Is This Jazz?: A New Night For Jazz

When a new jazz venue pops up in the area, it’s important to shine a light on them so they can flourish. So when Scott Abrahamson reached out to me to discuss the new live music offerings at Toti’s in Seekonk, I wanted to find out more. Our interview is lightly edited.

Ben Shaw: Tell me about Toti’s.

Scott Abrahamson: Toti’s Grill and Pizzeria Restaurant was founded in 1976 by Panagiotis “Peter” Delis, who arrived in the US from Greece with only $50. Peter worked hard to earn a living and his United States citizenship, eventually saving enough to open Toti’s in Pawtucket. In 1982 he sold that location and opened a new location in neighboring Seekonk, Massachusetts.

About 15 years ago, Peter built his own building next door, growing Toti’s into a full restaurant and bar with ample seating and expanded menu. The pizzas remain legendary, largely because Peter continues to make the dough fresh from scratch daily following a secret recipe. Peter works at the restaurant along with his second wife Samar, his son Georgios (George), and his daughters Anastasia and Flora.

BS: When did you first think to host live music?

 SA: I have been a regular customer for years and started to get to know the Delis family. One night, George sat with my wife and I and began asking about my music career and business background. He told me that the restaurant had the licenses to entertain, but had never seized on the opportunity. George spoke to Peter, discussions continued, and last fall Peter announced to me, “I am ready to start live music!” Based on my recommendations, we agreed to try making Toti’s a venue for jazz.

BS: How long have you been hosting jazz?

SA: Our premier night was February 17, capturing the spirit of Valentine’s Day. The culinary team prepared meal and drink specials, reservations were accepted, and there was no cover charge. The house was packed. Guests were enjoying it so much they started dancing in the aisles!

Our second night was St. Patrick’s. Business was steady, but not as it was before. Most of Seekonk was still without power following the series of Nor’easters, and it even snowed that night! Still, the guests that came stayed and danced again.

April brought a stronger audience and renewed our belief in our mission. Peter has committed to monthly performances.

BS: You mentioned wanting to fill the void that Bovi’s left. What did you mean?

SA: Any jazz musician or lover will remember Bovi’s Tavern in East Providence! It was a legendary venue that hosted top talent for decades. The Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra was in residence there from 1969 to 1999, and when Duke decided to retire, the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra followed. It was “the place” for jazz in the Greater Providence area. Bovi’s unexpectedly closed a few years ago after being in business since 1947, leaving a void for performers and jazz lovers alike.

BS: Your own quartet has played Toti’s before; what can you tell me about the ensemble?

SA: I formed the DCAF Jazz Quartet to be the house band for Toti’s and get things rolling. Our drummer, Peter Doiron, the percussion instructor at Rick’s Musical Instruments, was trained at Berklee and The Boston Conservatory and played professionally on the road for many years. Mike Conrad, who earned his degree in both trombone and piano performance at UMass Lowell, freelances on both throughout the region. A former classroom music educator, I perform professionally on trumpet — also flugelhorn for the quartet — and am an artist for XO Brass. Completing our roster is bassist Rene Fontaine, who has decades of professional experience in big bands and small groups, as well as classical orchestras. We perform standards covering many decades and styles of jazz, taking great pride in what we do. Also, I am grateful to my employer Rick Verfaille of Rick’s Musical Instruments for sponsoring the quartet, helping make our appearances possible.

BS: What is the goal moving forward?

SA: Hosting live music requires a return on investment. Peter has said he won’t charge a cover, but that means he needs to recoup enough sales to cover costs. We’d like to go from once a month to weekly, host other acts, and possibly expand into other genres. There is a very strong commitment to see local musicians working.

I believe in the “win-win” principle. I would like to see Peter and his family win not only for the investment that they have put in, but also for the kindness they have shown me. Local musicians would have a place to showcase their talent and earn a living. Fans would have a place to go and enjoy music with great food, friends and family. And the community wins because everything contributes to the local economy. Idealistic, perhaps, but I believe in working hard to make things a reality.

Toti’s Grill and Pizzeria Restaurant is located at 373 Taunton Avenue (Rte. 44) in Seekonk, minutes from downtown PVD. Visit totisrestaurant.com for more information.

 

 

Happening Around Town:

 

The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; first Monday monthly @ The Met (Pawtucket)

Is This Jazz?; first Friday bimonthly @ AS220 (Providence) isthisjazz.tumblr.com

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Jazz Jam; Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Groove E Tuesday; Tuesdays @ Murphy’s Law (Pawtucket)

Jazz At The Parlour; Sundays (jam held every third Sunday)@ The Parlour (Providence)

Modern Sound Series; last Sunday monthly @ Tea In Sahara (Providence)

Leland Baker Quartet; Wednesdays @ Acacia Club (Providence)

 

To add your listing email isthisjazzri@gmail.com.

 

Ben Shaw is a local composer and performer. Find him at ahueofshaw.tumblr.com.

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