Some people have difficulty finding something fun to do on weeknights, but Tony’s Tavern has the answer: Every Tuesday night, Word of Mouth Jazz Band plays at the bar at 8:30 p.m.
More than five years ago, Tony Sylvester, the owner of Tony’s Tavern, was looking for a way to make his weeknights more successful. He and Ted Harris, the leader of Word of Mouth, came up with the idea of letting the band play every week.
“It was very slow to start,” Sylvester said. “Now it’s turned into my best night.”
The jazz band consists of six musicians, and the instruments vary. Every song features a saxophone, piano, bass guitar and drums. Kay Carter switches between playing the trumpet and singing. Harris plays multiple instruments throughout the night, including saxophone, clarinet and flute.
“Everybody here are all accomplished musicians, they’re solid musicians,” Sylvester said. “I knew that if I was patient, I knew that it would catch on.”
Harris started imagining playing with a jazz band back in 2003 on Halloween, and a few years later his dream became a reality.
“I thought that Tony’s would be the perfect jazz bar,” Harris said.“It’s a warm atmosphere, and the crowd is mature.”
Jazz music isn’t the most common genre in the Athens music scene, but Word of Mouth has put it on the map. The American music features a fun swing style, and improvisations are common in songs.
Bernie Nau, the piano player of the band, enjoys coming to play every week, and thinks he’s improved as a musician because of it.
“I think I’ve gotten better at playing jazz because we’re playing every week,” Nau said. “You gain a certain amount of freedom, and you know that the other guys have your back so you can take risks.”
Harris says that despite how enjoyable the shows are, it can be difficult to come up with new material. The freedom that jazz offers, however, helps the group.
“There are so many things you can do with jazz, because jazz and swing are so diverse, it’s something that people don’t get to see all the time, so it’s exciting," Harris said.
The members of Word of Mouth look forward to performing every week, and hate to miss a show, Kyle Slemmer, the saxophone player, said.
“It’s religion for me, I can’t miss a week,” Slemmer said. “It’s like my church.”
Slemmer said the group is like family, and everybody brings something new to the table.
“My favorite thing about jazz is everybody coming together, all these different people and opinions coming together to try and make one cohesive thing work,” Slemmer said.
Harris’s favorite thing every Tuesday is to start playing. “When you start, you forget about everything, like all your problems,” Harris said.
Harris said he and the members of the band see jazz night as their "retirement plan" and hope to play for as long as possible.
“A special kudos to Tony and to all of the news organizations who have helped expose jazz night to the Athens community,” Harris said.
Sylvester has enjoyed having the band play every week, and seeing it grow to what it is now.
“It’s a great musical happening for a Tuesday night in Athens,” Sylvester said.