Tuzo spreading his musical wings
Dainavon Tuzo grew up listening to R&B singer Monica's songs on the radio, but never imagined he'd one day get to perform with her on stage.
A few years ago he got the opportunity to play the keyboard with her band — and jumped at the chance.
The 32-year-old just wrapped up a tour with the Boy Is Mine singer; the band played at venues across the US November 8 to December 13.
“It's surreal to be playing the same songs that I used to hear on Power 95 while getting ready to go to school — Angel of Mine and Don't Take It Personal,” he said.
“That's been crazy for me and really hit me hard while on this recent tour. Monica has a moment in the show where it's just me on the piano and her on vocals and we go through a bunch of her songs and one night I was just looking out at the audience and said, ‘I can't believe I'm living this dream'.”
Mr Tuzo left the Island to pursue his music career in Atlanta in 2011. This was his “first major tour” and Monica's first in 20 years.
“It was a last-minute promotional tour for her new album called Code Red — and it just blew up after the first two nights of shows in Las Vegas and Los Angeles,” he said.
“She has a very strong and loyal fanbase and ever since Las Vegas every show began selling out. We were live streaming on YouTube with Yahoo.com, who picked us up.
“We just performed for the Wendy Williams show last month. Everything started picking up from word-of-mouth and the quality of the show that she put on. It's been an amazing experience.”
Mr Tuzo reached the height of his musical career in Bermuda five years ago. He was performing, was head of the Miracle Temple Church of God choir and had produced a gospel album, Purpose Project.
“[My album] did okay in Bermuda but I had come out to the US to have a meeting with one of the distribution representatives and he suggested I leave the Island and make a name for myself.
“He said I should go to where the music is more well known so that I can create a fanbase almost. I needed to be in a bigger pond where I could spread my wings a little more.”
The former Clearwater Middle School teacher started saving every penny he could.
Then he moved to Atlanta to see if any doors opened.
“The first four months were very dry,” he said. “There was nothing really going on and then I made a phone call to an old school friend of mine, actually my old roommate in college, who lived in Nashville, Tennessee.
“He happened to know of some people in Georgia who were looking for a keyboard player for a band called Jessie's Girls. Funny enough, the band leader at the time was a guy I went to Berklee School of Music with. Ever since I made that phone call it was a reunion of us college mates. That was my first real break.”
Five females front the 15-member band, Jessie's Girls.
Their concerts regularly last three hours, and feature popular music from every genre. The group has performed in front of the National Hockey League and Microsoft as well as celebrities like Tiger Woods and Donald Trump and has also toured throughout the US, Middle East and Caribbean.
In 2012, Mr Tuzo got a call to see if he'd be interested in playing the keyboard for Monica in a one-off show.
It went well. He's now one of the singer's regular band members and also music director for Jessie's Girls.
The journey hasn't come without its rough patches.
“The music business is a cut-throat business,” Mr Tuzo said. “One day you're up, the next there's nothing coming your way.
“We went through a serious drought this summer where shows with Jessie's Girls got cancelled for no apparent reason. It was back to back, there seemed to be no work coming in. So for me, as the music director of the band, it was especially tough. I'm supposed to always be available and ready in case something does come up but if it's not there you wonder what to do.
“I thought, ‘Do I quit or do something else?' You start to question yourself, but that's when the tour for Monica came up at the last minute.
“Her promoters said it might happen and the next week they said it was definitely going through. We didn't have many rehearsals for the show at all — maybe only two or three — and then we went out on the bus from Los Angeles and drove to Las Vegas.
“That first show we were like, ‘Oh my goodness, are we sure we know what we are doing?' Usually you have two weeks and practise all day, every day, but everyone in the show was very professional and everyone worked hard and it was hot.”
He's learnt a lot, most importantly that it's not about the money.
“If that's what you planned on doing and you end up doing that then you succeed no matter what,” he said.
“I couldn't imagine doing anything other than what I'm doing now. This is what I was created to do and when everyone is in their right place and doing what they're called or meant to do in this world then doors open and good things seem to follow.
“You will never work a day in your life because it doesn't feel like work. You're enjoying it and you are happy.”
His goal is to build a production company, Daelight Productions. He's also looking forward to getting back in the studio, writing and producing.
Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @daetuzo.