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The Heit of Performance

By Staff | Jan 5, 2012

Island Jazz concert featuring vocals from Sally-Jane Heit, Tom Cooley on drums and Harry Reiner on the horn. (Photos by Barbara Cooley)

At any quality jazz concert, one should expect to hear a couple of important things that include: brilliant blasts from brass, the pulsing syncopation of a seasoned percussionist and rhythmic revolution from stringed instruments. Complementing this melodic mix, a classy dame crooning to her heart’s content and the audience’s delight. For Sanibel’s annual “Island Jazz” concert series, that female foundation comes in the form of Sally-Jane Heit.

Heit’s local concert performances mark the fulfillment of a certain jazz-singing dream she had many years ago, but this isn’t to suggest, Heit has ever missed a beat in terms of her career. She is an accomplished actress and performer who has appeared on (and off) Broadway as well as in motion pictures and television programs.

Her artistry was initially honed at schools for the arts in New York where she attended classes with people like the late Dom Deluise and Director Sidney Lumet. Her talents have led to opportunities to work with such industry icons as Ron Howard, Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei (in The Paper); Bruce Dern and Maude Adams (in Tattoo); and the cast of programs that include Law & Order.

Heit says that as a very young girl, coming from a family with eight children that were all were encouraged to learn a musical instrument, she went to school one day and sat at a piano in an improv performance of “Just My Bill” – a tune from the production of Showboat. Heit says, “The teacher stopped me cold and said, ‘You never come in here imitating Helen Morgan.'”

As it was, Heit couldn’t help herself. She loved music, especially that of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart. “I could spend the rest of my life singing in a smokey bar and I would be happy,” says Heit.

Sally-Jane Heit is Sanibel's leading lady of the Island Jazz Concert Series staged at Big Arts.

Although she is an self-admitted “journeyman” in all manifestations of performing arts, Heit’s emergence on the local jazz scene happened after an invitation to perform by jazz band leader Harry Reiner and the group’s “Den Mother” Tom Cooley.

Heit’s arrival to Sanibel is another story. A little more than nine years ago, Heit had a friend who had moved to Naples. During her first visit, Heit told her friend that they needed to venture from the inland habitat and “go to the sea.” And to do just that, they decided to drive over to Sanibel Island. “Can you imagine,” Heit asks, “I actually got lost.”

In the course of driving up and down side streets of Sanibel, Heit came to the conclusion, “This is where I want to be.”

Today, she regards her life in Sanibel as “a wrong turn that turned right.”

She imparts a certain exuberance born, no doubt, of enthusiasm. She says that she loves Sanibel Island as well as the opportunity to perform in the jazz concerts that she offers as a small, but essential, contribution to local arts. “I’m grateful and thankful, and I don’t take anything for granted,” says Heit. “I’m at the stage of life where I want to give it back.”

Look, and listen, for Sally-Jane Heit during Island Jazz Concerts on January 8 and January 22, staged in the Boler Garden of Big Arts Center in Sanibel