They called him Bumble Bee Bob after a little-known ranching community in Arizona.
A rancher as well as a philanthropist, jazz aficionado and restaurateur, Bumble Bee Bob Weil helped start the annual New Mexico Jazz Festival and played a role in the development of Las Campanas.
Weil died July 2 in Mérida, Mexico, where he had lived for several years, of a coronavirus-related illness. He was 87.
“He had to ride the biggest horse, wear the biggest hat and always had a big smile on his face,” said his daughter, Linda Weil. “He had a big heart.”
For Weil, music and food went together — all the time, if possible.
For years, Weil and his wife Barbara Jo (BJ) ran four Bumble Bee’s Baja Grills in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Over time, as the couple got older, they closed three of them, but one still remains on Jefferson Street in Santa Fe.
Weil, who loved to cook, was such a jazz fanatic he came up with the idea of offering free jazz at his eatery on Saturday nights.
“A fast-food burrito and beer joint, and he wanted jazz,” longtime friend and musician John Trentacosta recalled with a laugh. “It was kind of odd, but it was such a relaxed atmosphere that it invited people to come in.”
That lasted for six years, Trentacosta said. Meanwhile, Weil presented well-known jazz artists in concerts around town, including at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, and in a concert hall he built out of a garage on his La Tierra property. He called the home performance space The Hive, Trentacosta said.
Friend Cheryl Jameson said such efforts were typical of Weil’s generous spirit and his way of “inviting everyone into his living room. He was such an enthusiast and loved to share that music with anybody.”
She called Weil a “100 ideas per hour” man who pursued his interest “150 percent with the greatest of enthusiasm.”
In 2006, Weil joined former Lensic Performing Arts director Bob Martin and Tom Guralnick of the Outpost Performance Space to initiate the New Mexico Jazz Festival, a two-week summer event of live jazz featuring world-renowned musicians.
“It’s now a world-class jazz festival, comparable to anything similar in the world,” Trentacosta said.
“His love of jazz is why we have jazz here today in New Mexico,” Linda Weil said of her dad.
Bob Weil enjoyed old-style jazz from the days of his youth. He was born in St. Louis in 1934. His family ran a shoe business, one that did not interest him.
“He did not get along with his father and had no interest in the family’s shoe-manufacturing business,” Doug Strasser wrote in an article about the founding of Las Campanas. “He wanted to find his own way in life.”
Weil and his first wife, Suzanne “Zannie” Hoyt, moved to Arizona in the late 1950s to start a ranching enterprise. They lived and worked near the town of Bumble Bee and local people took to calling Bob Weil “Bumble Bee Bob.”
In the early 1960s, they moved to Santa Fe and purchased the 31,000-acre Buckman Ranch. In the 1970s, they subdivided the property, creating La Tierra. And in the 1980s, they sold 4,700 acres to developer Lyle Anderson for Las Campanas.
Strasser wrote that Weil “personally put in the original Camino La Tierra road [he graded much of it himself], which went from town all the way out to the La Tierra development over what was then part of the old Buckman dirt road” at a cost of $600,000.
After he retired from the business and ranching world, Bob Weil needed something to occupy his time and energy, his daughter said. Opening a restaurant seemed like the right thing to do. He wanted to build his own franchise so he could serve food he wanted, she said.
“He wanted it to be Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill,” she said. “It was the perfect name.”
Bob Weil could often be found behind the counter of one of those restaurants, patiently dealing with customer requests and doling out the rotisserie chicken and fish tacos.
“He was a big guy, and his heart was bigger than he was,” Trentacosta said. “That’s just the way he was, just beautiful.”
In addition to his wife, Bob Weil is survived by six children, 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, his daughter Linda said.
“He was a man who checked off his bucket list,” she said of her father. “How many people can say that?”
____________________________________BOB WEIL 1934 -2021 It is with heavy heart that we share the news that Bumble Bee Bob Weil left us this morning. Our hearts go out to his wife B.J. and his entire family. He was truly a force in the jazz community of Northern New Mexico for decades. When I got here in 1992, he was presenting jazz concerts at his home in La Tierra where he had a one hundred seat concert hall. Before that he presented an annual Santa Fe Jazz Festival at La Fonda hotel where he brought in headliners from all over the country and in the early 2000’s he had live jazz every Saturday night for six years at Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill from the day it opened. Around that same time he teamed up with Tom Guralnick and Bob Martin to launch The New Mexico Jazz Festival, a major league jazz festival which is still going strong to this day. Bumble Bee has been a strong Supporter and Sponsor of our work at SFMC from day one, and for that we are very grateful. There will be a memorial in Santa Fe sometime this summer. We’ll keep you posted about that. In the meantime, God Speed Bumble Bee. I know you’ve got a seat at the head of the big band table in the sky with all the cats you knew and helped through your days here on the ground. RIP….We Love You Bumble Bee
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