clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Band leader Bob Nohavec makes sure the old songs never get old

For over a decade, The Mixed Nuts ensemble has entertained at Utah senior centers and retirement homes, with no signs of letting up.

The Mixed Nuts band leader Bob Nohaveck laughs with singer Robin Gomez during a gig at the Legacy Retirement Residence in South Jordan on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
The Mixed Nuts band leader Bob Nohavec laughs with singer Robyn Gomez during a gig at the Legacy Retirement Residence in South Jordan on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
Steve Griffin

SOUTH JORDAN — When Bob Nohavec walks into the Legacy Retirement Center carrying his saxophone, it’s not as if Mick Jagger just came through the door.

No. This is way better.

This is Glenn Miller, or at least as close as it gets.

Nohavec is the leader of a band called The Mixed Nuts. They play songs from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and the start of the ’60s before the hippies and rock ’n’ roll hijacked the decade.

Swing music, most of it’s called, from the big-band era. And if standing room only in the Legacy’s biggest ballroom is any indication, its devotees are legion.

It’s like this on the first Tuesday of every month — that’s the night reserved in indelible ink for The Mixed Nuts. Every armchair, every couch, every folding chair is filled. Wheelchairs line the back wall.

Tara Bencosme, the woman in charge of booking entertainment at the retirement center, knows the secret behind the band’s enduring success.

“They come here and give them what they want,” she says. “They’re prepared, they know their stuff, and they interact. That’s what they do. And they do it every time.”

* * *

None of this musical magic happens if not for one man: Robert “Bob” Nohavec, a force of nature 83 years in the making.

Bob was born in Nebraska in 1936, smack in the middle of the Great Depression. His father played saxophone in a polka band and before Bob knew it he was playing saxophone, too. Later on he was part of a big band. When it came time for a career, no one was surprised when he chose music. He started out as a choral director in public schools in Nebraska, then got a doctorate and became a school media specialist. He came to Utah in 1977 when he was hired as the state director of school media.

In 2007, not long after retiring as an educator, the door of opportunity flew open for Bob’s second career as a music man.

It started when the bishop of a West Jordan ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called and invited the choir of the nearby Mountain Vista Methodist Church to perform at its fall party.

Bob was director of the Mountain Vista choir. Not only would the choir be happy to perform, he responded, but he threw in a bonus. He and pianist Richard Stevenson had been practicing some big-band tunes and he offered to perform those as well.

That led to an invitation from yet another Latter-day Saint bishop, who heard the duo perform, to ask Bob and Richard to play at his ward’s dance.

The ball was rolling toward a full fledged ensemble band. A bass player named Keith Day was a member of the second ward and joined the group. Keith’s son, Joey, a Baptist, came aboard as a drummer.

All those religions blended together gave rise to the band’s name.

“Someone said you have two Methodists, a Mormon and a Baptist, and you’re all crazy, you ought to be called The Mixed Nuts,” is how Bob remembers it. “I thought that was so unusual it just might work, and it did.”

Looking for places to play, Bob went to the above-mentioned Legacy Retirement Center in South Jordan with an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“I said we’d do the first one for nothing, but after that, if they wanted us again we’d have to charge.”

That was 11 12 years ago.

Legacy was the first to sign up but far from the last. Word of this new band that plays old songs spread among the senior citizen centers up and down the Wasatch Front, igniting a cult following that shows no signs of stopping.

How popular are they? In their history, The Mixed Nuts have done over 2,400 performances. This year they’re scheduled to do 360 shows, virtually one per day.

A cast of 30 people makes up the band roster in 2019. Each position — drums, keyboard, vocals, bass, vibraphone — has five or six musicians who rotate in and out, depending on work and family schedules.

But there’s only one saxophonist: Bob.

The Mixed Nuts is his full-time passion. He is the ultimate band leader. He schedules all the gigs, organizes all the talent, makes up all the playlists — from a repertoire of 1,500 songs — and emcees and plays sax in virtually every show.

Two heart surgeries, two knee replacements and the removal of a cancerous prostate hasn’t even begun to slow him down.

“Music is, I think, a fountain of youth, not only for me, but for all musicians,” he proclaims. “I can say confidently that if it were not for music, I would not be in the mental state and physical state I’m in right now.”

And what’s good for the band is good for its audience.

“Music for people of age is not only fun, it’s therapeutic,” Bob says. “It brings back so many fond memories, so much enjoyment. It really makes people feel better.”

The packed ballroom at the Legacy Retirement Center on the first Tuesday of every month is proof positive of that.