Beating the drum for legendary musicians
When Clarence (Tootsie) Bean first started playing the drums they weighed more than he did he could barely see over the top of them.
That was 70 years ago.
The 81-year-old is still performing, and has taught many of the Island’s drumming teachers.
His band, the Clarence (Tootsie) Bean Quartet, will be the star attraction at a concert next month organised by Atlantic Publishing House and MyThyme Productions.
As a youngster Mr Bean lived with his sister Erminie and her husband Maxwell Simmons; it was Mr Simmons who first spotted his talent. Mr Simmons worked in entertainment as a tap dancer, musician and club bouncer.
“He noticed that I was tapping all over the house,” said Mr Bean. “Even if I was shining shoes I would do it to a rhythm. He contacted Ernie Leader, one of the leading musicians in Bermuda at the time. He had a big band called the Ernie Leader Orchestra. I went to him for drumming lessons, and he went out and bought a set of drums for me.”
Mr Bean remembered sitting out on their porch on Tills Hill in Pembroke practising while his friends gathered around to watch. Despite his protestations, Mr Leader decided he was ready to join his band after a few years of lessons. Mr Bean was 13.
“They pushed me, because I was very nervous,” he said. “The first place I played at was at the Band Room over on the North Shore in Pembroke. They used to have bazaars there, and people would come into the Band Room to dance. My drums were bigger than I was. You could just see my head over the top of them. In those days they had big bass drums. I was scared as anything, but I made it through the night.”
From there he was sent to play at base dances. He would be picked up from the Central School playground by bus, and taken to the various military bases on the Island.
“I would be out there playing with the children,” said Mr Bean. “They’d say ‘Tootsie, your bus is comin’. They’d all be running, and throw my drums into the bus and lift me up and throw me in behind the drums. The bus also made stops to collect young ladies to take to the base to dance with soldiers and sailors there. They would all have a ball on the base. Then after the dance they would all be put back on the bus and taken back to town. I used to be a little broken hearted because I missed playing with my friends. When I came back after working it was dusk and everyone had gone home and it was quiet. I felt like I missed my childhood, a bit. I was going to school and playing nights. It was quite an experience.”
Although he did well, unfortunately he had to leave school early because his brother-in-law, Mr Simmons, died young. His sister was left with two small children to raise. Mr Bean sold sweet pea flowers on Front Street to help her. Later, when he grew up he continued with his music, but also worked at the Bermuda Bakery and drove a truck, among other things, to make a living. He met his wife Stella at the bakery. They have been married for 59 years.
During his career Mr Bean performed in all the hotels on the Island and also toured internationally, visiting Germany, Japan and North Korea with American singers Ruth Brown, Irene Reid and Dakota Stanton. He performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall with Ruth Brown.
“Music really gave me the opportunity to see the world,” Mr Bean said.
He has also taught many local drummers Eddie Ming, Kevin Maybury, and Nick Swan, among others. In 2007, he performed with the Jon Hammond Band in New York City. These days he performs Sunday mornings at his church, and also performs at Swizzle Inn in the summer.
The Keeper of the Flame concert will be held at the Pembroke Community Club on May 5 at 8pm with special guest, guitarist Dayton Wharton. Other members of Mr Bean’s band include Dennis Fox on piano, Max Maybury on saxophone and upright bass player, Clarence Burrows. There will also be six saxophonists performing and the evening will culminate in a musical “sax attack”, followed by dessert.
“These gentlemen are legendary musicians and if we don’t honour them now, then when will we?” asked Diane Hartley of My Thyme Productions. “Bermudians who cry out for entertainment should avail themselves of this wonderful opportunity. It will be a wonderful night of socialising, dancing and some rich music.”
If you miss this concert, the good news is there will be several more up until October. The aim is to employ local musicians, provide entertainment, and expose young people to Bermuda’s veteran musicians. There is also a deeper motive, the formation of a new band to represent Bermuda.
“The whole point ultimately, is to fundraise to create the Giant Steps Band,” said Ms Hartley. “We want to take this band to participate in the 2013 Havana International Jazz Festival.”
Tickets, $50, are available at Music Box on Reid Street or by calling 505-3409 or 737-7707. A Giant Steps potluck dinner is planned for May 12 at 4pm at the Leopards Club and a bake sale arranged for May 19 from 8am to 3pm at the MarketPlace on Church Street.