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Delray Beach-based musician cooks with musical spices

Tom Regis, Photo by Jay Skolnick

If variety is the spice of life, that explains why Delray Beach-based multi-instrumentalist Tom Regis makes such a flavorful musical gumbo.

First on his spice rack is the fact that he plays keyboards, drums and guitar, although you can hear the last only on his website. Second is his keyboard arsenal, which ranges from acoustic to electric pianos, synthesizers to Hammond organ, and beyond.

The final ingredient is the Delray Jazz Collective, his name for several groups with rotating personnel to suit any occasion under the broad jazz umbrella, including standards, swing, Latin, soul and fusion.

The Delray Jazz Collective formed with drummer Regis, keyboardist Peter Primamore, saxophonist Ben Sparrow and bassist Hugh Burrows to play original compositions and a wide range of classics, from jazz to jazz-tinged, by the Allman Brothers Band, the Beatles, Jeff Beck, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimmy Smith and Weather Report.

When Primamore’s bookings with other bands started necessitating it, Regis filled the keyboard chair and created offshoot lineups for occasions that called for soulful jazz (drummer Muff Cunningham), swing and Latin music (guitarist Jim McCreavy and percussionist Tony Verdejo), old-time jazz (vocalist Jill Lurie), or a Hammond organ trio (guitarist Jon Zeeman or Martin Hand).

“We’re taking the name literally,” Regis says, “making it a collective of musicians that goes out in different configurations. Instead of hiring subs for musicians with other priorities, we decided to create subsidiary bands.”

Born in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Regis has collected musical recipes while living and working in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

Trained classically since age 6 and improvising from the start, Regis learned from Madame Chaloff (who also taught multifaceted jazz keyboardists Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock) and Ran Blake (who started the department of third stream with fellow educator Gunther Schuller at the New England Conservatory in Boston).

“Madame Chaloff was an amazing teacher,” Regis says, “and she was the one who said, ‘I must introduce you to Ran Blake.’ Once I met Ran, I was sort of fast-tracked to go into New England Conservatory. A great school, and the program with him was fantastic.”

That program, now the department of contemporary improvisation, has long sought to bridge jazz and classical music through study, recording and performance.

Regis’ classical and jazz roots are encapsulated in his self-published educational book from 2011, “From Beethoven to Bill Evans: Western Harmony Simplified.” In it, he presents an outline of the structure and components of Western diatonic musical harmony.

The multi-instrumentalist’s training came in handy while he composed multiple commercial jingles, underscores and cues for TV and film and recorded and/or performed with major jazz, pop, Latin and gospel figures during his travels: Michael and Randy Brecker, Celia Cruz, Marcus Miller, Patti Austin, Will Lee, Omar Hakim, Teddy Pendergrass, Eileen Seals, Eddie Gomez, and Gilberto Gil.

At a recent show at the Northwood Art & Music Warehouse in West Palm Beach, Regis played drums with Primamore, Sparrow and Burrows on material ranging from the Beatles’ “Blackbird” to jazz chestnuts and originals.

Ten days later, at the Blueprint Bar & Grill in Lake Worth Beach, Sparrow and Burrows returned. Cunningham played drums, and Regis showcased the influence of former Miles Davis keyboardists from Jarrett and Hancock to Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea while calling out more fusion and groove-oriented material.

As for his drumming, it was his first actual band instrument at age 8 but only recently became a primary focus.

“I started playing piano at age 5,” Regis says. “I didn’t start playing drums seriously again until around 2014, though I’d played them off and on for years. But there’s something about playing the drums that turns me into a child again.”

See the Delray Jazz Collective from noon to 3 p.m., plus the jazz jam it hosts every other Sunday (alternating with the Brad Keller Quartet) from 5 to 9 p.m., at Double Roads, 103 U.S. 1, Suite A1, Jupiter (561-203-7061), and from 7 to 10 p.m. Feb. 20 at Northwood Art & Music Warehouse, 933 28th St., West Palm Beach (561-425-9040).


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