While jazz can be difficult to define, Tom Cooley feels the music that knows no boundaries is like oxygen.
"I think everyone should have access to it," Cooley said about jazz. "Otherwise, they can be breathing carbon monoxide and not know it. We have to keep the supply going for future generations."
So, how does Cooley help supply jazz for the younger generation?
Harry Reiner and Tom Cooley are ready to jazz up islanders with Island Jazz, free Sunday afternoon concerts. The band consists of Reiner on trumpet, Cooley on drums, and Louis Pradt on clarinet and flute, Babe VanDeVelde on tenor sax, and Sally-Jane Heit on vocals. The first concert will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 8 in the Boler Garden at Big Arts, 900 Dunlop Road.
(Photo by Carol Orr Hartman)
He plays drums in the Island Jazz band, which also features Harry Reiner on trumpet, Louis Pradt on clarinet and flute, Babe Van De Velde on tenor sax, and Sally-Jane Heit as the vocalist. The group came together more then 7 years ago when the island band Satin Jazz fell apart.
"I asked Harry Reiner if he would join a new band to be called Island Jazz," Cooley recalled. "Harry soon became the music director of the band, and I stayed on as the den mother. Other early members include Pradt and Rusty Kupsaw, who plays bass.
"One day we were practicing a rare event," Cooley said of the band's beginning. "And Gene Federico came through the door with his guitar. He lived down the street. For field trips, I wanted us to go to Big Arts."
Jan. 8, 22
Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26
March 4, 18
April 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
900 Dunlop Road
It was then Laverne Phillips, of the Phillips Gallery, and Deborah LaGorce heard the group play and was kind enough to make that happen. Since then, Island Jazz has recruited other great players.
"And we're now the most technically precise and grammatically correct band on the island. And beyond," said Cooley, who also played in a band called The Rockets at age 14. "We had sequined jackets and worked in places my mother didn't know about," he said of his high school band.
But more important than entertaining islanders and island visitors, Cooley believes the purpose of Island Jazz is giving the gift of music to the community and to support the arts on Sanibel. Even though Island Jazz isn't officially part of Big Arts, it's allowed to play in Boler Garden on Sunday afternoons. In return, the band members offer their time and talents to the arts center in turn passing the gift on to the community.
"I want the audience to come away (from a concert) happy, maybe even humming a tune and thinking what a fine day they're having even if it's cold and rainy," said Cooley.
Made up mostly of island residents, Island Jazz does feature some of the best jazz musicians in Southwest Florida who play styles of music from jazz standards and Dixieland to bop, pop and more. Throughout the 7th season, audiences can expect to hear tunes from Tommy "D" DeQuinzio, a well-known clarinet player; Bob Stempfer on the tenor sax; George Williams, who played at the former Sanibel jazz bar Ellingtons; and pianist and vocalist Art Pendleton.
All Island Jazz performances begin at 3 p.m. on the following dates: Jan. 8 and 22; Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26; March 4, 18; April 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29. Attendees should bring beach chairs, as seating is limited. In case of rain, the concert will go on inside the covered Gainer Verandah. The concerts are free of charge.
"Don't just mark you calendars," said Cooley. "Actually come to the concerts, support Big Arts, and hear all your favorite tunes."