25 YEARS IN MY OWN WORDS
How do I begin to put into words an event so significant for Roland as a man and as a businessman?
A simple suggestion from my ex-wife Terri to "call Ken Navarro and see if he wants to do a concert here" was the start of it all. It came to life with that first concert on June 1st, 1993 and still lives on. With the help of many, many amazing and wonderful people, my dream is alive and we are celebrating the 25th anniversary - 25 years of concerts, this June 1, 2018.
Soon after that first concert with jazz guitarist Ken Navarro, I fell in love with what we had created. How does this man fall in love with a concept? For me It happens when that concept becomes a movement for positive change, and when that concept brings happiness and joy to people who love music.
When I fall in love with something or someone they become my passion. That passion drives me from the very depths of my soul. That passion then becomes a vision. A sense of direction that guides me down the roads that brings me to its reality.
During the early years of promoting concerts my passion was focused on the music and the artists. How do I bring more artists and concerts to Brevard? Which venues are available where I can produce and present the concerts? How do I get the word out to those people who'll want to attend?
Young love is childish, inexperienced and always foolish. After that first concert with Ken Navarro, the excitement and pure joy I felt from the people who attended drove me, sometimes with desperation, to find more fuel to feed the "contemporary jazz concert" fire we just started.
Saxophonist Paul Howards came next. He was new to the Orlando jazz scene and he captivated a sold out crowd with his high energy and fresh sax playing. After Paul Howards came Fattburger, Dan Siegel, Alexander Zonjic, and Kirk Whalum at the Hilton Rialto ballroom in Melbourne.
In the spring of 1994 I was approached by the agent for a new guitarist on the jazz scene by the name of Norman Brown. Norman's first concert for me was August 7th, 1994. I booked him to do two shows in a tiny 115 seat club. Forty four people attended the first show, and the second show sold out. The 44 people from the first show BEGGED me to allow them to buy tickets for the second concert! That concert was the beginning of many memorable BJS small club shows throughout the mid 1990s.
BARRACUDAS & THE KING CENTER
Although at the beginning of this journey area ballrooms were a key to keeping the concert promoting passion alive and moving forward, I was blessed to meet two people who would clearly change my destiny - Beverly Katakis, owner of a small dance club in Cocoa by the name of Barracudas and Steve Janicki, Executive Director at Brevard's premier concert venue, The Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne.
I met Beverly at one of my Hilton Rialto Ballroom concerts in 1993. She asked me to come by and look at her club and maybe consider promoting a concert there. What she didn't know was that all the DJs at Barracudas visited Record Hut regularly to buy their dance music. I knew the club was best known as a dance club, but why not give contemporary jazz a shot there!
The first concert at Barracudas was on February 9, 1994. It was a Valentines concert with no other than a very energetic up and coming sax player by the name of Warren Hill. That night began a run of concerts at Barracudas that have become legendary for BJS and for those who attended them. The club only held about 80 people in the lower level, and another 50 in the small upstairs balcony, but the list of artists who performed for BJS at Barracudas is long and amazing; Warren Hill, Kirk Whalum, Gregg Karukas, Acoustic Alchemy, Jeff Lorber, Art Porter, Steve Reid's Bamboo Forrest, Pieces of a Dream, Marion Meadows, the legendary Maynard Ferguson, Dotsero, and many more.
I experienced one of my top two favorite concerts EVER at Barracudas - Jeff Lorber performed at Barracudas for the first time after not touring for 10 years. He brought a young sax player with him named Art Porter, who stunned the crowd with an unforgettable performance. That night will live in my mind forever as one of the most musically amazing and unique concerts I have ever experienced. I'm sure the 140 or so people that attended felt the same way. It was almost surreal that contemporary jazz was thriving at a venue best known as a dance club!
While the intimate Barracudas concerts were on fire, my relationship with Steve Janicki and the King Center began to form a strong foundation for my passion and future dreams of concert promoting.
KING CENTER CONCERTS:
October 15, 1994 was a historic night not only for me, but also for my friend Chris Hauck, who was the Box Office Director at King Center at that time. Chris was instrumental in developing the King Center connection, and for Steve Janicki and Roland Guilarte's very new partnership.
That night began a relationship that would change my business dream and passion forever. Our first co-presentation at the King Center brought The Rippingtons featuring Russ Freeman to Melbourne. Almost 1900 Smooth Jazz lovers attended that concert. Many of those guests still come to BMG concerts today. It was a truly historic night for me, one that changed my passion's destiny and allowed me to co-present with not only Brevard's Premier concert venue, it also allowed me to get a real education in promoting concerts.
