Jazz Corner owner Bob Masteller is gone, but he will not be forgotten

thejazzman02Bob Masteller moved here 42 years ago, and ever since Hilton Head found reasons to cherish him. In recent years, in recognition of all he did for this community, those celebrations have been official. Bob cast a long shadow.

A jazzman is, by definition, a risk-taker, an explorer going where you don’t need a passport to cross boundaries. Go far enough, see deeply enough, transform that into a form that soars and challenges and inspires, then send back a report: that’s the life. Along with the joy of creation, there’s a certain sadness in the enterprise — so much of what the jazz explorer finds is lost in the chatter and shadows of a nightclub.

Bob was one of the lucky ones, a musician with a warm, welcoming spirit. In part, that’s because his jazz life started young, “gifted to me by my father … he fronted a hot music band at the apex of the Jazz Age … Classically trained, he attacked his music with passion.”

And in part, it’s because he saw in Hilton Head a kind of community that didn’t exist and, without his commitment, might never have. So although he had traditional work at first with the Sea Pines Company, he had a mission larger than self-sufficiency and advancement: to mentor people and popularize jazz in our community and beyond. In essence, he created a band here. He was the bandleader, the front man, and we amateurs were backup musicians at best. But he was always clear: Jazz was not the sole possession of the hip, it was American music. All-American music.

Just as his favorite kind of jazz was melodic, so was his life. Bob knew all about dissonance; he was about creating harmony. In the early years of Sea Pines and Long Cove, he helped many developers set up property owners associations and was instrumental in any effort to make their governance more effective. He succeeded in this. He understood people.

In 1999, Bob and his wife, Lois, launched the Jazz Corner in the Village at Wexford. To an investor, that may have looked like a large risk, both financial and personal. But it was as close to a sure thing as life offers, and for the simplest reason: Bob was in the house. Sociologists have explained the importance of the need for a “third place,” a gathering point that’s neither home or workplace. It’s a deep human need. A jazz club is essentially a cafe-by-night with the delightful additions of alcohol, gourmet food, dim lighting and the possibility of connection. And then there’s the cool factor: a jazz club is unique, local, a creative expression of an entrepreneur who was more like a missionary than a businessman.

Bob hosted live jazz seven nights a week. Word that something good was happening on Hilton Head traveled fast. Internationally renowned artists like pianist Ellis Marsalis started showing up. The Jazz Corner became known to jazz lovers across the country. Since 2010, it’s been a regular on Down Beat Magazine's list of the 100 best jazz rooms in the country.

thejazzman01Success makes you more of what you already are. For Bob, that meant an open door for unknown musicians hopeful for a start, and for young music lovers eager for an education and creative inspiration. In retrospect, it’s obvious that, in 2004, Bob and Lois would take the next step and pay it forward — they founded the Junior Jazz Foundation, which provides instruments for students who would otherwise not be able to afford them, raises money to pay for their music lessons and brings professional musicians to teach them at jazz camps.

Last year, Bob received the Alice Glenn Doughtie Good Citizenship award for his service to the community. Those who knew him and loved him — and those were generally the same people — surely expected that it wouldn’t be his last honor. It’s a great sadness that no more can follow. But Bob would surely be the first to remind us that a jazzman’s death is also a cause for celebration. The band raises its instruments. Someone taps the beat. And, once again, spirits lift.


“How can I describe Bob and his passion for life and music? He lived it. It was part of his DNA. A humble man, when he stepped up on the stage with me and began to play his flugelhorn, he was where he wanted to be.”
— Lynn Roberts, iconic Big Band player and jazz artist

“Bob was one of the many precious stones in this crown of barrier islands called Hilton Head. Wherever Masteller is, we know that he will always trip the light fantastic and dance to the enchanting music of life.”
— Paul Long, physician

“Most people don’t know that Bob was in the New York Basketball Hall of Fame as the second leading scorer behind Don Wohl of NBA fame. Or that he had several tryouts to be a pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds … He was an athlete. And Bob was the rock that held so many Sea Pines employees together during the tumultuous times of the mid ’70s. He mentored us how to take care of other people … I can’t tell you the amount of hours he spent with all of us trying to make us better managers of others. He dedicated his life to make the island a better place. And nowhere was his caring style more apparent than the jazz club for those he worked with and those he played with. There will be a huge void of caring on this island now that he has passed.”
— Tom Webster, financial adviser

"Bob and his club met the highest expectations and never failed to appreciate his patrons. I'll always be grateful for the time he invited me to join a number and sing. Like the song says, ‘There Will Never Be Another You,’ Mr. Masteller."
— Lana Ryder, frequent Jazz Corner patron

"Bob's passion and heart for junior jazz musicians has had a profoundly positive impact on my musicianship. He served as such a role model to me and an example of the joy that comes from pursuing your passion.”
— Brennan Clark, former Junior Jazz Camp attendee, currently playing jazz at the College of Charleston

