By LISA STARK
Gerry Bell is clearly in love with music, as anyone who sees him on the local scene playing trumpet and singing karaoke would surmise. But what many don’t know is that Bell regularly devotes much of his time to a variety of community events and causes — all in a musical way.
“Playing music is my passion,” says Gerry, “and being able to lend my services to a good cause just makes it even better.” A resident of Valencia Lakes, Gerry divides his time between performing in veterans ceremonies, acting as principal trumpeter in his church and playing with his own swing band, “The Swingin’ Belltones.” He smiles modestly when you bring up his exhaustive musical endeavors that serve the community. “It’s just my way of playing my trumpet and keeping involved in the things I love,” he said.
Gerry enjoys an active life in his church, Prince of Peace Catholic Church, where he is trumpeter and music minister. Not only is he a member of the choir but he also leads the congregation in song as a cantor. Currently he is busy participating in the Christmas activities that fill the church calendar this month. His love for brass music dates back to his childhood days in Syracuse, where his school band director got seven-year-old Gerry involved in playing trumpet. He remembers playing trumpet as a young child for his parents and visiting relatives during holidays in the family home.
Playing brass instruments, especially the trumpet, is one of his favorite pastimes. He names Big Band greats such as Harry James, Louis Armstrong and Maynard Ferguson as his major musical influences. “One of the biggest thrills of my life was meeting Harry James at the Fireman’s Ball in Syracuse, N.Y., when I was 13 years old,” he said. He credits many of his past experiences for giving him the drive and inspiration to stay musically active today.
One of the most generous contributors to the military around, Gerry lends his talent to numerous ceremonies that celebrate veterans events, including Memorial Day and Veterans Day. He is currently the bugler for the Valencia Lakes Color Guard, and is on call to perform at full-military-honors funeral services for veterans all over southern Florida. Gerry is also a familiar face at the Riverview American Legion Post 148, where he serves as second vice president of club activities, organizing such events as the annual Christmas party, weekly bands and significant holiday celebrations.
Gerry’s band, “The Swingin’ Belltones,” is his creative outlet for a more freewheeling style of Big Band sound. Fellow band members include Pete Farina on piano, Jeff Bennyhoff on stand-up bass and Terry Callaghan on guitar. With songs like “Summertime,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “The Way you Look Tonight,” the band has strong popular appeal. The emphasis of the Belltones is classical swing, which embodies a more innovative beat that was popular in the Big Band era, reminiscent of Duke Ellington and other music legends. Gerry also admires some of the newer artists such as Harry Connick Jr. and Chris Botti adding their own twist to the traditional sound.
When he’s not engaged in his busy brass and band activities, Gerry enjoys singing with the Valencia Lakes Singers. He can also be found on many evenings singing karaoke at the VFW, the Incognito Lounge and at Little Harbor. In his spare time, he enjoys relaxing at home, entertaining friends and cooking “comfort food.” “My Buffalo wings are original, and by that I mean they are the original recipe from Frank and Teresa’s Anchor Inn in Buffalo,” he said. His other favorite pastime is hanging out with his two Yorkie-poos, Maynard and Annie Mae, who are frequently spotted walking the Valencia Lakes two-mile loop.
Gerry’s New Year’s resolution is simple: “Stay active, stay involved and give back to the community. That’s what keeps me going.”