By Melissa Baltazar
Bayonne is on the verge of major changes, but some tunes will go on playing. Just ask Larry Gusick, 89, the oldest member of the senior citizen band, Mixed Nuts. On St Patrick’s Day, the band graced the stage of the Unity Club at 24-50 East 21th Street, a senior community center, where they played old standards and sing alongs that got the robust older crowd rocking to their feet. The three band members are Mark Fabyanski on drums, David Gusick who plays guitar and banjo and sings lead, and David’s dad, Larry Gusick, who plays sax and clarinet.
The shamrock-laden event was well attended, and the vibe lively and energetic. Beer and refreshments flowed. The menu featured traditional Irish fare of corned beef, cabbage, potato, and Irish soda bread. Most attendees were members of the club, but outside guests were also on hand. While some partygoers were unfamiliar with Mixed Nuts, Unity Club’s Vice President Alna Vasilakis, who was responsible for booking the band, knew that they would bring members to their feet.
“I belong to another group called the Prime of Life, and they played at our Christmas party, and I liked them,” Alna said. She was also familiar with the group from a previous senior band in which Larry played.
The name Mixed Nuts reflects the group’s fun nature and free-spirited members. It also captures the generational difference between the youngest member at 54 years old and Larry Gusick, a U.S. Army veteran who began playing in bands just prior to World War II. Larry played in a variety of bands for over 40 years and despite having taken a hiatus he maintains a fan following in Bayonne and beyond.
Word of mouth
“I don’t look for work” Larry says. “People call us.” His son David said, “People hear us, and they like the song selection; they like the sing alongs and they like the different tunes, and before you know it the word spreads, and they call Larry.”
The group’s varied playlist keeps the audience engaged and excited. Their modus operandi for song selection is to give the people what they want. “You have to remember you can’t force songs on people,” Larry said. “You have to listen and see what they take. You gotta be prepared with everything.”
On this evening, Mixed Nuts was prepared with songs like “La Bamba” and the St. Patty’s classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The group’s vice president scoured the room and urged the crowd to get up and dance. Before long, couples and friends alike were on their feet executing a variety of two-step moves and full-bodied shimmies. The swinging seniors laughed, clapped, stomped, danced, and sang, while the band played on.
This event was particularly meaningful for Larry’s daughter, Maryann Symanski, who was brought to tears by watching her father play.
“I’m amazed to see him still playing at 89,” Maryann said, revealing that Larry recently recovered from a broken hip and while he took time off from playing he never lost his passion.
“I believe it’s the music that keeps him going,” Maryann said. Her eyes, brimming with tears, she stayed focused on her dad as she spoke.
The band’s rich family history resonates when they play together. Its younger members, David and Mark, remember playing instruments, as awestruck kids, with their senior band mate when Larry played sax for the Ray Konopka Orchestra in and around Bayonne.
“I looked up to these guys because they were the older orchestra guys, so Larry to me is a legend,” Mark recalled.
The Gusick family was formed when Larry met his future wife while singing in the Saint Cecelia Choir at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Bayonne, where he was a member for 35 years. The talented bunch traced their musical connection to Gene Krupa, the great American Jazz and Big Band drummer in the 1920s. As a lifelong resident of Bayonne, Larry has seen the town go through many phases but he isn’t fazed by the changes: “Some are good, and some are bad. Everyone’s going to have a complaint,” but when asked if he is still happy being in town, Larry gave a resounding yes to life on the peninsula.