Alex Okinczyc “Island Alex”
Alex Okinczyc grew up in Detroit, MI and, of course, was influenced by the Motown sound but at a young age, a friend turned him onto jazz … and he was hooked. In particular, he loved jazz horns like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard.
Oddly enough, while growing up near the cold Great Lake waters, Okinczyk was attracted to scuba diving. He trained and was certified at the McComb Community College, diving in incredibly cold and deep Lake Huron during the summer.
He attended a divers training academy in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and trained as a hard hat diver, completing the program in 1970. He worked marine salvage for a couple of years and joined the Deerfield Beach Fire and Rescue, working there for 27 years as a diving coordinator, and retired in the 90s.
When Okinczyc was in his mid-40s, he purchased an old coronet at a flea market – the jazz music bug was rekindled. He loved it and, after a couple of months, invested in a very nice King trumpet which he still enjoys. Okinczyk, along with another firefighter, and two ‘real’ musicians formed a band, performing at area events.
He and his wife of 45 years, Mary Blackman, enjoyed diving in the Keys for decades and, in 1982, they purchased a lot on Big Coppitt Key, next door to their best friend. They spent their time between Deerfield and Big Coppitt for the next sixteen years, building their dream home with a little help from friends. The home was completed in 1994, and they both retired to the Keys in 1998.
Prior to moving to the Keys, Alex bought a baritone horn and learned enough notes so that while visiting the Keys, he was able to sit in with Barry Cuda, Steve Mello, and Chief Billy at BO’s Fish Wagon. He only knew enough to play a few songs and would stop playing when Cuda called a tune that he didn’t know. At one point, Buddy Owens came out of the kitchen and asked, “Why aren’t you playing?”. Alex said he didn’t know the song, and Buddy responded, “Play anyway!”
Music and his horn playing became a larger part of Alex’s life. He began to jam with local players and started to get some, much needed, recognition. He was hired by a six-piece band, The Reifersons. During this exploration, he was discovering he had an interest in writing music and he was an above average baritone vocalist. Two of his original songs were recorded on a Reifersons album.
Someone mentioned to him that Larry Smith often helped performers and let them sit in. Larry’s combined skills and generosity has mentored numerous musicians and vocalists in Key West. He encouraged Alex and helped Alex record his first album, Under the Cow Key Bridge. Alex became good friends with Larry and his wife, Christine Cordone.
They were frequent collaborators and, over the years, Alex has been included in a number of Smith’s performances. Smith produced Alex’s second album, Down the Road, which was recorded at the San Carlos Theater with Dan Simpson’s Private Ear Studio, and included some great musicians like Jennifer and Geoff Lowe and Time Mayer.Okinczyc has since performed in the Key West Musicians Festival and various music venues in town with his trumpet and flugelhorn. He continued his interest in songwriting and was given some free advice from the late-great jazz guitarist, Mike Gillis, “Don’t waste your time writing love songs.” To date, Alex has written over 100 songs covering a wide spectrum of topics and has recorded over fifty of them.
He recorded a third album, Save Me Blue Waters, as a tribute to Diana Nyad’s incredible 100-mile swim from Cuba to Key West. A special song, “Lady Diana” was performed during a commemoration of her historic swim.
In the spring 2022, Larry Smith revived his long time, and very successful, Sunday Showcase, at the Little Room Jazz Club. Alex Okinczyc was showcased last May, and he performed some very serious jazz music with his horn, topping off the evening with a demonstration of his very special and outstanding vocals. Island Alex’s journey from Detroit, the depths of Lake Huron, to Key West was complete with music to spare.