group of horn players together for a little jazz group.
“There was no small combo around like this,” he said when asked why he began his quest. “Like everything here in Fredericksburg, if someone decides to do something, it will get done. If you wait for someone to do it, it won’t happen.”
So Rylander – who played trumpet in high school, dropped out for 50 years, then picked it up again when he retired here in 2006 – set out about four months ago to put together his jazz combo. He went through several musicians to find enough with the time to rehearse and similar interest in music, and has come up with his current lineup: Carol Wills, vocals and sax; Randy Richter, trumpet; Barry Sikes, piano and vocals; Ken Owens, sax; with guests John Reeve on bass and Phil Houseal on drums.
(Yes, that’s me on drums. Though I’ve resisted committing to any band, I thought I’d knock the mud daubers off the old set of Ludwigs to see if I could still flail. Also, it met my criteria for playing - 1) it’s close, 2) it’s early, and 3) it pays at least $100. Well... two out of three of my criteria.)
It’s been kind of fun to watch the process from the inside. It is quite a challenge for someone to start their first garage band after retirement. But that is precisely why Rylander likes it. “I needed something challenging,” he said. “And jazz is so damn challenging.”
So following weekly rehearsals in his and wife, Laura’s, living room, the band is ready for its first gig. His feelings on the eve of the premier?
“Scared and excited.”
But he need not worry (even with a bass player and drummer who refuse to rehearse more than once). If the band runs out of songs, they can start a discussion group. Band members hold advanced degrees in English, philosophy, voice, opera, communications, clinical psychology, biology, and education, and include a jet pilot, two book authors, and a Marine.
According to Rylander, the hardest part about starting a band is coordinating who plays what when, how to start and end each song, and getting musicians to attend practice. “It’s kind of like herding chickens,” he laughed. But after these months of work, he allows himself a little satisfaction. “It’s a good feeling when you sound good together as a unit. That’s a neat high. Personally, I just enjoy playing together. It is fun sharing our music with other people, too.”
Rylander admits to not being completely comfortable in his role as front man.
“I’m more of a chairman and librarian than a band leader,” he said. “I am very organized.” So organized that he has diagrammed each song with cryptic codes that lay out who sings which verse, which horn takes the instrumental, etc. (charts that the bass player and drummer ignore, by the way). “The irony here is because by its nature, jazz isn’t organized.”
(The irony to me is that this is the first band I’ve been in where any member has used the word “irony” while describing the band.)
Rylander looks forward to when the players can feel each other playing naturally, without so much thought.
“That will be nice, when we are sensing each other musically,” he said. “After all, that’s what jazz is all about.”