Steve Janicki and I have had our ups and downs over the last 24 years, which happens in most relationships that last as long as ours has. To this day, the professional and personal respect and friendship Steve, his staff and I have allows us to continue forward with our goal of bringing quality and diversification to Brevard's music scene.
To view a list of past concerts the King Center and BMG have co-presented click here.
MID 90'S & PERSONAL CHALLENGES:
While the "high" from King Center concerts was driving the business forward, personal issues began to "rain on my passion parade". Our personal lives tend to dictate how we move forward in our business lives. But although my personal life was in crisis mode, I'm thankful my business never faltered.
The mid nineties brought divorce from my first wife. Competition from giant retailer Best Buy took a toll on "Record Hut", my first successful record store business. A short and unconventional relationship brought to life someone who would change my life forever - my only son, Justin, was born May 17, 1995.
After my partner and wife Teri and I went our separate ways and I retired our beloved "Record Hut" the toll of being alone and in debt fueled decisions that only created more instability in my personal life. The King Center and ballroom concerts continued but I struggled daily with knowing my son was growing up without his Dad close by. I married again in 1998 and moved to Massachusetts with my second wife Nancy to be with Justin. That decision backfired when I became quite ill with lower back issues. The ensuing surgery and its effects brought us back to Florida. Ultimately the marriage failed and I had to work though that too. Leaving my son, getting divorced a second time, and still having unexplained pain in my lower back became more than a challenge, it became a matter of survival.
I'm sure The King Center staff and those who regularly attended my concerts could see the toll all these challenges were taking on me personally. Other than my faith in the higher power of God and the unconditional support from my parents, I am not completely certain how I survived those few months between my separation from Nancy in late 2003 and March 30, 2004. Although the concerts continued, mostly at the King Center, I was physically and emotionally hurting and drained.
Those years away from Brevard also took their toll on me personally and on my business. My absence from Brevard and the changing climate within the Smooth Jazz genre along with the end of the Space Shuttle program and the presence of a new full time smooth jazz radio station brought new challenges to being back home and to my small business.
As the recession took hold the new station started bringing in artists to perform free concerts at the Crowne Plaza. When there are a lot of free concerts in an area it creates a belief that live music should be free, which unfortunately affects attendance and support for ticketed concerts. I found myself with slumping ticket sales and some artists jumping ship to perform for the free Wednesday Jazz events as a favor to the radio station or in hopes of getting to play in front of the larger crowd a free concert might draw. Between my new role as a full time single Dad managing my son's new school and home, and juggling how the recession affected the business, I found myself struggling to find my footing again and clearly saw the words "time to shift gears" written on my promoting wall.
The free concerts were truly a concern for me. I admit now that I could barely sleep during that time. Then, during one of those sleepless nights God once again spoke clearly to me; "Don't worry about what others are doing or how. Focus on what you're doing and do it to the best of your ability."
That encounter with the power of God once again changed the course of my business and my life.
After settling Justin down into a Florida routine, I began to brainstorm once again. My gut pointed me in the direction of "inclusion". Include other genres of music in your efforts. While BJS and the Florida Smooth Jazz Foundation were working together to keep Smooth Jazz coming to the King Center, the writing on the Smooth Jazz wall was beyond clear. Some radio stations, managers, and industry power-players were raping the genre, its music, its artists and its followers for the sake of quick cash. I was now a full time Dad, with two houses to maintain and a huge legal debt from the two year legal battle for my son's custody. It was clearly time to look beyond Smooth Jazz if my business was to survive the tanking economy and the unfortunate situation Smooth Jazz was experiencing. I decided to change my company's scope and the Brevard Jazz Series became the Brevard Music Group!
While it was maybe just a name change for many, for me the timing was crucial. While I partnered with Cathy Powers and the Florida Smooth Jazz Foundation to maneuver through the grey clouds Smooth Jazz had circling above it at the time, and after my trusty assistant, Robin Grainger happily retired to be a full time Grandmother, my business and I found Mikell Freelin, my new office assistant and events coordinator.
With Mikell assisting the new Brevard Music Group concept was driven by a revived sense of passion and a desire to open new doors. BMG brought Classic Rock, Blues and Folk artists to Brevard. We began very successful relationships with The Henegar Center and Lou's Blues nightclub while still keeping the delicate balance of co-presenting concerts at the King Center.
