Greg Tivis and Kelsey Taylor bring the Great American Songbook to a devoted audience
When Greg Tivis and Kelsey Taylor met, neither expected to become friends and musical partners, but today you’ll find them having fun performing classic American tunes for a devoted following at Veritas Wine & Bistro in College Station.
“My family has always been very musical,” Kelsey says, Christmas caroling and church choirs were part of her childhood. “We’d also just sit around together and my granddad would pull out his guitar and we’d all sing ‘Up the Lazy River.’ That’s how I got my first taste of the music we do now.”
A Natural Talent
Kelsey played guitar and sang with a friend, performing folk and rock tunes in high school. She sang in choirs while attending Baylor University. She put music on hold while working in restaurants and earning a finance degree at A&M. But in late 2007, Kelsey put together a band for a New Year’s Eve show at Veritas, where her fiancé, Chris Taylor, was the manager and sommelier. It was there she met Greg Tivis and Ron White. She liked their music so much she hired Greg to play the piano at her wedding in May 2008.
Greg and bass player Ron White performed regularly at Veritas, and a few months after the wedding, Kelsey asked Greg if he needed a female vocalist.
“My first thought was ‘not really,’ ” the piano man says with a laugh. But when Greg heard Kelsey’s audition he had a quick change of heart. “Man, from the word go, she just blew us away,” Greg says. “She‘s a natural talent when it comes to singing and her delivery is unbelievable.” “I don’t know what I was hoping for, but I just wanted to get my foot in wherever I could,” Kelsey says.
A Big Band Veteran
She picked the right place to start. Greg is a veteran of touring big bands such as the Russ Morgan and Guy Lombardo orchestras. He married in 1993 and settled in College Station, where he started Piano Plus to book his popular gigs, solo or with various ensembles. “We play the music of Sinatra, Nat King Cole, even some Louis Armstrong.” he says. “They’re songs that have withstood the test of time and continue to excite each new generation. And as long as there’s still and audience for it, I’ll keep playing it.”
Kelsey’s passion for classic music is evident. “I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of the simplicity of the standards,” she says. “They really lend themselves to adding your own touches while still being able to keep what is intrinsically there.”
The group is picking up a following, both in the Brazos Valley area and elsewhere. While most of Kelsey’s gigs with Greg and Ron have been local, they have several shows booked in Oklahoma this year. And in October 2009, more than 500 people packed into the Hilton ballroom for the release party for their first CD together, “Beginning to See the Light.”
Passing on the Legacy
Like Greg, Kelsey loves performing. She’d love to make music a career, but her practical side understands that’s a tough way to go. In the fall, she’ll begin law school at Southern Methodist University in her hometown, Dallas, but she knows music will remain a major part of her life and her family. She’s already singing to her 4-month old son, Cullen. “It was just such a rich experience growing up with such a musical family,” she says. “I want to be able to pass that along.”
— Jay Brakefield, Flair Magazine
Greg Tivis Jazz Ensemble Provides Nice Surprise
One of the nicest surprises recently was to hear the Greg Tivis Jazz Ensemble at Shawnee's Fire Lake Restaurant. A near capacity group of diners were entertained last Tuesday by the group whose repertoire extends from "golden oldies" to modern jazz contemporary favorites.
"It's something for everyone's taste," said Don Woolery, the pianist who regularly entertains at the restaurant on Friday and Saturday evenings. Woolery, a fine jazz pianist himself, extols the talents of the Tivis group who he enticed to come to Shawnee and perform on Tuesday nights.
"Jazz night is something I have dreamed of for a long time in Shawnee," Woolery said, and he hopes it my be the embryonic stage of a jazz festival he dreams of for the future of Shawnee.
The leader of the group, Greg Tivis, is an alumni of the University of Central Oklahoma, and has a unique style at the piano. He plays both intelligently and musically to blend with the other musicians in his group, and his knowledge of both repertoire and the jazz idiom are admirable.
A native of Lindsay, Oklahoma, Tivis has performed on many cruise lines and traveled extensively with the Russ Morgan Orchestra.
To have a fine jazz ensemble such as Tivis and his group is an enhancement to the night life in Shawnee, and is definitely the highlight of the Tuesday evenings when they are around.
The music is delightful, unobtrusive, and unquestionably of a professional caliber. It’s "easy listening" at its best, and features the controlled and professional performance of fine musicians who accompany your dining as found in only the finest of restaurants.
Remember the name, Greg Tivis! I predict that this fine young musician may someday be a household name that extends far beyond Shawnee, Oklahoma!
Crystal Sea Emphasizes Musical Diversity
A quick review of weekly live music performances in Bryan and College Station will invariably reveal a deluge of country, rock, and alternative shows. But area music lovers need not fret of a lack of musical diversity.
Crystal Sea, a local jazz trio, playing tonight at Sweet Eugene’s House of Java, delivers the goods with an old-fashioned, but refreshing approach.
Greg Tivis, a freelance pianist who has played with the Russ Morgan orchestra, said Crystal Sea plays "straight ahead" traditional jazz with an emphasis on experimentation and variation.
"It's never going to be the same thing twice," Tivis said. "We may play a tune one night, and the next time we play, it will be totally different within the parameters of the song. The goal of the jazz musician is to continually find new places for the songs to go."
This seems to be in contrast with the objectives of many modern performers, he said, who often strive for perfect live reproduction of their music.
Ron White, Crystal Sea's bassist, said musical individuality is important. "The whole point (of jazz) is to not sound like anybody else," White said, "It's to find your own voice and to have your own sound. The good jazz musician can take a mistake and turn it into an idea," he said. "When there's tension in the music, that's when creativity happens."
White, who is also the director of orchestras for the College Station School District, said Crystal Sea does not devote too much energy to perfecting their song structures.
"The way a jazz tune works is you have the melody, of the head, and then you improvise over that," he said. "So there's really very little rehearsing. The jazz musician relies on his experience and prior knowledge."
Randy Watkins, who works with the Texas A&M Ocean Drilling Program, formed Crystal Sea in 1998 with several A&M students. This original line-up included piano, bass, a horn section, and Watkins on drums. Those students soon graduated, and last year Watkins reformed the band with Tivis and White.
The band members said a small ensemble works well for them, allowing a tightly woven blend of solos over strong rhythm pieces. “Greg works as a solo piano player, so he’s got a large repertoire," White said. "That makes it really easy for us to fit in and add to what he’s doing."
Tivis, White and Watkins draw upon a wealth of varied influences, citing such jazz greats as Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Charles Mingus as personal role models. But they said jazz musicians do not usually listen to jazz exclusively.
"If you look at the greatest jazz musicians of all time, you find that they listened to a lot of classical music to hear form and melodic and harmonic content in music." White said.
He said jazz musicians tend to listen to anything from which they can extract new ideas and feels. This is reflected in the members past music endeavors as well. Watkins has played in "garage bands," and Tivis also has funk and R&B experience.
Crystal Sea is pleased jazz appears to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Success of movie soundtracks with jazz tunes and modern artists such as Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr, have done much to keep the genre alive, Tivis said. Crystal Sea also focuses on promoting jazz in the local music scene especially to its younger audiences.
Yet the members have various reasons for playing their music. "I like to make people feel good," Watkins said. "I like to communicate a little of myself to them, if possible."
White said that above all else, jazz must speak to the listener. "Music is probably the most powerful form of communication that man has ever created," he said. "In our culture, music is so prevalent. The serious musician must convey something an emotion, a thought, a feeling."
John Lebas, The Battalion, College Station, TX