Real jazz is getting harder to find. Cutbacks in budgets and the continuing acceptance of drum machines and taped backgrounds don't help but supportive venues are also rare. Jazz audiences aren't trendy. Though they are loyal they don't give that loyalty easily. They have to see a commitment to the music a passion for the art. Once they sense that is in place though, watch out because there is nothing quite like a dedicated audience and a full band to create the swinging atmosphere that made jazz so revered throughout the world. It is one of the few original American art forms.
For the past six years, the only place on our Beach that was dedicated to presenting authentic jazz was the Purple Heart Theater, run by the performing arts group The Island Arts Foundation. For two years, every Thursday, in an intimate and acoustically designed room, a dedicated audience of jazz fans would gather to hear the generation spanning sounds of The Purple Heart Theater Band. Though the Theater fell victim to zoning issues, thanks to the Lighthouse Resort, those fans won't miss a season.
Starting Wednesday, Nov. 2 and continuing throughout the season, the quartet will hold fort from 6 to 9 p.m. poolside at the Lighthouse's famed Tiki Bar.
The quartet will feature Joe Bilardo on drums, Carl Conley on tenor sax and words, Vince Evans on acoustic bass and vocals and Wayne Corelli on piano and vocals.
"Wayne Corelli toured with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd back in the 1980s. To get in that band you have to be a top flight musician and that's what he is a consummate professional who amazes audiences with his command of the keyboard," said Evans, who has played with Corelli for many years.
Evans is a 50-year veteran of the stage and has played with Conley both at the Purple Heart and for most of the visiting artists hosted by the former Island Arts Foundation during their long running tenure on Fort Myers Beach.
"Vince is a fine vocalist and has appeared on quite a few recordings as a vocalist, but he's also the best upright bassist I've ever had the pleasure of working with," said Conley, adding, "His CD with guitarist Steve Usher is an all-vocal recording and brings back memories of the Golden Years of romantic ballads by telling a story with fine lyrics."
Another musical great with connections to the Beach and numerous Grammy nominations, Gene "King Sax" Walker, agreed. "I've known Carl Conley musically and personally for over 22 years. Along side his big-toned talent while playing the saxophone, he possesses a special gift for producing a warm and welcoming atmosphere for his audience. The many styles of the legendary great saxophonists are always heard and brought to mind when Carl's playing."
The quartet, now known as "Sax on the Beach" will play a diverse repertoire spanning American music from New Orleans in the '20s to New York in the '80s. With these guys, there is very little they can't play, though it's unlikely you'll hear a Jimmy Buffet or Eagles tune. However, if you love America's classics, you won't be disappointed.
They want to remind listeners that they frequently have guest artists appearing with them on the stage.
"The Island Arts Foundation made a lot of friends with great artists over the years, and when one of them comes through the area, they usually give us a call to see if they could perform locally," Conley said. "In the past we'd host them for local fans at the Purple Heart Theater. Now that the Lighthouse is providing us with a stage and regular engagement we will be looking forward to having them appear with us there."
One of the hallmarks of good jazz players is meticulous attention to volume. If your idea of great music is swinging American jazz at a conversational volume, then be sure to mark your calendars for Sax on the Beach every Wednesday, November through April, from 6 to 9, poolside at the Lighthouse Tiki Bar.
Submitted by Karen Mills, Special to the Bulletin