Lord of the lips
Whistlers of the world exalt a local
warbler, who isn't fond of Dixie.
By MARY JANE PARK
Published April 29, 2007
[Times photo: Scott
Tom Bryant whistles while
drumming a water cooler jug with fabric
stretched across it. To him, this is a
Hear Tom Bryant
- Listen to the
"Boogie Woogie Whistle" from
Whistlin' Tom's "Puckulations Plus"
ST. PETERSBURG - Tom Bryant can't stop
He whistles while he works. He whistles
while he shops for groceries. Later, when he cooks dinner, he
whistles some more.
"I can't help it, " the 66-year-old St.
Petersburg resident says.
For him, whistling is so much more than a
A few years ago, Bryant produced his own
CD, Puckulations Plus by Whistlin' Tom, which included some
original compositions mixed in with the covers.
He also was featured in the documentary
Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling, which won a first place
award at the 2005 Florida International Film Festival in
His biggest whistling achievement to date
came last weekend, when he was named Entertainer of the Year at
the International Whistlers Competition in Louisburg, N.C.
On receiving his award, he performed
Beethoven's Minuet in G.
Bryant said he learned to whistle when he
was about 13.
Maybe it was the fact that he grew up in a
house in which music had no words. His father, a Baltimore chef,
liked classical compositions.
"Instrumental, " Bryant says. "Not opera
stuff. I lived in a home where there was no rock 'n' roll.
"It never seemed difficult to whistle. I
think I had a gift for it because my father whistled as well."
Bryant whistled throughout his Navy
career. In Philadelphia, where he lived once his Navy days were
over, he wore black from head to toe and whistled in South
Street's Italian coffeehouses.
"Then I got into busking in Key West, " he
says. He sold time shares, was a part-time charter boat captain,
raised parrots and had a weekly whistling gig performing for
participants in Barry University's Elderhostel program. "They
paid me good, " he says.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo took nearly
everything he had in St. Croix. Nine years later, Hurricane
Georges did the same thing at Big Pine Key. "You just start
over, " he says. "What else can you do? My pastor recommended
He loves it here. Wishes he'd moved
earlier. He's kept his real estate license active and picks up a
little money entertaining older adults with his whistling.
He whistles exhaling and inhaling, and he
provides his own backup music (recorded) and percussion (live),
drumming an office water cooler jug with fabric stretched across
When he whistles without accompaniment he
calls it "a capuckalo, " after the Italian-derived a cappella.
His favorite tune? Under Paris Skies. The
most-requested? The theme from The Andy Griffith Show.
"However, I never really give them time to
make requests, " he says with a smile.
Chances are he'll be happy to whistle for
you if you spot him around town. He's not hard to identify. The
license plate on his bright yellow Mazda Protege reads: WHISTLE.
On the web
Lend an ear
Listen to Whistlin' Tom perform his own composition Boogie
Woogie Whistle, go to links.tampabay.com.
Most requested tune: The theme from Andy
Most famous quote: "You know how to
whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and
blow." - Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have
Least favorite tune: Dixie. "I will
perform Dixie if I think the request is serious, " he says.
"However, it is infrequently requested, and I usually ask them
if they are serious, and they usually say, 'No.' I am not
impressed with it as a good whistling tune."
Web site: www.whistlingtom.com.
Whistlin' Tom's tips for whistling
like a pro
1. Experience the hard and soft palates of
2. Say "ee" and feel the sides of the top
of the tongue touch the inside edges of upper molars on both
sides so that a flat air channel is left open.
3. Say "poo" with lips pursed way out
(known as fish lips).
4. Say "pah, tuka, dada, ladle, loo, oodle,
you-you-you, oy, oy-you" (all are used in whistling; observe
your tongue and lips while doing).
5. Your lip opening should be fairly round
rather than oval.
6. For lower tones, your tongue will be
farther down and back like "oo" and your lips will be tighter.
7. For higher tones, your tongue will be
farther forward and up like "ee" and your lips will be tighter.
8. Check out your lip positions with a
9. Hissing sounds may indicate your tongue
is too close to the roof of your mouth or your teeth are too
10. Place lips in the indicated positions
and make whistling sounds.
11. Once you have done this, move your
tongue while maintaining the whistle. This should change the
tone of the note while keeping the notes connected. Do not take
breaths between notes.