Joe Metzka’s love affair with music began before kindergarten, and the ensuing years have only increased his fascination-and success. "As a small child, I used to sing and play traditional tunes with my grandmother. Beginning when I was about four years old, she would take me to church and to retirement homes to sing for people," said the Chillicothe native. "I played trumpet in public school bands, beginning in fifth grade and continuing throughout high school. The Chillicothe VFW and American Legion would hire me every summer to play bugle calls for Memorial Day and Veterans Day services. I began playing the guitar in grade school, and it stuck with me. I started out trying to learn the music of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and George Benson, and I aspired to be a blues guitar player. I still do."

Meztka said he intended to give up music once he entered Knox College, but the music bug had bitten and wouldn’t let go. "I was able to earn supplemental income during my college years by taking music jobs in area clubs. I played in several area bands, including blues bands, a funk band, a modern rock cover band, and a country/Patsy Cline tribute act. I played a steady Friday night solo gig in a small restaurant in Galesburg throughout most of my time in college. I also began playing with the Knox College jazz combo. The director there couldn’t find a piano player for his group and asked if I would function in its place. It turned out to be an educational experience, and I really learned to love jazz at that point. I began to really appreciate the music of all of the other instruments and artists such as Miles Davis, Nat Cole, Ray Charles, and Charlie Parker."

At that point, he said, a career in anything other than music was out of the question. "I love it so much that I don’t really have a choice but to play music. It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to earn a living at it and devote all of my professional time to it-especially while living outside of a major metropolitan area. As professional music has become more lucrative, I’ve been able to survive without a supplemental job and to completely focus on working."

Although he can play a variety of instruments, Metzka’s performances consist of guitar and vocal-with a little help from his friends. "I have a jazz group and a rhythm and blues group. Both groups do some crossover material, and I also do solo performances from time to time. I’m particularly fortunate to be able to hire, without exception, the finest musicians in the area. It’s a tremendous compliment that they all make the time to play with me, especially since they all have their own musical projects going on and are all in high demand."

He explained his style of performance is typically improvisational and open spirited. "I’ve always loved jazz and blues music, and while many music critics and fans would argue with me-and often do-they’re the same sound and feeling to me, especially when it’s guitar-driven music. At its best, it’s emotionally-derived, improvisational music that allows room for an artist to imbue it with the mood and feeling of the moment and with the musicians and audience who are sharing the music. No two performances will ever be the same, even if we’re playing the same tunes. People who are open to the arts seem to appreciate and gravitate toward that aspect of what I do."

As a professional musician, Metzka has a unique insight into the state of the arts in central Illinois, which he said is hit-and-miss. "There’s a small nucleus of people in the Peoria area who are supportive of live music as an art. They know who they are, and their support makes my living possible. As a whole, the Peoria area tends to support very conservative arts, such as the symphony, and DJ services/Top 40 music, but is somewhat oblivious to jazz and blues music. I’ve been very fortunate to connect with the aforementioned nucleus of individuals who love live music. I’m probably the luckiest musician in Illinois in that regard, and I can’t overstate that. Bruce Brown at Paparazzi is one of the foremost individuals making a concerted effort to restore a community interest in all of the arts, and I believe he’s making a difference. He’s certainly helped me. The ’scene,’ as it were, is moving in a positive direction due to philanthropists like Bruce, and I hope the trend continues."

Metzka said he’s proudest of the fact that, regardless of where he lives and works, he continues to make a living at jazz and blues music. "It’s constantly satisfying to present what I do to people and to be reminded that people will always appreciate sincerity, no matter where you are."

Having already released two CDs, Metzka said his future plans include recording two more independent CDs in the coming months. "One is a straight-ahead ’standards’ recording with my main jazz trio and a separate contemporary blues recording with my whole group. I’ll continue to solicit metropolitan record labels, but I’d love to remain in this area if the community interest continues to grow."

For more information about Metzka’s performances or his CDs, contact him at [email protected] AA!