For years, Jerry Grillo has been Milwaukee's jazz singer. He's been a constant on the scene, forging his own style out of a passion for singers like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin, but always letting the Grillo come through.
He's recorded numerous CDs with different bands and in different settings. When he takes the stage at Cafe Lulu, 2265 S. Howell Ave., in Bay View on Saturday, May 8 at 10:30 p.m. it will be fronting a new group called Historical Mystery Band.
"I've always have had a band," says Grillo. "With jazz bands, however, most singers and players use whoever is available, because their skills are such that they can play any chord charts in almost every rhythm."
But with the Historical Mystery Band, which includes keyboardist Scott Currier, guitarist and bassist Kirk Tatnall and percussionist Randy Maio, Grillo wants to work with a band in a much more close-knit fashion.
"I would like my songs to be done in a way that is familiar to my own chosen musicians, and I also prefer musicians who write some of their own tunes, so we can feature them. I have chosen this band for that particular reason. I will also add saxopone or trumpet depending upon the gig."
Historical Mystery Band is a band, says Grillo -- who also performs with the 15-piece Nick Contorno Orchestra -- not just backing musicians for him. Currier and Tatnall have been writing original material that the band will perform alongside a selection of standards.
"Instead of just showcasing myself, I wanted the band to have a name other than only mine. We are a band, not just Jerry Grillo, the singer."
That band will be caught on film at its second performance (the first, on Thursday, April 29, is the start of what may become an every-other-week residency at the Harbor Room, 117 E. Greenfield Ave.), says Grillo, who says a relatively low-fi video of a performance provided inspiration to make a DVD. Tim Chiapetta of Milwaukee Metro Design is filming the performance
"I was recorded on a cell phone at a gig, and that video was sent to me via Facebook," he recalls.
"It prompted the thought that I would like to have a better quality documentation of my bands and myself as performer. (Chiapetta) offered to film that, and I indicated that I wanted to be filmed at venues which would be considered historic because of the buildings they were housed in, or because they were considered historical because the venue was a Milwaukee landmark venue for so many years.
"I didn't want a staged video because I generally don't find them interesting for a jazz band. The documentary form was appealing to me because, if it is done well, it highlights the venue and the band at the same time. This is a concept film which includes the band as well -- not just a video. Film documentaries have always intrigued me. Videos of a band just playing their songs, don't really interest me at all. That is only a promotional tool."
If the name of the band seems like something of a mystery, itself, Grillo says it has a meaning relevant to the group and for the film project, too.
"The mystery part of the title is because of the fact the venues will be decided upon as we go along," he says. "This is part of a journey, filmwise, and will take quite a bit of effort and time to produce. I also have always been interested in historic venues, performed in many of them, and have never been filmed live professionally. "
Cafe Lulu, says Grillo, fits his criteria perfectly and is therefore perfect for the event.
"Cafe Lulu was selected because the original restaurant was a George Webb, and if that isn't historical, nothing is," says Grillo. "Also, they have become an intrinsic destination in Bay View, and were the first to develop that corner. The transformation of Kinnickinnic and Lincoln has been very interesting to watch."
Grillo's most recent solo CD, "Some of the Best," is available for purchase at performances only.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.