When Brad Sharp was in junior high in Tecumseh, Mich., he usually had trouble getting in touch with his pal Tim Ries.
“Every time I would call his house - without exception - his mom or dad would answer and I could hear him in the background practicing his saxophone. Every time! I'd say, `Mrs. Ries, can I speak to Tim, please?' and she'd say, `I'm sorry, he's practicing and doesn't want to be disturbed.'”
The dedication of the young music student has paid dividends for Ries, now 41. The former Tecumseh resident is a New York jazz ace who recently released his second CD as a band leader, “Alternate Side,” on the Criss Cross label, with a septet that includes bass virtuoso John Patitucci.
Ries also has played tenor and soprano saxophone in concert or in the studio with such notables as Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Donald Byrd, Paul Simon, Joe Lovano, David Lee Roth, and Donald Fagan of Steely Dan fame. He also played at the White House and talked saxophone with former President Bill Clinton.
But Ries' highest-profile gig, one that will be hard to top, was a seven-month spot on stage playing sax and keyboards with the Rolling Stones during their 1999 Bridges to Babylon tour.
“It was phenomenal. They treated us like royalty,” Ries said. “I never had to carry any baggage. They had a private jet so you never had to wait around an airport.”
Everything was like a dream, except that the music wasn't jazz. And that's Ries' first love. So he's thrilled to be coming back to Toledo tomorrow night to be part of the rebirth of the Murphy's Place Orchestra with his longtime friend and trumpet ace Sharp.
The MPO was founded by Sharp in January, 1998, as an 11-piece jazz band that could play swinging arrangements of jazz standards and pop tunes. But when Sharp moved to Detroit to take a new job last year, the MPO had to go.
“When Jane [his wife] and I talked about leaving town, that was the sourest thing for me,” Sharp said. “It broke my heart.”
The orchestra had been building up a loyal following with its monthly gigs at Murphy's Place, the downtown jazz club for which the group was named.
But when things did not work out well in Detroit, Sharp decided to move back to the Toledo area and resurrect the Murphy's Place Orchestra. The band is slated to play the first Monday of every month at Murphy's starting in September.
Joining Sharp as regulars will be Gene Parker, Dave Tippett, Scott Rogers, Jerry Sawicki, Ed Levy, Norm Damschroder, Keith Powell, Bob Gable, Russ Schmidt, and Scott Kretzer.
Ries, who played with the MPO in December, 1999, knew that Sharp was eager to get the band back together. While looking over his schedule, Ries saw that he would be traveling through the Toledo area this week for a concert at Interlochen, Mich.
“I told Brad, `Man, let's do it.'”
Ries will be playing two songs off his new disc, “Alternate Blues” and “Sinner and the Saint,” with the MPO.
The group has about 50 arrangements done from its first two years and will continue to expand its repertoire, Sharp said. New additions include “Just in Time” and a reworked version of the Frank Sinatra hit, “Night and Day.”
Sharp said he is striving to take the band “to the next level” this time around.
“Joan [Russell, co-owner of the jazz club] and I have already made arrangements to bring in special guests, mostly local or regional people but a few national artists as well,” Sharp said.
He also wants to add a “student spotlight” to give young jazz artists a chance to perform with the band. He has already started working on getting the Murphy's Place Orchestra to record, starting in October, and in the summer of 2002 hopes to take the group on a concert tour throughout Ohio.
“We want to take the band on the road for a while as a tribute to Gene Parker and Jimmy Cook, two of Toledo's top musicians,” Sharp said.
Ries said he always enjoys getting back on the stage with his childhood pal.
“It's funny, where we are, 41 years old, doing gigs together. Some people hit when they're 23 or 24, and some when they're 43. If we were in sports, our careers would be over now. But I feel like we're just starting.”
The Murphy's Place Orchestra, with special guest Tim Ries, plays at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Murphy's Place, 151 Water St. Admission is $5, or $2.50 for students. Information: 241-7732.