If any readers were affected by Hurricane Irma, my thoughts are with you. I traveled back to Atlanta from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina the day before the mandatory evacuation. Traveling north with all the Florida evacuees made the emergency seem very real. My experience with hurricanes prior to Irma occurred mainly from a spectator’s perspective in front of the television screen rather than on the highway. My thoughts and prayers also go out to the people of Hilton Head Island and the great musicians, owners, and staff at The Jazz Corner, which I visited last Tuesday while on vacation with my family.
I’m so glad I stopped by for one of the Jazz Corner’s “Fat Tuesday” nights, where the Jazz Corner Quintet celebrates the roots of jazz music. If you’re a music-lover on Hilton Head, be sure to make a stop. The Jazz Corner is an excellent venue for live jazz as well as dinner and drinks. Opened in 1999 by the late Bob Masteller, the establishment has kept the spirit of jazz alive ever since. World-renowned jazz musicians such as Freddy Cole and “Songbird” Lynn Roberts, as well as up-and-comers such as Grace Kelly and Aaron Weinstein have all played there, and the jazz magazine Downbeat names it one of the “100 greatest jazz rooms” in the world.
Tucked away in a literal corner of high-end strip mall The Village at Wexford, The Jazz Corner evokes the dimly lit atmosphere of jazz clubs of old. Paintings of jazz legends adorn the walls, with a framed photograph of Bob Masteller near the entrance, flanked by trumpets. Masteller’s father played in hot jazz and swing bands in both the Jazz and Swing eras, and his son David carries on the jazz tradition of his father and grandfather. David Masteller plays the double bass with passion, and makes up one-fifth of the Jazz Corner Quintet, along with pianist “Professor” Eric Jones, saxophonist-vocalist Dean St. Hillaire, trumpeter James Berry, and percussionist Chris Russell.
The Quintet’s Tuesday night performances are called Fat Tuesdays and focus on New Orleans jazz, which Masteller saw as the foundation of American jazz music. However on that night they also played a range of music from the architects of jazz history, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tin Pan Alley hitmaker George Gershwin, and Fats Waller, whose classic song “Honeysuckle Rose” provided inspiration for the name of this blog. I met with the musicians and told them about my blog, and they played “Honeysuckle Rose!”
“It Don’t Mean a Thing”
Call me a sap, but I’ve rarely been able to hear any rendition of “What a Wonderful World” without shedding a tear:
In an earlier post I featured a video of the Ghost Riders Car Club version of “Caravan,” originally composed by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol. Well, here is The Jazz Corner Quintet’s take:
In addition to the music of the aforementioned greats, I also learned the fascinating story of eden ahbez, a participant of the California Nature Boy movement who lived a humble life with other followers in the 1940s, often sleeping outdoors, following a vegetarian diet, and wearing beards and long hair. Trumpet player James Berry referred to ahbez as a “hippie” before the hippies were a cultural phenomenon. ahbez, who was born George Alexander Aberle, wrote his name in lowercase letters, reserving caps for God and Infinity. ahbez composed the autobiographical jazz tune “Nature Boy,” about “a very strange enchanted boy” who offers the words of advice, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” ahbez lived under the Hollywood sign when Nat King Cole discovered his song, and recorded it in 1948 (more on his story here). The tune has been covered by many, including David Bowie in the musical Moulin Rouge. I really enjoyed The Jazz Corner Quintet’s interpretation:
The Jazz Corner Quintet played to a packed house that night, and brought the Junior Jazz Foundation to the audience’s attention. Part of Bob Mastellar’s charitable legacy, the Junior Jazz Foundation is an independent non-profit organization that strives to keep jazz alive for future generations. The foundation raises funds to purchase instruments, so that even financially disadvantaged students have the opportunity to participate in the jazz tradition and work with The Jazz Corner’s professional musicians to develop the skills of great jazz artists themselves.
The Jazz Corner is certainly doing its part to continue the legacy of jazz, preserving both the work of early jazz artists and fostering the talents of jazz greats of the future. For more info on The Jazz Corner, the club sells the book The Jazz Corner Story which comes with two CDs. Not only does it discuss the history of the club, but of jazz in America itself. It will certainly help complete the collection of any American music enthusiast. Next time you are in the Lowcountry, be sure to hop over to Hilton Head for a jazzy night.