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Island Jazz keeps big band music alive at BIG ARTS

January 15, 2009

Jazz music may be more than a century old but its legacy of sharing the pain and joy of Americans of all races lives on through the performances of groups like BIG ARTS Island Jazz.

Island Jazz is considered a gem in the crown of Sanibel's art and cultural

repertoire. The band, comprised of talented amateur, semi-professional and professional musicians, performs Big Band and Dixie Land style music every season at BIG ARTS.

Article Photos

Harry Reiner a band member in Island Jazz performs on his trumpet during a free concert last Sunday at BIG ARTS. Island Jazz will be performing free outdoor concerts on Sundays through April at BIG ARTS.

The Sunday concerts starting are free to all and held outdoors in Boler Garden at BIG ARTS, 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. In case of rain, the concert will move to the nearby Gainer Verandah.

Folks are encouraged to bring their own beach chairs and swing to the sounds of Harry Reiner on trumpet, Gene Federico on guitar, Louis Pradt on clarinet and flute, Art Pendleton on piano, Babe VanDeVelde on saxophone, Tom Cooley on drums, Rusty Kupsaw on the bass, and various guest musicians from Southwest Florida. The band plays jazz standards -from Dixie and Latin to bop and pop.

This is Island Jazz's third season. Before that the band members belonged to a a group called Satin Jazz, said band member Tom Cooley.

Fact Box

To go


Island Jazz free concerts


On Sundays, January through April at 2 p.m.


Boler Garden at BIG ARTS, 900 Dunlop Road, on Sanibel

Other information

For more information, call Barbara or Tom Cooley, 472-8568.

Cooley and Reiner started Island Jazz but each of the players add a little different spice to the band. Kupsaw, the bass player and a physician at the Wound Care Center in Fort Myers, has spent decades on the island. At 55, he's the youngest member the band.

He said he enjoys keeping jazz alive.

"I really enjoy the format of the music," he said. "The music is probably going to go in 20 to 30 years. I like being part of a group that perpetuates it."

Like conservationists, Island Jazz hopes to keep jazz and Big Band music alive even as many of its original performers depart. Cooley said the band has no ambition to take the act to Las Vegas or any other glittery place.

"The band is trying to keep the tradition alive," Cooley said.

Reiner is a life long jazz performer. In the sixth-grade he bought a cornet for $17.50, had a few lessons that came with the purchase and self-taught himself the rest.

And with the exception of a stint in the U.S. Navy and a 10-year hiatus, Reiner has been performing since 1939. He said he had his own orchestra in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area for 15 years playing about 100 gigs a year.

"I am extremely fortunate to be able to come to Southwest Florida and be among some of the finest musicians in my career," Reiner said.

Cooley is a retired English professor from Ohio State University. Before retiring he didn't have the time to indulge his dream of performing.

"Most of us didn't have music professions," he said.

The band loves to be able to perform free concerts for the community and support BIG ARTS.

"It's our way of contributing to BIG ARTS - especially making jazz accessible," Cooley said.

No complaints from BIG ARTS.

Jim Hanlon, chairman of the music committee for BIG ARTS, said about 200 to 300 people come out for the Sunday concerts.

"We are pleased to see how many people come out for it," Hanlon said.

Island Jazz fans look forward to relaxing in their beach chairs and listening to the sweet and spicy melodies pour from the band.

"I am a Dixie Land fan," said Don Hummel, a Sanibel resident. "These guys put their heart and soul in their work. They play my kind of music."

Arly Paulson said she considers herself an Island Jazz groupie.

"I particularly like the outdoor concerts," she said. "They're good, they're fun."

But for many of the players Island Jazz having the chance to perform is as much a gift to them as it is to their fans. Cooley said once you are a musician, you have the need to perform to the day you die.

"It gives us a chance to play Big Band jazz and Dixie Land music," said Federico, the groups' guitar player. "If they're happy were happy."

Cooley described Island Jazz as another unique gift the islands have to offer.

"Were not doing it for the money," he said. "We want to share the music with the community."



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