2011-07-28 / 15 Minutes

The jazzman can take your blues away

Special to Florida Weekly

Next time you see jazzman Leslie DaCosta Jr., ask him about his dad, who blazed a trail out of poverty to a better life for his family.

Leslie DaCosta Sr. is his son’s first and most enduring hero.

“My dad was born in Puerto Limon, a small town on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica,” Mr. DaCosta recalls. “He worked in Panama clearing jungle along the Panama Canal. When his visa expired, he was sent back home. But he wanted a better life, so he decided to slip back into Panama to find work.”

The elder Mr. DaCosta made his way through the dense jungle, hacking his way to opportunity in the comparatively wealthy land of the Panama Canal zone. From there, he educated himself through a correspondence course, learning enough to eventually come to the United States and open an airconditioning and heating business in New York.

He then sent for his son and wife, and rented an apartment at 123rd and Seventh Avenue.

Leslie DaCosta Jr. 
COURTESY PHOTO Leslie DaCosta Jr. COURTESY PHOTO The young Mr. DaCosta grew up during the Golden Age of Harlem. He lived down the street from the famous restaurant owned by the legendary fighter Sugar Ray Robinson. He recalls seeing the lights of the Apollo Theater just down the street as night turned into day.

When he was 8 years old, his aunt gave him a picture book with words and notes delineated by numbers. Mr. DaCosta purchased a cheap wooden flute from a five-and-dime store and taught himself to read music with the notated book.

In junior high school, he played clarinet in the school band. He learned to read music in a formal setting during his school years, working his way from the third seat in the school band to that of featured artist. He also began playing other instruments, including the flute and saxophone.

When he graduated, Mr. DaCosta went on to study music at Wagner College and the Brooklyn Museum. He served a true apprenticeship in music by working with jazz legends Granville Lee, Billy Saxton and John Lewis.

In 1996, his father decided to move to Southwest Florida. Mr. DaCosta, who helped with the family air-conditioning business, came along. He continued playing and soon gained a local following.

These days, people can hear Mr. DaCosta in venues that stretch from one end of Charlotte Harbor to the other. One day he’s at Englewood, playing on the beach in that Gulf Shore community. Another day, he’s performing in Murdock, or downtown in Punta Gorda.

Mr. DaCosta credits Downtown Merchants Association president Jerry Presseller for the break he got in Punta Gorda. Before Hurricane Charley — and before downtown Punta Gorda boasted many restaurants — Mr. DaCosta played in the backyard beer garden of Presseller’s Deli. Mr. Presseller then introduced him to other business owners, landing him profitable gigs.

Today, Mr. DaCosta plays about 12 to 14 gigs a month. He spends his weekends lugging equipment from one venue to another.

When he visits his New York home turf, he sits in with musicians at local clubs.

Now, even as Mr. DaCosta makes his own way on his chosen journey, the mellifluous strains of jazz, pop, and even classical tunes in his repertoire are an aural homage to the man who made the musician’s life possible.

“We all need some form of art as an outlet,” he says.

To learn more about Mr. DaCosta and hear his music, visit www.lesliedacostajr.com. ¦

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