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Jazz dentist Lefco marks his performance debut with COA benefit
March 9th, 2001
In the early episodes of Ken Burns PBS documentary Jazz, a life-changing event for many of the first jazz musicians was hearing trumpeter-singer-composer Louis Armstrong for the first time.
Seymour Lefco, 86, had that experience, too. As an undergraduate student at Marquette University, he heard an Armstrong recording at the student union and thought, Oh my God, that is so interesting!
Though he had piano lessons as a child, Lefco did not become a professional musician. He went into the more secure profession of dentistry. But his love for jazz permeated his entire career and life.
When I got into the [Milwaukee] music industry [in 1994], Seymours name came up a number of times, said David DeRuyter, president of Red Mill Entertainment. Hes been behind the scenes for decades with the musicians.
Hes always been there to help the artists and musicians. Hes fixed the teeth of a lot of artists for nominal fees or for free.... [Moreover,] hes written songs that internationally recognized artists have picked up and recorded.
Yet jazz dentist Lefco himself has never performed in public. That will change when he takes the stage at Red Mill Live on 41st St. and Good Hope Rd. on Sunday, March 18, 7:30 p.m., in a benefit performance for Childrens Outing Association.
DeRuyter said Lefco wont be alone there. He will have a couple of artists up there with him. Still, The concept is to give An Evening with Seymour Lefco.... We want him to tell us his story.
As one might expect from someone who has had the likes of great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson play in his living room, Lefco is a bit nervous about his debut, though I should be more nervous than I am.... I dont know whats going to happen, he said during an interview at his home on Milwaukees east side.
But that sense of the unexpected may be one jazz trait that Lefco particularly enjoys. Its so improvised, off-beat, syncopated, Lefco said when asked to explain why he loves jazz. If you know the tune and [a jazz musician] plays not the tune but on the chords, it is thrilling.... Thats the beauty of it.
Lefco has met many of the stars profiled in the Burns documentary and became friends with some. He has a framed piece of sheet music that the great bebop trumpeter-composer Dizzy Gillespie wrote for him.
But hes not just interested in the past of jazz. Since retiring from dentistry about 12 years ago, hes been doing a lot of listening and is glad to report that one of his grandchildren is studying jazz guitar.
Its said that jazz is a music that never thrives and never dies, Lefco said. But I think its thriving again.
For more information and to make reservations for the performance, call (414) 352-9000.