JAZZ CORNER MARKS 20 YEARS OF WORLD-CLASS PERFORMANCES
For 20 years, some of the biggest names in jazz have flocked to Hilton Head Island to perform at The Jazz Corner, tucked away in The Village at Wexford. Since its opening in 1999, the restaurant has been a cornerstone of island entertainment, evidence of how one man’s vision can influence the community around him.
The Jazz Corner was the longtime dream of the late Bob Masteller, a jazz aficionado and businessman who moved to Hilton Head in 1973 with his wife, Lois, and their two children. He worked with Charles Fraser as the vice president of human resources at the Sea Pines Co. for 12 years, but his heart played a different song.
“It was always Bob’s dream to own a club someday,” Lois said, and in 1999, he made that dream a reality.
Son David Masteller, now the vice president of The Jazz Corner, said the club’s beginning wasn’t easy: “People thought my dad was crazy. They would shake their heads and say it wouldn’t last six months.”
Fast-forward 20 years, and it’s clear the nay-sayers were wrong. From industry legends to rising stars, The Jazz Corner has hosted renowned musicians from around the world: George Shearing; Freddy Cole; Mose Allison; The Vaché Brothers; Dean Martin’s daughter, Deana Martin; Christian Tamburr and many more. Others are lining up to take the stage; Lois and David recently returned from an international jazz cruise, where they say some of the biggest names in jazz asked about performing at The Jazz Corner.
“It’s incredible that one man’s dream — a room with great jazz music — would be talked about by people around the world,” David said. “We’ve been fortunate to work with a little bit of everyone, from older legends to the next generation of musicians.”
But the road to success was paved with unique challenges, Lois said.
“The first 10 years were not easy,” she said. “For starters, we were difficult to find, hidden in a corner of a shopping center.” There was no Yelp or Facebook page to point tourists in the club’s direction, and it’s not exactly the kind of location that garnered foot traffic. “There was no sign on the street and a dirt road behind Wexford, but Bob had a vision.”
Over time, the club expanded its menu and marketing strategies, booking big-band jazz performers that were both enjoyable and easy to understand. In 2004, the Mastellers took their love of jazz one step further, forming The Junior Jazz Foundation to help aspiring young musicians explore their passions— by buying instruments for schools, paying for music lessons, and hosting classes with professional musicians at the annual Hilton Head Island Jazz Camp. For ages 12-20, the camp regularly draws more than 100 students from many states.
Kelli Lesch, who has been with The Jazz Corner since day one, is the club’s longtime manager and has been a driving force in helping the club flourish. Her steady hand is behind the authentic big city nightclub atmosphere, where the room is low lit, intimate, elegant and sophisticated.
Bob Masteller passed away in 2015, but his family and the many musicians and staff members who loved The Jazz Corner were determined that the club would continue his legacy.
“The Jazz Corner is a family establishment,” Lois said. “It has an intimate home feeling, all because of our wonderful and committed staff.”
Chef Wade Haase and his culinary team strive to ensure that guests’ dining experiences at The Jazz Corner are as outstanding as the music presented.
Author Martin McFie said it’s no surprise The Jazz Corner has become a haven for music lovers both near and far.
“Bob Masteller was a man of vision, always thinking ahead and an integral part of the development of the island for over 40 years,” said McFie, the author of “The Jazz Corner Story,” based on lecture notes, historical research and hours of conversations with the Mastellers. “When they began, the Mastellers drew up a seemingly impossible bucket list of the very best jazz musicians and slowly, one by one, they have featured everyone on the list. Now a new list is being written.”
IF YOU GO
For a full list of upcoming performances and information on The Jazz Corner’s year-long 20th anniversary celebration, call 843-842-8620 or go to www.thejazzcorner.com. Reservations are suggested.