In 2014 Cathy Powers of the Florida Smooth Jazz Foundation and I moved forward on my vision of a "Jazz Weekend", and brought The Florida Smooth Jazz Weekend to life in January of 2015. Mikell's presence in the office helped me resurrect a 15 year old idea, and along with Cathy Powers we shaped what today is the very successful Florida Smooth Jazz Weekend.
Mikell became my second set of eyes and ears as well as my best friend. My company and I needed that strong wind to sail new waters and create new excitement right here in Brevard. In the big picture it's those who come into our lives with all their goodness and their faults that shape who we are and catapult us forward towards new and uncharted waters. Mikell is not longer with BMG or in my life, yet she left her unique mark that will always be a part of me.
BMG MOVES FORWARD - SMOOTH JAZZ RESURRECTS:
As BMG grew strong roots locally and I felt once again comfortable in and connected to Brevard, I also sensed a cleansing and resurgence of Smooth Jazz. The cleansing took a few years but the radio stations concerned more about the bottom line than their listeners and artists slowly went away or changed formats. The "fly by night" promoters disappeared. Artists realized that their fans deserved great new music, not just remade covers of old songs. I saw the roots of what keeps the Smooth Jazz genre alive gaining strength again - the Smooth Jazz listener and concert goers still LOVED their music! I knew the genre wasn't "dead", it had simply purged of all the fake and unrealistic crap those who didn't really care about it had infected it with. I remembered how BJS began. It began at the grass roots. We went grass roots again.
While still presenting King Center main stage shows I urged Steve Janicki to consider allowing more intimate concerts at the much smaller Studio Theatre. The room is a small, ballroom type venue with house lights and sound. A 300-seat concert venue would be perfect to push forward Smooth Jazz's reincarnation.
With support from Florida Smooth Jazz Foundation, BMG and the King Center began to present intimate Smooth Jazz concerts in the Studio Theatre once again. BMG's non-jazz side also brought artists like Samantha Fish, Carl Palmer, Doyle Bramhall III, Butch Trucks, Hotel California an Eagles Tribute, Ana Popovic, John Hammond, Wishbone Ash, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Ambrosia, Firefall, Jonny Lang, POCO and many other Rock and Blues concerts to the Studio Theatre and the King Center's main stage.
For several years I had a love/hate relationship with Smooth Jazz. Because of the Studio Theatre partnership with the King Center, BMG's association with the Florida Smooth Jazz Foundation, and the success of the Florida Smooth Jazz Weekend I began to fall in love with smooth jazz again. But this time it's a very different love. Smooth Jazz's new roots gave the genre, its artists and its fans a new but very different life. In 2015 and 2016 I felt a new "Smooth Jazz Family" being born; a smaller, much more intimate group of Smooth Jazz lovers supporting the music, the artists, and concerts. Not because radio was urging them to, not because the concerts were free, but because they truly love the music and those who perform it and promote it.
It is a passionate, unselfish and addictive love. It's a love they/we share through social media, at the venues where the music is performed, and it's given freely to the old and the young alike. It is an "inclusive" love, one that positively opens its arms to new listeners, and more importantly, will allow new artists to "share the love" so that my son's generation and his kids can enjoy and play/perform Smooth Jazz for years to come.
PROMOTING'S UNFAIR PRACTICES
Although a small company like BMG has its place in this BIG world of concert promoting, we do have tough work ahead. One of our biggest challenges comes from larger promoting companies that are not based locally. After we take the time to develop up & coming or non-mainstream artists, or we bring in artists that have never visited Brevard and they do well with us, the larger regional or national promoters will steal the act from BMG by out bidding our offers or pulling rank with agents even though we have a positive and successful history with the artist.
This practice by larger companies with deep pockets is nothing new to the industry or to me. Although I thrive on competition, the small, independent, home town businesses like BMG get kicked around by the bigger companies who are concerned more with their bottom line than bringing real culture to our area or supporting our local businesses and communities on a consistent basis. I've never addressed this issue before. But as BMG has become more active in promoting concerts of all genres in Melbourne, we've seen non-Brevard based companies resort to this tactic. Concert goers don't hear about these unfair practices but for me it is an unfortunate reality even in a small market like Brevard. Yet I move forward knowing that Brevard's Rock & Blues audience is worth the battles!
