Chicago’s Paul Willaert has been writing, arranging, performing, and teaching professionally since the age of 16. He’s travelled across the U.S. in an extremely wide variety of bands – from metal to country, new wave to jazz, bluegrass to calypso to progressive rock; anything that’s ever sparked his interest. After touring through the 80’s, Paul set up a permanent musical base in Chicago in the early 90’s. He then formed and wrote/arranged all the material for the critically acclaimed band Crack’d Actor, produced by Vaughn Halyard (Living Color, Janet Jackson). At the same time he also became a founding member of In The Flesh?, the Midwest’s first full theatrical Pink Floyd tribute. Paul is a Parker Guitars Featured Artist and performs over 200 shows every year, between Tropixplosion!, his “BazillionSongs” all-request solo show, and his national touring version of “In The Flesh! – Echoes of Floyd”. His most recent large venue performance took place in Las Vegas alongside Earth, Wind, and Fire and Foreigner. www.BazillionSongs.com
Drummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and she founded and runs the Chicago Women’s Drumming Group. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions and performs with an array of bands and ensembles, and has toured the U.S. and Europe. Meg won a Drummie in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards as runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist,” was named “Musician of the Month” for January 2013 by the Chicago Music Guide, and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, PureSound Percussion, and Humes & Berg Cases. www.MegThomasPercussion.com
Bill Grant started his musical career by playing Trombone in high school, and cut his teeth playing guitar in garage bands. At Northern Illinois University he fell in love with the music of the Caribbean – Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, David Rudder, and Jimmy Buffett. After attending many Mr Myer’s show at Andy’s and being inspired by its founder, Bill joined Elgin Community College and learned the fine art of the ‘Steel Pan’ under the tutelage of Paul Ross for many years. After leaving ECC, Bill became one of the first members of Od Tapo Imi Illinois, which founder Gerard Brillowski had moved from the Madison WI. Over the years Bill has played across the mid-west with OTI and has even opened for Jimmy Buffett several times. Bill continues to play part time with Latitudes, a Jimmy Buffett tribute band, and Pandemonium – a small steel drum combo. Bill is very excited to bring a rock edge to the new Tropixplosion!
Jeff Money has been tearing up the skins for over thirty years. As a self-taught drummer, he began amusing himself with drum kits in high school. Jeff’s early influences stemmed primarily from hard rock, progressive rock, and fusion music, which were played by the likes of John Bonham, Simon Philips, Bill Bruford, Alan White, Terri Bozzio, and Neal Peart. Jeff eventually made his way to college; and although he did not formally study music, Jeff savored a robust musical experience at Indiana University by networking and playing with a variety of musicians in the musically-rich town of Bloomington, Indiana. It was during his college experience that Jeff began experimenting more with fusion, funk, and Latin styles of music. Jeff continues to experiment with a variety of rhythms. Currently, you can find him piecing together a tasty assortment of world music beats with the hard hitting rock rhythms that drove his passion for drumming as a youngster. It’s only fitting that Jeff would eventually find his way into a band which goes by the name of TROPIXPLOSION!
Jeffrey Michael Bella began music instruction on the trombone at the age of 9, then picked up the guitar & bass at 15. Hoping to increase his bass technique, at age 16, he was bribed by the high school marching band director into rejoining the marching band at the sousaphone position to secure (rent-free!) the school’s upright bass for his own, private study. Jeffrey has studied music theory & composition at Western Illinois University and Joliet Junior College. He has held all manner of musical jobs. He has been playing professionally with various ensembles since 1988 that range from original to jazz bands to country/bluegrass bands to latin and flamenco bands to Irish ensembles. Jeffrey directed a church hand-bell choir for ten years and has been writing and arranging music for various groups as well as teaching private lessons and running his own sound re-enforcement company. www.imjmb.com
Roger Reupert, has a very diverse background. From classical to rock. His experience includes performing as principal trumpet and soloist for the Northwest Indiana Symphony, as well as songwriter and recording artist for Island Records, where he recorded two albums. Roger’s music has been chosen for two movies and several television sitcom episodes. As a theater musician, Roger has also toured the United States and Europe with “West Side Story”, as well as local productions of Wicked, Chorus Line, Young Frankenstein, Dreamgirls, and “9-5 the Musical”. He has performed with many different artists over the years that range from Todd Rundgren to Dave Mason to the Bo Deans. Roger is a freelance musician in the Chicago area and is a member of the adjunct faculty at McHenry County College. But Roger mostly enjoys playing with the tropical pop, high energy group “Tropixplosion!” www.RogerReupert.com
Airan Wright grew up listening to an eclectic mix of musicians via his parents who, thankfully, encouraged his air-sax playing with Maceo and James Brown until he was old enough to pick up a real instrument. He started his musical career on clarinet, quickly picking up saxophone soon after. This in turn prompted a love for playing multiple horns, a passion that saw his folding flute and bassoon into the mix. He received performance degrees in both saxophone and bassoon from the University of Northern Colorado in 1997, after which he headed off to Chicago. He has delighted in being a part of many ensembles over the years, including the Chicago Afrobeat Project, the Chicago Metropolitan Symphony, and Isabelle Haze. In addition to Tropixplosion, Airan currently plays with a variety of groups in the Chicago area, including Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans, The Real Gone, In the Flesh! (Pink Floyd Tribute), and the B.S. Brass Band.
Bill Aldridge has been all over the musical map. He started playing trombone in grade school, continuing on through high school, where he played in every band he could (marching, symphonic, jazz, pep, etc.). Immediately following high school, Bill started touring the country in a lounge band, Flim Flam & The Chicago Jam. After that, it was a slew of rock-oriented bands that blended many other genres: ska, jazz, blues, prog, punk, jam. Around this time, he also picked up the bass guitar and has been plucking his way around the Chicago music scene. Bill enjoys blowing some horn for Tropixplosion! – it keeps his trombone chops in good shape, and the members are a barrel of laughs! Bill also relishes the technical side of music and runs a recording studio in Joliet, IL, called Third City Sound.
Christian Rogala is an honor graduate from Berklee College of Music. He specializes in teaching drum set, hand percussion, and piano. He plays with many different musicians in many different genres in the Chicago land area. His main instruments are steel pan, drum set, hand percussion, and piano. Christian also teaches for Striding Lion, a multidisciplinary arts organization.