Last week, we all lost a great advocate of local musicians and new music. Ray Villadonga was a Tampa native with a rich knowledge of Ybor City and new music. He was a song writer, composer and host of WMNF's outstanding adventurous music radio show, "Step Outside" for 30 years. He was a delightful rascal, raconteur and seemed to be everywhere where interesting music was being made. His nickname of Rayzilla, came from his childhood love of Godzilla, no doubt hosted on local TV by Dr. Paul Bearer. Ray Roa wrote a wonderful article about Ray Villadonga here: http://www.cltampa.com/music/local/article/20864479/a-force-of-love-and-nature-remembering-ray-villadonga-a-linchpin-of-the-tampa-bay-music-scene
In the mid-90s, I was playing trombone with Ray conducting a work by John Cage, on the BONK Festival of New Music. Cage was fascinated with fungus and Ray reminded us of this little-known fact, by pelting us with mushrooms as we performed. Ray was a member of my roving street band, MIFU (Mobile Itinerant Funk Unit) and often wore a white feathered boa in performances. He was a longtime builder of the artistic climate that we all now enjoy in Tampa Bay. I think that Ray and I connected in a common belief that Florida artists could create a scene here and we worked together on several projects. I know that we both tired of the old arts hierarchy, that often venerated newcomers and outside artists while dismissing the artists that actually live here. That is finally changing for the better. As Ray Roa so eloquently wrote, "Ray was larger than life and sweeter than flan." He will be missed by many.
With that in mind, I quickly wrote "Samba for Rayzilla" for 17-piece big band this past week. I am happy to say that the Helios Jazz Orchestra will premiere the work on a show at the Palladium Theater Side Door on June 20. If Ray could hear this premiere, I have no doubt that he would be samba dancing through the Side Door. That same show features singer Chuck Wansley, who is visiting from Prague where he works extensively. Chuck is an amazing entertainer whose folks live here in Florida. The 18-member Helios Jazz Orchestra will be backing him.
In addition to that work, I recently composed three new pieces for Brazilian group O Som Do Jazz and will be recording the rhythm section of that group, in mid-July.