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Winiker brothers mark 50 years of playing music

Bill (left) and Bo Winiker will play an anniversary show, and release their first CD. Tamir Kalifa for the Boston Globe/Boston Globe

When brothers Bo and Bill Winiker were growing up, their 10-room Millis farmhouse was filled with the sounds of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Miles Davis. Their father, Ed, had wired the family’s home so that even the bathroom could be immersed in Ella Fitzgerald’s sultry voice.

“We heard the best music all the time,’’ Bo said.

Ed Winiker also handed Bo a trumpet at age 9 and gave 12-year-old Bill a set of drums to start a family band. Over their 50-year career, the brothers have gone from playing for weddings to backing up Aretha Franklin at President Clinton’s inaugural ball. They also have become familiar faces in Boston music circles.


Now, after decades spent helping others celebrate, the brothers are taking an overdue moment in the spotlight. On Wednesday, Bo and Bill will give a 50th-anniversary performance at Scullers Jazz Club and debut their long-awaited first CD, “Getting Some Fun Out of Life,’’ which is dedicated to their father, who died 15 years ago.

Sprawled on a couch in his Brookline apartment, Bo, now 59, related how his father laid the foundation for their career. Throughout 1961, Ed ushered his sons into a music room he created in their home. Each night, he taught his sons one jazz song, as well as another selection that could range from a turn-of-the-century composition to whatever the hit Motown song was that day. Ed played the melodies on his white baby grand piano and sang the tunes until they got “inside our brains and our bodies,’’ Bo said.

And there they stayed. After that year, the boys could play 1,000 songs by memory. While the Winikers’ repertoire now covers more than 15,000 songs, they can learn any request - given a day’s notice.

They have even played the national anthem before Boston Celtics games and recorded numbers with Billy Joel. But their ability to blast everything from Duke Ellington to Katy Perry isn’t what makes them stand out from the other bands in town - it’s their authenticity.


“The one ingredient is that [our father] taught us how to make the music come alive,’’ Bo said.

At Skipjack’s in Boston this past Sunday, where the brothers haven’t missed playing a brunch for 23 years, the five-member Bo & Bill Winiker Band performed for tables full of families celebrating Father’s Day. Bo wielded his trumpet one-handed and dipped his body with the soaring highs and bellowing lows, while Bill, 62, never stopped smiling as he nodded his head to the steady tap-ta-tap of his snare drum.

No one on staff likes working Sundays, said Sue Stevens, an assistant manager at Skipjack’s who has known Bo and Bill for more than 20 years, “but the Winikers make it fun.’’

Between waiting tables, one waiter kept gravitating toward the band, bopping his head to the beat. Bill handed him a maraca and he joined right in, shaking his hips to one of Bo’s lively originals.

Often, listeners have some connection to the brothers. Marc and Jennifer Sabatine of Newton ate with their two children at a table in front of the band. The Winikers played at their wedding in 2000, and Marc wanted to share their music with his children on Father’s Day.

“People come back over the years to rekindle that connection,’’ Stevens said.


Jazz impresario Fred Taylor, who founded Scullers Jazz Club 23 years ago, said Wednesday’s show has been sold out for a few weeks. Taylor met the Winiker family when they regularly performed at the Parker House Hotel from 1977 to 1991.

“Bo was one hell of a trumpet player,’’ Taylor said outside Scullers last week. “While they’re thought of as being general musicians, they are really underappreciated for their great jazz knowledge and performance.’’

The brothers credit their father with reviving the swing music of the 1930s and ’40s during the disco fever era. People weren’t interested in paying 16-member swing bands, and the sons doubted their father, but Ed had a plan. He devised a formula to shrink the band to six members and write arrangements to give the illusion of a full band.

“We were playing ‘In the Mood’ by Glenn Miller and ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ by Benny Goodman,’’ Bill recalled. “It was like a miracle.’’

Word spread in Boston that a swing band was playing every night at the Parker House, and before they knew it, college students, tourists, and Bostonians took a break from the discos and flocked to the dance floor in the Last Hurrah bar to swing. The Parker House phone lines were often tied up with fans requesting the band to play at parties and charity events.

“We could hardly keep up,’’ Bill said, laughing.

To cope with the high demand for bookings, the three men split off and formed separate bands. After playing with the family band at summer resorts and ski lodges for 15 years, their mother, Annette, became the manager. Annette, who is now 85, got roped into the family band when Ed brought home a bass as a Mother’s Day present. (She really wanted a washing machine.)


Ed coached her, and after thunderous applause at her first performance, Annette caught the jazz bug. “I said . . . ‘No wonder Eddie loves this so much. You’re making other people happy.’ ’’

It’s what the Winikers have been doing almost their whole lives. But it isn’t likely to extend into another generation. For a few years, Bo started the second Winiker family band with his wife playing piano, son on cello, and daughter on violin. The family performed for patients in Boston hospitals.

“It was sort of like a déjà vu all over again,’’ Bo said. Sadly, the band didn’t last, as his children grew up and his now ex-wife, a physician, had little time for performances.

As Bo and Bill approach their 50th year performing together, their list of iconic performances only keeps growing - from playing the Taj hotel, private concerts for famous families like the Vanderbilts and Cabots, the opening of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and 125th anniversary of the Museum of Fine Arts.

“Anytime there’s an important event in the city, it seems like the Winikers play for it,’’ Taylor said.

But the brothers insist not much has changed through the years.


“Venues have changed, and we may have taken it up one level or so, but it’s all about how can we please our guests?’’ Bo said. “How can we give them the best possible time they’ve ever had?’’

It all comes back to their father.

“Not all children buy into their father’s dreams for what their lives should be,’’ Bo said. “My brother and I, we bought in hook, line, and sinker.’’

Stephanie Steinberg can be reached at stephanie.steinberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @steph_steinberg.