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Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 18:17

Rick King of Belgium and his fellow jazz musicians are proving that the big band sound of yore is alive and well in Ozaukee County

Rick King knows his escape route from the daily grind of life.
“Music is my therapy,” he said. “People talk about yoga, which is great. For me, music puts me in another dimension.”
After performing with the Walter Mitty Jazz Band in the Chicago area for decades, however, King nearly found himself in another dimension at his retirement home in the Town of Belgium on the shore of Lake Michigan.
In his early 70s, King still wanted to play his cornet and looked to start a band in an area sparsely populated compared to his last home.
“I just started making calls and reaching out,” he said.
As hard as it was to find musicians, the question, King said, is availability. Many musicians play in a few bands and orchestras.
But King found some, and they found others. Two fellow Port Washington Yacht Club members, clarinet and alto saxophone players Steve Adgate and Ken Poulson, said they would play, and word spread.
Before long, 10 core members came together and formed the band called Five Foot Two, named after the popular jazz song, not the Lady Gaga documentary.
“It really is an example of the era we play,” King said of the name.
The group plays a mix of Dixieland, traditional jazz and big band jazz — Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and the like, whose live performances were popular in the post-Depression and post-war era, until records began being mass produced and people could listen at home.
Five Foot Two is keeping alive songs like “The Charleston” and others that have been lost in the repertoire of popular music. The tunes, King said — Dixieland especially — get people moving.
“It’s happy music. You can’t help but tap your toe,” he said.
The music still has a following today.
“The Gen Xers still love big band,” he said. “Even with the modern music out there, they love it.”
The band itself spans generations.
“Our bass player just turned 21. I just turned 72,” King said.
Camaraderie is excellent, “because everyone loves to play this music. That’s the commonality,” King said.
The young members, such as the stand-up bassist George Ballasteros, have learned about the band’s music from YouTube and their band mates.
King said the song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” from the late 1920s was written by a husband and wife who had just got off a bus in New York City. They saw a young couple looking inside a window at Tiffany’s. The man said, “‘I’d like to give you that sparkler, sweetie, but right now I don’t have anything but love.’
“Most songs have an interesting history to them,” King said.
Beyond the age range, the band is unique in that it covers Dixieland, traditional and big band jazz.
“Not many bands get to that level,” King said. “A lot of bands pick one of those and get really good at it and get paid a log of money. For us, it’s playing.”
The music calls for a certain type of style, which Five Foot Two’s singer Margina Repinski has down.
“Her voice really fits the type of music we’re playing,” King said, noting she does a fantastic job on “One for My Baby.”
The band’s makeup reflects its members’ age diversity. Some members are professionally trained, like trombonist Matt Bragstad, who has a master’s degree in trombone performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Regardless of experience or training, music is more than just a hobby to pass the time. Musicians, King said, always want to get better.
“It’s fun to reach another level. That’s what drives you,” he said.
As “kind of the founder” of the band, King directs most performances, but “We’re all equal as musicians. All ideas are welcomed and encouraged,” he said.
The band charges to cover their expenses, but that’s not why it performs.
“It’s really the love of music. That is the secret sauce,” he said.
Music has been in King’s blood since birth in Oak Park, Ill. His father had his own dance band called Dick King and His Society Orchestra in college and performed full time before going into real estate and insurance — “as he said, ‘work for a living,’” King said.
Back then, King said, people spent money to go out and dance. Cover charges were often $1, or 68 cents for single ladies.
King got a ukulele when he was 5, and his father told him to “play it any way you like.
“It was all about rhythm and sound,” he said.
When he was 10, he got a cornet and has played ever since.
In college, he played bass in a four-member rock and roll band called The Fratiers. They put out a CD in 2001, with photos of them in college on the front, and a more recent shot on the back.
King ran three charities for youth development and adolescent health care before joining Kittleman Associates, an executive search firm for nonprofit organizations. He bought it 1985 and now is transitioning the company to his children.
Now semi-retired, King said he looks forward to performing more with his new band, which comes to each gig ready to play, complete with its own sound equipment.
“We bring everything. All they need is electricity,” King said.
He is still amazed Five Foot Two came together so fast with so many locals.
“I’ll admit I was surprised that this came together so quickly,” King said.
“There’s a lot of hidden musical talent.”
The band is looking for a keyboardist, King said. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/yousw1ngwithus or email King at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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