Meet the one-man Siesta fiesta

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John Sallazzo brings the laid-back tunes to life as Siesta John

By Jane Bartnett

Meet Siesta John, Siesta Key’s very own one-man band.
A singer who accompanies himself on guitar while operating a keyboard with both feet, Siesta John has been delighting audiences on the Key and all-around Sarasota for years. Anyone who hears him perform could easily think that he’s a singer with a four-piece band.
How does he do it? The secret, he says, is his portable Yamaha keyboard and what he calls “organ-type foot pedals.” Working together, the devices create the sound of an ensemble.
“It sounds as though I have backup singers too, but it’s just me,” he declared.

John Sallazzo, aka Siesta John, with his ’67 Volvo Woody Wagon. (photo by Jane Bartnett)

When not performing at the Siesta Key, downtown Sarasota, and Phillippi Estate Park farmers markets, or at other local private events, the musician known as Siesta John is, in real life, John Sollazzo.
Earlier in his career, before music became his side gig here on Siesta Key, Sollazzo spent 28 years as a General Electric human resource senior executive. His days with GE took him and his family around the globe. Beginning in Schenectady, New York, there were stops in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Hong Kong and Japan.
“I loved it,” he said looking back on his time.
In 2005, at age 54, Sollazzo retired from GE. When old friends from Massachusetts invited Sollazzo and his wife to visit them on Siesta Key, the next chapter of his life began.
“We went out on a boat ride with a friend of theirs who was a builder. Our plan was to retire in New Hampshire, but three days after that boat ride we bought a condo from that builder,” Sollazzo said. “My wife, who had designed several homes in the past, designed it and he built it.”
Siesta Key became their home and Sollazzo had the time to get back to his musical roots that began during his high school days as a student at New York City’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School.
“Music has been a hobby of mine since I was 14 years old. It’s a portable hobby that I was able to take overseas,” he said with a laugh. “I loved cars and motorcycles, but music went with me. When I was with GE, I always had a guitar in my office.”

Sallazzo performs in Hong Kong while his friends sing along. (submitted photo)

In the early days, Sollazzo’s band even made a local splash.
“In high school, I was part of a four-piece band called the CPO’s. We played at the Cedar Grove Beach Clubhouse in Staten Island and I sang and played rhythm guitar,” he said.
The band changed its name to Sweet Wine, performed at high school dance, and enjoyed other local bookings. Then, as a college student at the State University of New York in Albany, he played lead guitar with the Otto Road band at area colleges and clubs.
When his career with GE took him to the Boston area, he joined another group called Spectrum, a quartet. He was a singer and guitarist.
Along the way, Sollazzo met one of the owners of Fender Musical Instruments and he discovered the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, bass pedals. It changed the way that he plays music.
Controlling the MIDI with his feet, the musician can also play the portable keyboard or the guitar. “I’m able to play major, minor, and seventh chords in real time and am able to produce the sound of a four-piece band without any pre-recorded backing tracks,” he said.
With his MIDI, Sollazzo began perfecting his versatile musical skills at private parties in New England and Hong Kong. Performing at the Hong Kong American Club in Exchange Square, he said, is a fond memory.
After settling into his new life on Siesta Key, Sollazzo devoted more time to his music and Siesta John became his new professional name. He explained, “It’s so much easier to remember!”
With his trusty musical equipment in tow, Siesta John makes approximately 50 appearances a year throughout the Siesta Key region. “I do gigs all year round,” he said. “And, of course, I have to practice, too.”
In the new year, fans of Siesta John can hear him perform his easy-going upbeat music that hits just the right notes for this island lifestyle.
“I’ll also be at the Phillippi Estate Park Brown Bag Concert Series this winter,” he noted. It’s held every Thursday at noon in February and March, and Sollazzo is scheduled for Feb. 15.
He also gets a lot of requests to play at Jimmy Buffett parties, welcome-back snowbird parties, and homeowners association events.
Siesta John’s casual tunes have won him many loyal followers who enjoy his take on not only Buffett, but the Eagles, Beatles, Motown, classic rock, and country.
“I don’t play clubs and I’m no fan of karaoke,” he said. “During my earlier career, I was lucky to work with the coolest, brightest people on earth. And now, I just love living on Siesta Key and playing my music.”
To hear Siesta John’s music and to check his schedule for upcoming performances, visit siestajohn.com.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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