Local musicians have been finely tuning your Tuesdays for five years
By Alex Owens | Downtown News
As a musician, Tony Muhammad isn’t a household name – unless your house is Anthology.
He’s the bass player and leader of the House Band and, as such, he’s the man responsible for setting up the musical decisions when the band plays on Tuesday nights.
“I start thinking about the set list Sunday evening and by Monday, it’s arranged and I hand it to the guys,” Muhammad said.
The house band concept is something that is uncommon in San Diego and the Anthology House Band is unique in other ways in that they have played pretty much every week at the club (sometimes multiple performances) since the club first opened in 2007.
The idea actually came up in, of all places, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, when Muhammad met Anthology owner Howard Berkson through mutual friends.
“He told me about the club, which was just a parking lot at the time,” said Muhammad, a world-class musician who has played with jazz greats like sax player Stanley Turrentine. “He had the design and he showed it to me with a pencil and pad.”
The two decided that the club would benefit from having a house band and, within days of returning to San Diego, Muhammad gave Berkson a formal concept.
“A house band has to the fit the club,” Muhmmad said. “In the case of Anthology, we wanted one that would look good, sound good and be versatile. And I picked who I thought would be be good.”
With just one change in the last five years, and occasional musicians sitting in for the night, the core of the band has been consistent: Muhammad on bass; Kevin Flournoy on piano and keyboards; Russell Bizzette on drums; John Rekeviics on sax and flute; Derek Cannon on trumpet and flugelhorn; Steve Haney on percussion; and Rebecca Jade on vocals.
These musicians live in San Diego, but many of them can play with anyone, and many of them do. Cannon, a music professor at Grossmont College, has played with the Temptations and Steve Haney has played with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz.
“Being a native, Derek helped me find the musicians and the chemistry has been solid since then,” Muhammad said.
The current repertoire is more than 1000 songs, and Muhammad says it’s designed for versatility.
“We can go anywhere, whether it’s love ballads on Mother’s Day, salsa on Latin night, or Motown,” he said. “It’s good to have the musicians we have because we say, ‘Let’s do this [song] and just go.’”
But even as the band adds new songs, it’s gotten easier with time.
“We can read each other and there’s an energy and a distinct sound,” he said.
Muhammad leads the band, but casual observers may not see him doing that because he prefers to stay in the back, letting singer Rebecca Jade and Cannon be the focus for the audience.
“I’m like a quarterback calling the plays,” he said. “The way I work with Rebecca and Derek is like a triangle. I always set up between the piano and the drummer. I’m behind Rebecca so she can’t see me, but Derek sees me and I can give him a signal and he tells Rebecca.”
Jade agrees. She’s not only the sole female member (save the occasional guest singer), but she had the least amount of professional experience before joining the band, at the behest of a mentor who was involved in the early stages.
“I came to a rehearsal and, when the other female vocalist wasn’t there, I got to sing,” Jade laughed. “She lived in Orange County so she wasn’t able to make it to rehearsal. Finally, the club was getting ready to open and Tony said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, you’re the singer.’”
Jade works at other clubs around town, but admits having a special affection for Tuesday nights when she performs with the Anthology House Band.
“They are the greatest musicians, comparable with anyone,” she said. The camaraderie that has developed from so many shows has made her more relaxed on stage, which, Jade says, is conducive to a good show.
“For instance, Derek will introduce a song by saying, like ‘Besame Mucho’ [which means “kiss me a lot” in Spanish] and I’ll say, ‘In front of everyone?’”
The House Band’s Tuesday performances have made the Little Italy club a hot spot on Tuesdays, normally a slow night for San Diego nightlife, but for Jade, the real impact of the House Band has been personal.
“Being a part of this band encouraged me to go back to school and study music more seriously,” she said. “Singers have a poor reputation for not knowing the keys or theory, but I was super-inspired to learn it because of these guys. I didn’t want to be just another singer.”
The five-year stint is remarkable, and Jade said other musicians around town give the House Band respect for what it’s built at Anthology.
However, Muhammad still has dreams.
“I’d really like to get a nice CD recorded so if someone wants to take something home, they can,” he said. “Other than that, I just want to see it continue.”
See the Anthology House Band most Tuesday nights in September starting at 7:30 p.m. at Anthology in Little Italy. Check their website for specifics at anthologysd.com.