‘Blue-collar musician’ was a craftsman in jazz

From the 1960s forward, jazz pianist Hal Buice made evenings sparkle at Atlanta nightclubs and cafes whether he played solo or led combos like the Hal Buice Trio or the Buice Squad. The latter is a tipoff to how he pronounced his last name.

Buice was a thorough professional in the estimation of Johnny Clark of Jonesboro, a retired percussionist who has known him since college days.

“Hal was well-schooled musically. He knew all the appropriate key changes and techniques. He spoke to his audiences in a relaxed manner. And he studied the comedians he saw locally and memorized their best lines and used them himself,” Clark said.

One trademark of his laid-back style was the newsboy cap he customarily wore while performing. The only time he didn’t wear it, said his daughter, Michelle Warren of Ellijay, was when he played at formal occasions or venues such as the Capitol City Club.

Other prominent places he played included the Atlanta Playboy Club, Pano’s and Paul’s, 103 West and Tom Tom’s.

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Since Buice mostly played solo, he sometimes wondered aloud if he was pulling his weight when he played with a group, said another percussionist friend, Bill Norman of Atlanta. “We would tell him quite the contrary. He was always an asset,” Norman said.

Harold Lloyd Buice, 78, died of complications of congestive heart failure Thursday at his Ellijay home. His memorial service is at 2 p.m. Sunday at Logan Funeral Home in Ellijay.

An Atlanta native, Buice went to West Fulton High School and Georgia State University, where he studied classical as well as contemporary music. He was playing piano professionally at age 17 and early in his career performed at U.S. military bases in Alaska, Iceland and Greenland.

Buice was an active member of the Atlanta Federation of Musicians, Local 148-462, and even led its talent booking agency for a time. In the early 1990s he set up his own agency and as recently as last December was booking not just musicians but belly-dancers and magicians for private and corporate clients in metro Atlanta and beyond.

Karyn Malone Folmar worked as a vocalist with Buice off and on from 1972 until 2007 when she moved to Birmingham. The two last performed together on weekends at the Capital City Club over an eight-year span.

She said Buice’s forte was a bluesy jazz style that was an influence on her singing.

“Hal and I often engaged in sarcastic repartee on stage, kind of Sonny and Cher-ish,” she said. “We would switch comic and straight-man roles, so each of us would have a chance to slip in a zinger.”

Folmar’s daughter, Michelle Malone of Atlanta, is also a professional vocalist and said she too was influenced by Buice, musically and otherwise. She said she was especially impressed by his work ethic. She called Buice “a blue-collar musician who put in four hours of practice a day” to hone his craft at the keyboard.

Evelyn White of Marietta, a former vocalist and pianist now teaching at Pebblebrook High School, said she often visited his studio in Buckhead to eat chocolate brownies he made and talk about music – classics and Broadway tunes as well as jazz.

“We would play the same songs on the piano and compare notes. I would ask him why he played a passage a particular way, and he would explain. I learned so much from him,” White said.

Surviving in addition to his daughter are eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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