As anyone who knows him realizes, Tom Regis literally wears a lot of different hats. And as anyone familiar with his work as a musician knows, he figuratively wears even more.
In his Delray Jazz Collective, the Swampscott, Mass., native and Delray Beach resident alternates between being the band’s keyboardist or drummer. That involves two hats. Yet Regis also plays acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizers, Hammond organ, and every other variety of keyboards, as well as guitar (although that instrument can only be heard on his website, tomregismusic.net, so far).
With the hat rack already getting full, Regis’ collective then serpentines into so many jazz offshoots — from standards, swing and Beatles covers to fusion, Latin, soul and beyond with varying accompanying personnel — that a musical haberdashery could find trouble keeping up.
The well-traveled multi-instrumentalist, who’s lived and worked in New York City, Los Angeles, and Tel Aviv, comes by such dexterity naturally. Trained classically since age 6, and improvising from the start, his later studies included the tutelage of Madame (Margaret) Chaloff (who also taught famed, multi-faceted 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. Now called the Department of Contemporary Improvisation, it’s long sought to bridge jazz and classical music through study, recording, and performance.
“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.”
Those lessons, plus his literal hands-on playing experience in different styles, helped to create additional streams within the Delray Jazz Collective. It variously plays swing and Latin music (with guitarist Jim McCreavy and percussionist Tony Verdejo); old-time jazz (with vocalist Jill Lurie); soulful jazz (featuring saxophonist Ben Sparrow, bassist Hugh Burrows, and drummer Muff Cunningham); Hammond organ pieces (often with guitarists Jon Zeeman or Martin Hand); and originals and classics (with Regis on drums and Peter Primamore on keyboards).
Which is to say that practically anything is alternately possible, from the Allman Brothers Band, Jeff Beck, and John Coltrane to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimmy Smith, Weather Report and beyond. The group actually started out with Regis applying his extensive knowledge of nuance, rhythm, and syncopation as its drummer, leaving the keyboard chair to Primamore. That would result in unforeseen tributaries in instrumentation, repertoire, and personnel, therein creating a multi-faceted Delray Jazz Collective.
“Peter had commitments with other groups,” says Regis. “It’s a modern problem with many of us, so instead of hiring subs for musicians with other priorities, we decided to create subsidiary bands.”
At a recent show at the Northwood Art & Music Warehouse in West Palm Beach, Regis played drums along with Primamore, Sparrow, and Burrows on material from the Beatles’s “Blackbird” to jazz chestnuts and original material. Ten days later, at the Blueprint Bar & Grill in Lake Worth Beach, Sparrow and Burrows returned, teaming with Cunningham on 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.
“We’re taking the name literally,” Regis says, “making it a collective of musicians that goes out in different configurations.”
Regis’s classical and jazz roots are also encapsulated in his own self-published educational book From Beethoven To Bill Evans: Western Harmony Simplified (2011). In it, he presents an outline of the structure and components of Western diatonic musical harmony.
“The perfect answer for the self-taught or privately trained musician who wants to know and understand more,” writes fellow musician Peter Nardone in a testimonial. “I have read other books that explain the same principles, but in every case they were hard to follow and had lots of gaps in their explanations. This book is void of that problem, and as a result, if read carefully, it clearly makes sense of the seemingly obscure. Every page is jam-packed with information, and tells a clear and detailed story.”
The multi-instrumental Regis’ own story includes composing multiple commercial jingles, underscores, and cues for both TV and film, and recording and/or performing with major jazz, pop, Latin and gospel figures during his travels, including Michael and Randy Brecker, Celia Cruz, Marcus Miller, Patti Austin, Will Lee, Omar Hakim, Teddy Pendergrass, Eileen Seals, Eddie Gomez, and Gilberto Gil.
As for his drumming, it was his first actual band instrument starting at age 8, but only relatively 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.”
If You Go
See the Delray Jazz Collective from noon-3 p.m., plus hosting the jazz jam every other Sunday (alternating with the Brad Keller Quartet) from 5-9 p.m. at Double Roads, 103 U.S. 1, Suite A1, Jupiter (561-203-7061); the original quartet lineup with Regis, Primamore, Burrows and Cunningham at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 and March 13 at Northwood Art & Music Warehouse, 933 28th St., West Palm Beach (561-425-9040); and the Hammond organ lineup at 8 p.m. March 31 at Rudy’s, 21 S. J St., Lake Worth Beach (561-602-5307).