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Weekly Island Jazz performances are back for season

By Staff | Dec 29, 2010

Gene Federico, Tom Cooley and Rusty Kupsaw perform at BIG ARTS.

On Tuesday, Island Jazz began their highly anticipated season with a Dixieland performance at Ellington’s.

But if you missed it, drummer and “denmother” Tom Cooley says there will be plenty of opportunities in the months ahead to experience the sounds of what has quickly become an island tradition.

Island Jazz, now in their 6th season, is made up of Harry Reiner on trumpet, Gene Federico on guitar and vocals, and Tom Cooley on drums. Many of the Island Jazz regulars, including Rusty Kupsaw on bass, Louis Pradt on reeds and flute, Babe Van De Velde on tenor sax and Bill Johns on bass, are island residents or former island residents.

“We like to keep it with classic jazz music. We do a lot from the 1930s and 1940s. We know the older people are familiar with it, but we want to introduce it to the younger audiences,” Cooley said. “We see music as a gift that we give to the community.”

Island Jazz formed after Cooley’s group Satin Jazz, for which he was also the drummer, disbanded.

Fans gather in the Boler Garden at BIG ARTS to hear Island Jazz on Sunday afternoons.

“Rusty Kupsaw and I wanted to continue making music together, so we started looking for new players,” Cooley said.

He found Harry Reiner, the Island Jazz music director and trumpet player, and guitarist and vocalist Gene Federico, and then approached BIG ARTS with an idea.

“That was our first venue. I just asked BIG ARTS if we could give it a try in the Boler Garden on Sunday afternoons. It’s been a big success and it’s brought people to BIG ARTS that aren’t members. Sometimes we’ll have 300 people there,” Cooley said.

In addition to their weekly Sunday performances at 3 p.m., Island Jazz supplies the Community House with big band and dance music every Monday evening at 6 p.m. and will now provide Ellington’s patrons with Dixieland selections every Thursday night at 7 p.m.

“The purpose of the band is to bring the community together and let them enjoy the music. The band is indirectly tied to BIG ARTS and other community groups, and I like to Island Jazz as a community resource — were not in it to make money,” Cooley said. “All proceeds to the band go to local charities and service organizations, like the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. So instead of paying the band, the money will go to a good cause.”

For more information about Island Jazz, call Tom Cooley at 472-8568.