by Lola Rossi-Meza
Pianist and vocalist Gil Quesada performs as part of the Johnny Meza and Company (also known as the Bada Bing Band) with Al Lopez on saxophone and Sal Frisaura on drums, with guest vocalist Lola Rossi, every Wednesday from 6 until 10 p.m. at Wally’s Desert Turtle located at 71-775 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. (760) 568-9321. Quesada also performs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Le Vallauris at 385 West Tahquitz in Palm Springs. (760) 325-5059.
Born and raised in East LA, Gil Quesada started playing songs on the piano when he was three years old. “I grew up in a family filled with music,” said Quesada. “My Mother played the piano and accordion and my Father played the guitar and bass. There wasn’t any television back then, so music was all I knew.” He remembers listening to the big band music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Harry James and a lot of Latin and Mariachi Music. He remembers being told about musician Don Tosti, who attended school with his relative and raved about Tosti being “a genius” at such a young age. “I remember my parents would wake me up to play, when family or friends would stop by.”
He learned how to play the accordion and later the trumpet in elementary school. After high school, he continued to play in his own band, The Crescendos, who won the first “Battle of the Bands” in East LA. He met up with the legendary “King of the Cha, Cha, Cha” Manny Lopez when he was 19 and played bass in Lake Tahoe for a while, moved to San Diego for a couple of years, and finally landed in Palm Springs, we here he called home.
Carla Kelly Marie Ryan was born in Fargo, North Dakota and raised in West St. Paul, Minnesota. She started singing when she was named Miss West St. Paul in the Winter Royalty Court. A graduate of the University of Minnesota with a teaching degree, she taught for several years. In 1966 she returned to the Twin Cities where she played the ukulele and sang with her longtime friend, Patty Sachs, who also sang and played “the case” at local clubs and restaurants. After moving to the Desert, she worked with “Gloria Becker, the best Booking Agent in the Desert” according to Quesada, and Ryan would pass by him at the office.
Quesada worked at so many venues throughout the years, there are too many to mention. Becker would send him to perform at private parties with various musicians. It is through Becker’s agency, he met and worked with vocalist Kelly Ryan. They lived separate lives, with others at the time, but after a few years as circumstances changed in their personal lives, they became not only inseparable, but one of the most favorite duos in the Desert billed as “Sound Investment” performing a large variety of music.
Band leader Don Tosti, who Quesada had heard about as a child, was involved with the Princess Cruise Lines. He booked them to perform on the ship and gave them the opportunity to tour the world. “We loved being on the cruise ship for 6 months at a time. Then we would come home to Palm Springs and perform with our friends and then return to the ship for another 6 month contract. We worked on the cruise ships for 15 years, and enjoyed meeting people from all over the world, who are still friends to this day.”
While in Australia, Ryan became ill and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They returned to the Desert and her friends, fans and fellow musicians, gathered together in November of 2003, to raise funds for their personal needs. Quesada continued performing, however, his best friend was unable to perform. She was fighting a battle for 9 years, but kept her smile and her very close friends laughing.
On Thursday, November 8, 2012, with Gil by her side, Kelly left us to join that big band in the sky. God has a reason for everything, although we often don’t understand, but memories of our loved ones, never leave our hearts. We will miss her now, knowing she is no longer suffering, and look forward to the day when we will reunite with our loved ones in Heaven. In memory of Kelly Ryan, donations for ovarian cancer may be sent to the Desert Cancer Foundation, 74-091 Larrea Street, Palm Desert, CA 92260. (760) 773-6554.
Thank you for being her friend.