BMG has confirmed several new concerts I'll be announcing soon. I am also in the process of negotiating our first Smooth Jazz New Years Eve Concert and Party.
Moving forward, on the rock and blues side, I am committed to working with artists that are not your "middle of the road" artists. Our success developing relationships with artists like Samantha Fish, Carl Palmer and Johnny Lang among others have labeled BMG as a company willing to look outside the box and take the risk to bring in artists that the larger, national promoting companies won't consider.
BMG's commitment to Smooth Jazz is stronger than ever! Although we will always be supportive of Smooth Jazz legends like Peter White, Norman Brown, Richard Elliot, Rick Braun, Boney James, Brian Culbertson and the many other experienced and favored artists we've brought to Melbourne's venues, on this my 25th Anniversary I am also pledging to bring more up and coming Smooth Jazz talent to Melbourne. I want to continue offering tremendously talented Smooth Jazz artists that don't get enough stage time a platform to perform for us right here in Melbourne.
My Smooth Jazz vision also includes partner hotels and restaurants who'll offer comfortable and affordable accommodations and great local cuisine for our out-of-town visitors. I envision "Mini Smooth Jazz Weekends" where BMG will offer an array of concerts promoting new and established national Smooth Jazz artists and where Smooth Jazz fans from throughout the state can visit Melbourne and experience a weekend of great local cuisine, amazing live music and our beautiful beaches for very affordable prices on an ongoing basis.
Through word of mouth and a steady Social Media engagement our inclusive Smooth Jazz family is making Melbourne and our beaches a Smooth Jazz paradise for artists and music lovers alike!
After 25 years of working all the elements that make for an ongoing and successful business, my biggest and most ardent commitment is to "you the people". You, the retired banker, you, the factory worker, you, the secretary, you, the amazing people that touch my life and heart on a daily basis with your passion for live music. You, who inspire me to get up early every morning and head to the office to face the challenges, the headaches, the wonders and amazement of offering you the live music and artists you love. You are my focus, my passion, you are my fuel!
THE POWER OF A LIVE PERFORMANCE
I've always been taken back by the passion music brings to so many. But it was only a few years ago, when I first brought Kim Simmons & Savoy Brown to Lou's Blues nightclub that I realized music is more than a passion, it's a way of life for millions.
While Savoy Brown took a short break, I sat quietly listening to two older men reminiscing about their high school days while waiting for more music from this legendary rock band. With beers in hand they discussed their high school lives. Their teachers, their parents and their high school girlfriends; these two perfect strangers were reliving their youth right in front of me and simply because a few months earlier I made a deal to bring this legend of a band to a small club by the beach at the city I love to live in.
It was a momentous night for me. Even though since the very first day I opened my first business I always placed the emphasis on my customers. It was that night that I redirected my passion from the music to the music lovers who buy tickets to my concerts. That night I reaffirmed that I am only the conduit between the artists and their fans.
This June 1st, 25 years after that very first Ken Navarro concert at the C.W. Dandy's in Merritt Island, I pledge to you who read this newsletter and who spend your hard-earned money to buy tickets to my concerts, that you will always be my number one focus. I thank you from deep, deep in my heart, for allowing this humble Cuban man with a passion to live his dream, to do so for so many years. I am forever grateful for the opportunity God has given me to watch you smile, laugh and tell stories about the music you love and concerts you attend. I am truly a blessed man....
IMPORTANT PEOPLE WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE:
My Dad Tomas - An extremely hard working family man. He was hugely successful businessman whose life and country were stolen from him by Fidel Castro. Yet he found the courage and foresight to bring his wife and two sons to the United States and start a new life with us. My Dad is my hero. He gave us a great life and helped many other families do the same. His work ethic took him from being a successful business owner in Cuba to his first job in the U.S. - sweeping floors in a factory in Connecticut. From there he moved us to Miami, then Maryland, where he found his footing and gave us a great life. At 63 my Dad started his last and very successful business. He always told me, "You can do and be whatever you wish to. Be wise with your finances and treat those who patronize your business as if they were your best friend." If there is a single reason why I'm celebrating this anniversary and over 33 years in business, it's because of my Dad, Tomas Quitin Guilarte.
My Mom Estela "Pucha" Guilarte is in heaven now. But just like my Dad, my Mom stands as the most influential person and woman in my life. My mother was the definition of kindness, family, love, and a concern for the good of all she touched. Her passion for her family, her kindness and her ability to open her home and her heart to everyone, especially the less fortunate, is the fabric of who I am. She was a protective, loving, concerned mother who can never be replaced. I miss my Mom every day even though she stays at the core of my being - my heart.
