Everyone loves a parade, but perhaps none more than Riverside resident Jim Vonesh, who for the past month, when the weather cooperates, becomes a one-man marching band, bringing hot sax to the village’s neighborhoods.
“I had done the sax walks a few times several years ago,” said Vonesh, a father of two and veteran musician who moved to Riverside in 2012. “I started doing them regularly (1-2 times a week) after the shelter-in-place thing started.
“I enjoy entertaining people with music and I can do it while still maintaining a safe social distance. I thought it would be a good way to brighten people’s day for a minute and hope it encourages others to share their talents with the community just for fun.”
Often accompanied by his 6-year-old daughter, Alia, Vonesh initially paraded down the sidewalks of the Herrick Road/Harlem Avenue neighborhood near his house. But, as people started sharing short videos of him playing such saxophone friendly tunes as “Tequila” on social media, he’s become a local quarantine celebrity.
“A lot of people have started posting pictures and I’ve started getting requests to visit their streets,” Vonesh said. “I’ve made a list of those and have started doing that lately.”
On May 4 (that’s the unofficial “Star Wars” holiday, you know, “May the Fourth be with you.”) Vonesh put in a guest appearance at Wayne McCallum’s daily 5 o’clock Dance Party on Kimbark Road – playing his tenor sax along to the day’s selection – the “Cantina Band” number from the original “Star Wars” film.
On May 6, Vonesh hauled out his baritone sax and fulfilled a social media request to parade through the Selborne/Southcote/Uvedale area. Since the sax walks have become a more regular occurrence – Vonesh said he tries to get out at least a couple times a week – he’s also dressing for the occasion.
For example, during his one-man parade on May 7, he donned a shirt and pants tie-dyed a cosmic blue pattern, along the lines of the outfits he wears when playing with the performance art/brass band ensemble Environmental Encroachment, of which he’s been a member since 2007.
Environmental Encroachment plays outdoor festivals, at parades and art-centric events in the Chicago area and elsewhere, like the HONK! Festival in Boston. The ensemble, according to its website uses “brass band, costumes, performance art and theatrics to create unique entertainment environments for any event.”
“I’ve played in a number of rock and jazz bands, but I’ve always had a big interest in world music – African and New Orleans. It’s a good project for me to be involved in.”
Vonesh has worked out a little set list for his sax walk, which features tunes most people recognize – the theme from “The Pink Panther,” various tunes from the “Star Wars” franchise, old movie and TV show themes.
But he also will simply improvise – the baritone sax is particularly useful for improvising in ways that make people smile or laugh. And he’ll be out for an hour at a time, usually starting in the late afternoon, after kids – including Alia and her 9-year-old brother, Jaden — are done with their remote learning.
Whenever he does make an appearance, he’ll often announce it on the Riverside, IL Facebook group page, and the comments, reaction and short videos are sure to follow.
“People come out and say hello,” Vonesh said. “I’m meeting members of the community I normally would not have met.”