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Free Island Jazz Concerts return to BIG ARTS for fun-filled season

By Staff | Jan 6, 2010

carol orr hartman The Island Jazz band plays every Sunday at a free concert and draw a nice crowd of people who bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the concert in the beautiful Big Arts setting. Pictured from left, John Schiedo (alto sax), Harry Reiner (music director and trumpet player), Gene Federico (vocals and guitar), Thomas "Tommy D" DeQuinzio (clarinet), Tom Cooley (drums), Louis Pradt (litany flute), Bill Johns (bass), Art Pendleton (piano). Not pictured, Babe VanDerVelt (tenor sax), Art Fuller (tenor sax), and Rusty Kupsaw (string bass). To learn more about Island Jazz and their performance schedule see pages 12 and 13.

Sanibel and Captiva are world-recognized for long stretches of pristine beaches and its quaint island ways of life.

But there is another hidden gem in the islands’ treasure chest of features and highlights – Island Jazz.

Island Jazz is a band of local musicians – many of whom are career performers – that give free performances on Sundays at BIG ARTS every season.

Free Island Jazz Concerts as it is known began last Sunday and will continue through the end of April at the Boler Garden at BIG ARTS, 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel.

Plenty of free parking is available, but it is recommended that attendees bring beach chairs, as seating is limited.

Island Jazz will be performing the following Sundays: Jan. 17, and 24; Feb. 7, 14, 21, and 28; March 7 and 28; and April 4, 11, 18, and 25. All concerts begin at 3 p.m. in the Boler Garden. In case of rain, the concert will move to the covered verandah.

Band members are elated at the start of their season which began last Sunday under chilly skies.

The band’s vocalist, Sally-Jane Heit said she is excited after last Sunday’s well-attended performance.

“We went for the moon,” she said. “We had solid playing for an hour and a half.”

Heit said that despite a bout of cold weather, fans stayed in their seats mesmerized and enchanted by the performance. The audience’s commitment pushed the band even further to perform their hearts out.

This included Harry Reiner adding some island-related lyrics to some songs, Heit said.

“The audience joined right in,” she said. “When it starts up like this you just got to keep going up. It’s a match between the fans and the musicians.”

But its this connection between the seasoned musicians and their fans that keeps them coming back.

“Our mission – as always is to bring the gift of music to the islands,” said Tom Cooley, Island Jazz’s drummer and one of the band’s founders.

Cooley said Island Jazz is in its fourth season. The last three years have been spent at BIG ARTS – the first the Community House.

The free Island Jazz concerts have become a household event to many residents and visitors.

There are about a dozen musicians in the group – eight whom perform regularly, cooley said,

“We have become part of the island,” Cooley said. “It’s a community thing to do.”

During the concerts, folks gather around in lawn chairs and in many cases join in the soul-touching jazz music.

Mayor Mick Denham looks forward to attending the Sunday concerts.

“They play with a lot of enthusiasm,” Mayor Denham said.

Every performance is novel and different.

“When you come to Island Jazz you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Heit said.

Much to the audience’s delight, there is often improvisation during the performances.

“We’re constantly adding new material,” said Gene Federico, Island Jazz’s guitarist.

And though all of the band’s members are well-seasoned and not at the start of their careers, there momentum as a band continues to grow.

“It is a such a heart and soul-felt blending of talent and commitment at a stage in life when most people burrow down,” Heit said. “These guys are just dynamic artists.”

Federico who said he has been a musician since the age of 12 said he sees the band’s number of fans growing from on and off the island.

“What I really enjoy is the response we get,” Federico said.

The band’s has caught the eye of numerous organizations and entities on and around the islands, including The Community House where they – in addition to BIG ARTS – will be performing this season.

In addition to the band’s regular Sunday concerts, the Island Jazz Dance Band will play dance-style music from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on the following Monday nights at the Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way: Jan. 11, 18, 25; Feb. 8, 22; and March 15 and 29. Tickets are $5 at the door.

On Jan. 11, guests can come early and enjoy an inexpensive fish-fry meal and then listen and dance to the music of Harry Reiner on trumpet, Gene Federico on guitar and vocals, Tommy D on clarinet, Tom Cooley on drums, and other Island Jazz regulars joined by special guests throughout the season. Drinks will be available for purchase at reasonable prices throughout the evening, according to a press report.

And though the band is adding another venue and different style of music on their schedule, the members are not frazzled.

“As the music changes we change,” Heit said.

The band seems to take strength from their expanded performances and changes.

“You kind of grow together,” Federico said.

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