Sunday, March 21, 2004

Jazz trio brings upbeat memories to nursing homes

Cincinnati 101

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Larry Kinley wants to visit every nursing home in town this year to spread sunshine with a song.

If the area's premier lounge singer has his way, he will be honoring a promise he made 40 years ago.

After high school, he worked as a janitor at a nursing home in Avondale.

He made a vow. If he ever made it as a singer, he would serenade not just the people living in the place whose floors he once mopped, but people living in all of the city's nursing homes.

To keep his promise, Kinley needs help from someone with the cash to underwrite 50 concerts.

Since 2002, the singer, plus piano man Wayne Yeager and guitarist Kenny Poole, have annually played 100 nursing homes. The musicians are paid by two sponsors, Robert C. Rhein Interest Inc. and Provident Bank.

Now, they want to expand that to 150 concerts, "and cover every nursing home and retirement center in Greater Cincinnati," Kinley said.

A third sponsor, contributing "something less than $20,000," could help the trio do it. Potential sponsors can call (513) 852-0512 for information.

The money would be well spent.

When he pays a visit, Kinley does it right. He's one of a trio of high-profile jazzmen entertaining the residents. He sings timeless tunes. On Wednesday at Price Hill's Ivy Woods Care Center, he did "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" for people who don't.

They came to the dining room in wheelchairs, on walkers and with oxygen tanks.

How people entered the room mattered not to Kinley.

"We've been doing this for three years," he said. "And we get as much inspiration out of this as the residents."

Before the music started, the care center's dining room was quiet. Residents sat silently, heads slightly bowed, wheelchairs scattered about the room.

A table of five played cards and whispered. The cards made more noise than their voices.

Then the music started. Heads raised. Voices rang out.

"Bad luck and trouble, well, you know, I've had my share," shouted Donna Hawkins. Recovering from a stroke, the 41-year-old mother of one sang "Every Day I Have the Blues" along with Kinley.

Next to her, Hezekiah Perkins, a retired "garbage thrower," cheered on the trio.

The 87-year-old Anders twins, Dorothy and Mildred, drummed their hands on a table.

And a couple danced.

Nick Zappia tapped Maureen Schaffield on the shoulder. She put her walker aside. And stopped singing. She knew all the words.

Soon the retired shoe repairman and the former stenographer were arm-in-arm.

After the last dance, Schaffield talked about the show. Speaking for the whole room, she explained why everyone got such a charge out of the music.

"The songs remind us," she said, "of better times."



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