Cover StoriesTop Stories

The Tunes Just Keep Comin’

Rochester band proves that the years can’t stop you from hitting the right notes

By Mike Costanza

Stormy Valle played recently at Best Coffee at the Market, a coffee house that’s located in Rochester’s Public Market. Its repertoire includes many tunes from the Great American Songbook.

Stormy Valle treats its audiences to an eclectic mix of music that includes old rock hits like “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” memorable Sinatra tunes and even a bluesy rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

All are delivered in a style that keeps the audiences coming back.

The band plays about five gigs a month, including regular Saturday performances at Best Coffee at the Market, a coffee house that’s located in Rochester’s Public Market.

Not bad for a bunch of guys who will never see 65 again.

Stormy Valle’s members came to the band from a variety of backgrounds. Co-founder Richard Storms (the “Stormy” part of the band’s name) is primarily known as the founder and owner of Record Archive, Rochester’s iconic retailer of new and used records, CDs, DVDs and other items. Early commercials for the store showed him dancing around in a costume that looked like a 45 RPM record.

“I was just inspired by, I think it was, the dancing Chesterfield cigarette pack that used to be on TV,” the 77-year-old Rochester resident said.

Storms had played the harmonica a bit, but hadn’t performed before audiences before the night he celebrated his 64th birthday at the Flipside Bar & Grill, a Rochester bistro that is no more. The house band invited patrons to sit in, and Storms whipped out his mouth organ.

“I sat in and we did the thing, and it was good,” he said.

Tony Valle, 74, spent 45 years as an educator at the high school and college levels before retiring from the Rochester City School District as a teacher. At one point he picked up his guitar again and began playing gigs around town. He is the co-founder of Stormy Vall

Storms went on to found or play in a couple of local bands. About eight years ago, he came together with his friend Tony Valle (the “Valle” of the band’s name) to form Stormy Valle. Its repertoire includes many tunes from the Great American Songbook, a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early-1900s through to today. They also do original tunes that Storms has written.

“I personally like the mid-20th-century classic American pop songs,” said Storms, the band’s lead singer and harmonica player.

Valle leans a little toward jazz pieces.

“The older I get, the more I like a lot of the jazz classics, and of course Billie Holiday’s music and all the great blues singers,” said the band’s lead and rhythm guitarist.

Valle played guitar in a rock band while attending high school in the New York City borough of Queens, but had to drop it when working in construction to earn money for college.  He graduated from undergraduate and graduate school, and spent 45 years as an educator at the high school and college levels before retiring from the Rochester City School District as a teacher.

Valle then picked up his guitar again and began playing gigs in a folk group called the Third Act Jam Band. A few years later, he came together with Storms, a longtime friend, to form Stormy Valle, a duo. That duo has grown to be a five-person band.

“I just really enjoy making music with anyone that’s available, whether it’s folk music, jazz, blues, rock and roll,” the 74-year-old said. “It’s something really rewarding about getting together with friends and the camaraderie of making music together.”

The feel of playing for others is another plus.

“A good part of it is the audience — they seem to really appreciate the music,” Valle said.

Aficionados of modern dance might know Steven Humphrey, Stormy Valle’s drummer, more for his moves than his music. The 72-year-old Rochester resident was one of the original members of the world-famous modern dance troupe Bottom of the Bucket — now known as Garth Fagan Dance. Humphrey appeared on stages as far way as New Zealand during the decades he was a full-time member of the troupe, often as the lead dancer.

In addition to performing as a dancer, Humphrey enjoys expressing himself through music.

“The drums have been a part of me since I was, maybe 5,” he said. “A relative for Christmas gave me a pair of bongos.”

That spurred Humphrey to teach himself to play the drums.

“I kind of kept it going, looking into other, older people that were percussionists and looking into their style,” he said.

Humphrey became friends with Valle, who was holding jam sessions with other musicians in his Rochester home.

“I would just sit in, because I knew I could accompany anybody,” he said.

When Stormy Valle’s drummer departed in late 2019, the band invited Humphrey to take his place.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Humphrey said. “Next thing you know, we’re playing at the coffee shop.”

Though Humphrey no longer dances full-time, he still does cameos for Garth Fagan Dance.

Stormy Valle bass guitarist Rodney O’Connor joined the band in January, but he might never have made it if not for the British Invasion of the 1960s. When he was growing up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, O’Connor’s father, who was also a dentist, began teaching him to play the violin.

“I didn’t have anybody to emulate other than Jack Benny back in those days,” O’Connor said.

Then British rock groups like the Beatles, Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones rocketed to stardom in the US.

“I just looked at those guitars and said ‘Wait a minute,’” the 73-year-old great-grandfather said. “I started gravitating toward guitar.”

That led O’Connor to begin taking lessons on six-string guitar (a bass guitar has only four) after his family moved to Rochester in 1968. He went on to play with such local bands as Chaos Matrix, which actually put out a CD.

“We had an R-rated song that we played at the Penny Arcade,” O’Connor said, with a touch of pride. The Penny Arcade was a hot nightspot in Charlotte.

He went on to teach himself how to play the bass guitar. When Humphrey, a longtime friend, invited him to join Stormy Valle, O’Connor decided to sharpen his skills on the instrument. From the way he speaks, the effort was worth it.

“The guys are really fantastic,” O’Connor said. “It’s just really wonderful, and I’m learning so much about the bass.”

O’Connor seems to have passed on his love of music. Elena O’Connor Schäfer, one of his three grown children, played the title role in Finger Lakes Opera’s production of Giuseppi Verdi’s Aida, which was performed at Rochester’s Auditorium Theatre on Aug. 11 and Aug. 13.

Tony Suchman was in the midst of an intense medical residency at Strong Memorial Hospital back in about 1981 when his wife, Lynn Feldman, decided he needed a distraction from his duties.

“My wife, for my mental health, said ‘You need something to get your head out of the hospital,’” the 69-year-old retired physician said.

That “something” was a hammered dulcimer, a trapezoidal, stringed instrument that is played with wooden mallets. The gift was a pleasant surprise.

“I was completely entranced with it,” Suchman said. “I’ve been playing the hammered dulcimer since then.”

Though the hammered dulcimer can be used to play music in a range of styles, it is often used locally to play folk music. When Valle, a friend, invited Suchman to join Stormy Valle, he initially balked at playing the tunes that are the band’s fare.

“This is blues and oldies and songs out of the Great American Songbook,” Suchman said. “I said the hammered dulcimer doesn’t play that kind of music.”

Despite that, he decided to try playing for the band. He’s glad he did so.

“It made me have to learn the instrument in a whole different way,” Suchman said. “It’s such an unlikely instrument in a band playing blues and things like that, that it was just extra fun to be able to do that.”

Sharing those experiences with the rest of the band is icing on the cake.

“I love playing with these guys,” Suchman said. “We have such a good time when we’re playing and I think that good time is kind of contagious.”

Keena Tasciotti, who co-owns Best Coffee with her husband, Jim, enjoys having Stormy, a longtime friend, and his band play in the coffee shop.

“They bring life to the coffee shop,” Tasciotti said. “The customers enjoy them.”

In addition to playing at Best Coffee, Stormy Valle can be found entertaining audiences at other venues, including the Record Archive’s Backroom Lounge. Storms now co-owns the business, which is run by his partner.

For more information on Stormy Valle, go to: