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All Smiles on Hilton Head Island

Gloria Krolak By

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In Bill Crow's autobiography, From Birdland to Broadway—Scenes from a Jazz Life, the veteran bassist explains how the legendary Manhattan club came to be known as "the jazz corner of the world." It may be time to look south and share the title. The Mastellers have done much to spread jazz around and off the island, bringing concerts to other venues. Eight years ago they started the Junior Jazz Foundation, helping schools keep their music programs, supplying instruments and running a summer jazz camp. One student, 17-year-old sax phenom Tafari Salaam, will head to California as a student of Ravi Coltrane. (He's got a Go Fund Me account to help underwrite a tenor sax of his own and college expenses.) They've published a book, The Jazz Corner Story, in the glossy black of a piano, which includes two live CDs. All the profits, at $35 per book, go to the JJF, courtesy of British author Martin McFie. Their record label, Sweet Jazz, releases live and studio sessions recorded at the club, drawing more musicians to the resort.

A Monday tornado watch sounded like two counts against The Jazz Corner. But again the room was packed—seems like nothing keeps jazz lovers away. The Martin Lesch Band took front and center. Lesch is a pianist who can play anything, but connects with hot jazz of the '20s. He writes music and sings, too. Trumpeter Danny Dennison, also a member of the six-piece horn band, the Headliners, house bassist Clarence Williams, and Binghamton NY native Chris Russell on drums made up the foursome.

They set the house ablaze with their first tune, "Hindustan" when Russell played his sticks down the stage edge to a table where two young boys sat with their parents. They had front-row seats for some real drum kicks as Russell kept the tune going over the glasses, utensils, tabletop and anything else he could reach, a night neither child will forget. Williams' fretless electric guitar is not an instrument you'd expect to hear in any Dixieland band, but he and it served well to bring the music to modern ears. "Take the A Train" was spiced with strains of "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Girl from Ipanema." Later Lesch on piano would bend the Beatles' "Yesterdays" into a duet with Dennison's trumpet on "Georgia on My Mind."

Another highlight was Dennison's rich vocal on "Unchained Melody," one of the world's great love songs from a little known prison movie. Bob joined with some muted cornet then beckoned Salaam to join in on sax after explaining the Junior Jazz Foundation to his audience. Salaam took his place seamlessly. His busy and brisk solos dropped some fearless youth into the mix. The night closed with the gospel hymn "A Closer Walk with Thee," traditionally played at New Orleans jazz funerals. Michael's evening closed on a sweet note with apple cinnamon bread pudding.

Expect to spend $100 to $200 on dinner per couple, including a $10 music charge each. Dress for a night out. There is ample parking in the small upscale Wexford mall, where The Jazz Corner is located. Reservations are strongly recommended.

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