'I've got rhythm, he's got music'

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - At 93, Pete Ferno is as old as jazz and just as cool.

Once a month, you'll find him behind a set of drums laying down the rhythms for his performing partner, Art Houle. The two men are a fixture at the Garden View Senior Living Center, where Pete is a resident.

Together they fill the huge space with music from a more innocent age, and Pete wouldn't have it any other way.

"The man has a heart and soul that only comes from a genius," Pete says with admiration. "This guy is a genius, really."

Art looks over at Pete from his piano stool and his bashful smile tells you immediately that the feeling is mutual.

"No kidding. He's a pro," says Houle. "I mean, it's obvious from the first time I played with him."

Their play-list leans heavily on Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter. That's because Art knows his audience, as well as his drummer--a pro who can handle anything he throws the man's way.

Art adjusts his glasses and then beams at Pete.

"He picks up obviously what I'm doing, body language-wise. It's just amazing," says Houle.

They finish a set that includes a soulful rendition of "As Time Goes By," during which Pete's brushes coax a singular magic from the cymbals at his knee, a sound like steel leaves rustling.

Art glances Pete's way. He's still marveling at his partner's panache.

"He is a mind reader," says Houle. "You catch how many times this guy is telepathic? All kidding aside, I'm the one who feels honored to play with you."

"It's mutual," Pete says quietly.

Pete's nickname is "The Inferno," although he prefers just Pete. It's simple and straightforward. Unlike his back story.

He came from a musical family. His mother sang opera. But Pete's introduction to music was a bit more modest.

"I started when I was 12 years old in a boy scout troop ," Pete says. "Played in a drum and bugle corps and I've been playing drums ever since."

That's eighty-one years and counting; a lot of drumming with sticks he holds like two old friends. None, though, matters more than Art Houle.

"Every time they put it in the calendar he's going to be here, " says Pete, "I'm on Cloud Nine until he gets here."

That sentiment is echoed by the living center's staff. They say Pete has a new energy whenever the date for their monthly performance draws near.

Although he tries to defer to Pete at every opportunity, Art Houle is an interesting case all by himself. He actually commutes between Boise and Grand Junction to teach music at Colorado Mesa University.

Houle sometimes takes lumps from artistic purists who think gigs like those with Pete are beneath anyone with classical music training. But he's unbowed.

"I think that really diminishes the value of music and interacting with people and bringing joy to people."

Besides, his bond with Pete transcends a mutual love of performing. He turns to his drummer and reflects on their four years together.

"When we first started playing, you were a little reluctant to do some of those cool fills you were doing."

Then to a reporter, he asks, "Catch today? He was all over the place."

All over the place, maybe, but in a good way.

A hundred years ago, they might have been a vaudeville act: "Sticks and Bones," or something like that. But vaudeville disappeared long ago, as has the world in which Pete first learned to play.

Still, their concerts are not a nod to nostalgia. The two men are concentrating on the here and now.

Though there might be "Stormy Weather" issuing from the piano, there's none between these two.

It's a rare thing they have.

A telepathy.

A kinship.

Call it a bro-mance, in B-flat.