Gary Johnson - There is a third person in my life who continues to be not only a dear friend, but also a second older brother - a stubborn, confidant man and someone I love dearly. Gary Johnson was just another patron until that day I walked away from a second marriage that could have easily destroyed my business and me personally. Sometime in late 2003 I left Jacksonville and my second marriage behind, with nowhere to go. On a whim I remembered Gary Johnson lived in Cocoa Beach. I found his number and called him. Without hesitation Gary opened his home to me, pretty much a total stranger. Gary is a strong, opinionated, vocal man. He and I have our share of disagreements, but he took care of me when my illness was at its worst. In his home and while he watched, God blessed me with the miracle that not only turned around my personal life, but also made me the son, Dad and man I am today. I am very blessed Gary is still in my life.
There are so many other people that are instrumental in my success that I could not possibly mention or even remember them all. To those I don't mention in this letter I say don't ever think I would forget how many lives have made these 25 years possible. I simply don't have enough paper to mention all of you who touch my life. Here are just a few I am obliged to include in this letter:
My son Justin, who out of a very difficult youth has become a son and a man I am so, so proud of. He is my proudest moment, my blood, my reason for being. He brings out the best of me, my passion and the goodness in my life.
My ex-wife Terri - although we've been divorced for many years I am so thankful for the years we did spend together. Terri was my partner at Record Hut and with Brevard Jazz Series. She lives in Maryland now with her husband and family, but she's never forgotten for her hard work and her belief in what we began back on June 1st, 1985.
Tanya Klepper - my dearest and closest friend for so many years. A visionary business woman who saw the Smooth Jazz wave and allowed me to produce the Lite Jazz Brunch; the 4 hour radio show every Sunday that was instrumental in opening Brevard county to Smooth Jazz. It also opened the doors and was an intricate part of the beginnings of Roland's Brevard Jazz Series. I love Tanya with all my heart and miss her terribly.
My sweet friends Kim and Denise - You were my rock at the beginning of this dream. I will forget what you two did to help launch this 25 year journey!. I miss you both!
Chris Hauck - he was my first connection to the King Center. I am forever grateful!
Robin Grainger - my first assistant and my right hand person in Florida while I lived with my son in Massachusetts. She is the sister I never had. I love you, Robin!
Mikell Freelin - She was my events coordinator and right hand person at the office for over 5 years. She took Robin's place and became the second most influential woman in my life. She will always have a very special place in my business and my heart.
Steve Janicki, my King Center Director and co-pro partner. But more importantly my teacher and my friend. I've seen his staff change throughout the last 24 years. But he and all those, past and present, who work at the King Center while I've been partnering with them are amazing people that touch my life in a very positive way.
Mark and Cathy Powers of the Florida Smooth Jazz Weekend; total strangers that in my hour of need didn't hesitate to help me. Although those favors were paid back, they meant more to me at the time than I can say in words. We've worked together for many years now on the Smooth Jazz side. And together we brought to life The Florida Smooth Jazz Weekend - a 15 year dream of mine. It has become a hugely successful weekend that brings amazing lineup of top smooth jazz artists to oceanfront venue. The Jazz Weekend combines family, friendship, amazing music and the love for Smooth Jazz into one unique and unforgettable yearly event.
Mis Patriotas - A group of "familia" I never mention. They are trusting, smart, amazing business partners. They will probably give me grief for mentioning them in this letter but they always have my back!
Amy Alicea, Christy Masters & Nicole Hensley - my current office manager, Social Media and Marketing and imagining experts! They stand at the ready when I call on them! They are a breath of fresh air when life gets right down hot and muggy! These three women deal with the daily grind of operating and marketing a small business that is proud of our customer service. Thank you, Amy, por todo lo que haces para BMG (for all you do for BMG)! Christy, you get it! I'm glad you joined the craze! Nicole, although I don't contact you much, your work is outstanding and appreciated! My 3-musketeers!
In closing this 25th Anniversary Newsletter I ask you kindly to consider being a part of this weekend's 25th Anniversary Celebration at the King Center. Buy a couple of tickets to one or more of the three great concerts. Consider turning a friend or loved one to great live music, and share our efforts with others that care about and love live music here in Brevard county.
I thank you again for 25 amazing and surreal years of bringing you the music you love!
With my deepest gratitude and thanks,