ISLANDWALK — Before I share this week’s interesting resident, I have to say: Can you believe the Braves are almost here?
We’re one week out before the park opening for the final game of spring training. There is an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 23, if you want to check out the park.
In preparation for the opening, we’re going to do be a special edition of the paper. Some information on what’s happened, what’s to come from our newest neighbors.
As we move forward we can expect a lot here in the West Villages, and it’s exciting. And things are just as busy in the neighborhoods with plenty going on.
At the start of this month, IslandWalk residents got to enjoy their own take on New Orleans. If you attended the Mardi Gras event, you were treated Ken Salvo’s N’awlins Jazz Band. Salvo plays banjo for the band, something he’s been doing since he was a child in the 1960s.
Playing banjo allowed Salvo to do some pretty cool things and play in some unique places. He was part of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, where he played on the Prairie Home Companion Radio Show, with Leon Redbone and for “Boardwalk Empire” soundtrack. Salvo said he didn’t have HBO so he couldn’t watch the show unless he was on the road.
“Boardwalk Empire,” takes place in 1920s Atlantic City at the start of Prohibition Era and is about the exploits of crime boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson.
The first album, which the band is featured on, won a Grammy in 2011. He played with Giordano’s group until he moved to IslandWalk in 2017, where he now plays with other Dixieland Jazz bands in the area.
“I started guitar lessons at 10 years old,” Salvo said.
His brother played accordion and his parents wanted him to play something as well. He said his parents went back and forth for a month before his mom enrolled him in guitar lessons.
Music has been part of Salvo’s life since he was young, his dad was a fan of Dixieland Jazz, which is something Salvo loves — though he admits in high school he had a garage band of his own.
“I was into Dixieland while everyone (else) was into The Beatles,” Salvo says.
He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, though his music career took him all over. So he started with guitar lessons, his uncle was the one who got him into the banjo.
Salvo says that his uncle told him he could play strings, so it’ll be easy to pick up the banjo.
“I got some lessons,” he said.
After that, Salvo began his professional career at 16.
“I competed at the Illinois State Fair,” Salvo said.
He admits that he got his first professional jobs like that and was making more than some parents in 1968 through his music.
While he played banjo in high school things were a little different.
“I played clarinet in high school because they didn’t have a jazz band,” he said.
Salvo used it to continue to sharpen his skills in reading music and gaining experience. While he did play music in high school, Salvo didn’t pursue higher education in music. Instead he would up playing banjo and piano at Shakey’s Pizza in the suburbs of Chicago. That’s where he met his wife.
They married in 1968, and in 1969, he took a day job at Allied Moving Lines. His wife worked for Illinois Bell and in 1979 her job sent her to New Jersey.
Of couse, Salvo went with her and restarted his own music career. He says that every time a musician moves he has to restart. He’s done it here locally and has found plenty of other retired musicians to work with here in Southwest Florida.
He spent 17 years with Allied Moving, before he started his own home claims business in 1993. He went back to school to be certified in building codes and how to do home inspections.
During all this time he was playing with the Nighthawks, they had their son in 1985 and his wife, who quit her job at AT&T, started doing promotion for him and his band at the time.
Salvo says some days he’d leave work and barely have a moment to eat before he was back out the door with his banjo. He met Giordano in 1980 and the pair worked together for awhile. Later on, later Giordano called him.
“Twelve years later he called me saying that he needed a banjo player,” Salvo said.
The pair had known each other for years, but he didn’t start playing with him until 2005. Before that Giordano had his Banjo Ragtimers Dixieland Jazz Band, and with them performed in various locations like Carnegie Hall, a theme park in Nagasaki, Japan and U.S. Military bases in Europe.
Salvo added he was hesitant to take the job with Giordano because he hadn’t read music since high school. Giordano worked with Salvo though to help him read the music again.
Salvo says that Giordano has about 60,000 pieces of sheet music from the 1920s, and a lot of the music played as sight unseen — Giordano also used to toss music out to the players calling out the sections.
“I felt honored to play with them, I loved the band from day one,” Salvo said.
Working with Giordano he also performed at the “Prairie Home Companion” radio show.
“It’s an honor to be part of and to be heard by millions,” Salvo said.
He added it was an adrenaline rush to be on stage there in front of a packed house.
Giordano was featured in the documentary “There’s a Future in the Past,” which followed the band while they were out on tour.
He also recounts playing for the “Boardwalk Empire” soundtrack saying that on occasion the band would play to specifically fit a scene, but most o the time they would play and it would be added later.
“Stars would (also) record with us, like Liza Minnelli, Elvis Costello and Regina Spektor,” he said.
Eventually Salvo retired, though he still plays often.
“It’s in your bones, a musician can never retire,” he said.
You can catch Salvo most Saturday night’s at Slate’s Restaurant in Cape Coral. He also says he’s not opposed to playing another event at IslandWalk.
Though he says nothing will ever be the Nighthawks, he’s happy with his take on retirement.
“I plan to stay active,” Salvo said.
If you or your neighbor have an interesting story you’d like to share for “Faces of West Villages” give me a call at 941-681-3002 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.