(L to R) Gerry and the Schaks: Kim Balaschak on keyboard, Gerry Sewell doing vocals, and Jim Balaschak on guitar.

Meet Gerry and the Schaks: American classics, skilled musicians, an unforgettable voice

I encountered the band Gerry and the Schaks quite by accident. I’d read a fascinating novel, The Ruby Tear Catcher, by Nahid Sewell, and after I’d written about the novelist for a national magazine, I remained connected with Nahid via Facebook. One day I was scrolling down notifications, and saw a post she’d made about her husband’s music. I clicked on it. I loved what I found. 

Gerry Sewell is lead vocalist for Gerry and the Schaks. (Still snip/video at Vimeo)
Gerry Sewell is lead vocalist for Gerry and the Schaks. (Still snip/video at Vimeo)

I forget the exact date or details, but I won’t forget the voice that belongs to Gerry Sewell, Nahid’s husband. Nor will I forget the accomplished couple who round out the band—Jim (on guitar) and Kim Balaschak (on keyboard). I’ve added subsequent videos by this talented trio to my listening moments.

Nahid assists with the band, and that’s an endeavor I can identify with because I assist with my daughters’ musical efforts. Asked to name the genre the band’s music fits, Gerry pointed me to promo materials Nahid sends out:

“The trio performs cabaret-style songs of the crooners (Nat King Cole, Sinatra), sprinkled with more recent artists (John Legend, The Beatles, Eric Clapton)…Shows include Cabaret Night, An Affair to Remember, and Something Old, Something New Blues.”

The band plays private events, fundraisers, and public venue events.

For Gerry, doing music now is a rekindling of passion for the field he spent much of his life working in. He loved music from an early age.

“My mother was one of 14 children; my dad was an only child,” he said. “My Uncle Bennie was a superb tenor, and my mom had a great voice as well. I remember singing for family reunions when I was a child of six or seven.”

By middle school, Gerry was living in Washington, DC. Like many of us, he was in school the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. “In my mind, I can see exactly where I was standing when our teacher gave us that news.” Those years were formative for the vocalist, and by 8th grade, he and some friends formed a band. He was lead singer of that group, “Courage.” And like many young musicians of that day, the band had been inspired by groups like The Beatles and Beach Boys. They played, he said, throughout high school.

Gerry was also involved in theater.

In his senior year, he became involved in a Christian music ministry, leading it for “several years, making several recordings of contemporary Christian music as well as larger choral works.” He continued working in this ministry for 20 years. Nahid drew on Gerry’s experience in that ministry for one of the main characters, Jack, in her novel.

Gerry and the Schaks; (L to R) Jim Balaschak, Gerry Sewell, Kim Balaschak. (Photo used with permission)
Gerry and the Schaks; (L to R) Jim Balaschak, Gerry Sewell, Kim Balaschak. (Photo used with permission)

There were gap years when he “left behind singing” after leaving the music ministry. Years later, he and Nahid moved to Scottsdale (Arizona), and later, Jim and Kim Balaschak also moved there. Gerry said:

“We had become friends prior to their permanent move through a mutual love of golf and music. They approached me about singing with them. I agreed, and after hours of rehearsing and vocal exercises, we’ve been able to perform at local venues and country clubs.”

Gerry sums it up this way:

“I was a singer for the better part of the first 40 years of my life, but abandoned it for the next 25, returning to it in 2018.”

If you listen to their performances, it’s evident all of the band members are accomplished instrumentalists. Jim and Kim, said Gerry, “were part of the Philadelphia group Dubble Trebble. Jim trained with renowned jazz guitarist Dan Hanrahan. Kim, a classically trained pianist, served as chairman of the board of Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, and she performed Bach’s Concerto in D Minor with the orchestra in Spaso House, the home of the US ambassador to Russia.”

Kim had studied piano as a child, and she received a partial music scholarship to the University of Arizona. She played throughout those years, and after, but she didn’t pursue a career in music, instead focusing on her career in operations management. She earned a Masters in Business Administration from Northeastern University, and it was there she met her husband Jim. Gerry said:

“They married ten years later and moved to Russia where Jim assumed the title of managing director for Teledyne. They repatriated to the United States in 2009, settling in Philadelphia.”

The Balaschaks moved to Arizona in 2017.

Jim is a self-taught guitarist, Gerry said. “He played throughout his college years and into adulthood. He even led a small group of musicians in a revamped version of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in the Moscow Country Club. After being invited to join Dubble Trebble as a guest guitarist, Jim started intensive jazz studies with Dan Hanrahan in Philadelphia.”

Jim also works as a rules official for the United States Golf Association, and he serves on the board of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Gerry said Jim likes “to get in a game of golf, or maye three, during the week.”

Thus far, Gerry and the Schaks focus on covers, but he says they’re “in conversations about composing original songs in the future.” They’ve already performed in Maine and Arizona, and they’re working on opportunities in California wine country and in Florida.

Nahid posts videos of the band on Facebook and there are a number of videos at Vimeo. One of my personal favorites is Unchained Melody. Then again, I haven’t heard Gerry sing a song I didn’t like, in part because of his voice. He has one of those rare male voices with range and timbre. He has shaped his voice into a powerful instrument. I’d love to see this band come to Florida, because then I might get to meet them and hear them in person.

For now, the band is working on lining up performances and enjoying the Arizona lifestyle. Gerry said moving there “did take some adjustment” because of the altitude and the summer heat. They love the Grand Canyon State now, for several reasons. “We particularly love not dealing with a polar vortex of frigid air in January…The starry night skies here are fabulous, and the beauty of the desert is other-worldly.”

Strikes me Gerry Sewell’s voice and the Schaks are a lot like his new home state—simply fabulous.

(Kay B. Day/Oct. 15, 2018)

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