“Four years ago, I had the pleasure of writing “The Jazz Corner Story” with Bob Masteller, which sets out the history of American jazz music and chronicles the rise of the Jazz Corner to be voted one of the top jazz clubs in the world. Together, we won a national award for the book. Bob inspired so many people and gave them opportunities to be the very best that they can be. Their loyalty to him now is overwhelming. He left us the gift of his Jazz Corner, breaking all records as it enters its 16th year and, standing firm to ensure the preservation of world-class music, is his Junior Jazz Foundation. The work they do in teaching the next generation of jazz musicians inspires them to play music that is the very culture of America, no less.”
— Author and writer Martin McFie

“What an unimaginable loss it is for Lois, David and Bob, Jr., devastating for his friends and tragic for our community. Bob was such an important part of us, the community, who can replace him? To me, Bob's inspiration came in floods from his music and the people around him. The Jazz Corner expresses that inspiration and is his way of saying thank you to all of us."
— Community leader David Ames

"Bob will always hold a special place in my heart. I worked with him for years˛and always felt impressed by his warmth and˛enthusiasm. I felt so proud of him for living out his dream each night on stage, and so proud such a well-respected jazz club was here on our island. Bob was not only an incredible musician, he was an even better man, constantly giving back to the community through philanthropic outreach. He will be greatly missed."
— Monthly publisher Lori Goodridge-Cribb

“Bob epitomized someone who put his community and its citizens first … His greatest legacy will be his establishment of the Junior Jazz Foundation to pass on the greatest of American musical genres to our youngest generation.”
— Blaine Lotz, president of the World Affairs Council of Hilton Head & Beaufort County Democratic Party chairman

“Bob gave me my first gig as a drummer, I was 14 years old. We played at The Landings way out there past Savannah. I was so excited to hop in the band’s van that I forgot my cymbals. Bob had to call Portman’s Music after hours and ask someone to drive and pick them up while my face reddened in embarrassment. I never made that mistake again. Today, I’m sitting on a couch in my Brooklyn, New York, apartment, my cymbal case in the corner on the morning after a jam session in the West Village. In no small way do I owe my musical aspiration to Bob. His gracious personality and the vision he led were like a mirage in the desert, a jazz club at the heart of a quiet island town.”
— Marco Frey, first recipient of the Junior Jazz Foundation Award

“Having known and played piano with Bob since my earliest arrival here in 1987, we shared the love of good jazz and good friendship. When Bob posed the idea of opening a jazz club on Hilton Head, I was happy to contribute my thoughts and ideas garnered over a lifetime of exposure to such establishments … I didn't realistically believe it could be a success in the given area.
Much to my delight, 16 years later, I'm happy to be proven to be wrong. Were it not for Bob's vision, there would be no semblance of jazz in our area or a place to dine and be entertained by the region's finest musical performers. The Jazz Corner’s longtime staff is the club ‘family’ and the musicians who play are the heart and soul of Bob's little corner masterpiece.”
— Bob Alberti, jazz pianist

“Bob and I became friends almost immediately upon our arrival on Hilton Head Island. We were hired by the Sea Pines Company about the same time and connected early because of our upstate New York background. … I knew Bob by reputation before I met him — he was a well-known college athlete … he played regularly at a local jazz club in Syracuse popular with Syracuse University students.
We shared many a laugh about the old days in New York. He was a huge factor in the early development and growth of Sea Pines Company and a regular confi - dant of Charles Fraser during those formative years and for the rest of Charles's life.
He was blessed by the fact that he turned something he loved (music) … into a successful business. He often admitted how happy he and Lois have been to be able to work together at something meaningful and fun in the latter part of their lives. … The island we all love has lost another founding father, but a different kind of founder … God bless you, Bob. Gabriel can't wait to hear you play that horn.”
— Chuck Scarminach, attorney

“Bob had such a personable way about him, it was easy to overlook that he was a true visionary. One of the things Bob enjoyed most in the world was innovative thinking: people who thought outside the box; people who had the determination and wits to make the impossible work — like an internationally recognized jazz club on Hilton head, or the early development of Sea Pines for that matter.
Bob was fun and fair and respectful and those are some of the reasons (among many) why musicians loved him. He worked 14-hour days because he loved what he did. He built the Jazz Corner for us — the musicians and the community. I am proud that he mentored me professionally and personally.
Both he and Lois are pillars of the Lowcountry. Bob invested in me and changed my life and handed me a mission. He inspired me, but I know he inspired so many. He will always be onstage with me. I will miss his stories, his horn but perhaps most of all, his remarkable leadership. I hope to continue his endeavors for the benefit of jazz preservation and our wonderful community.”
— Martin Lesch, jazz musician

Bob Masteller was a true jazz lover. No matter what business he was in, he always found time to get a band together and play. I still have pictures of my husband, Sam, who played tenor sax, and Bob playing at various functions. I kidded Bob; I told him it was when his hair was brown. The Jazz Corner was perfect for him. He could promote jazz, play and even work to get young people interested. The Junior Jazz Foundation was a major contribution of his. He will be sorely missed but the Jazz Corner will surely continue.”
— Marjorie Atkinson

thejazzman03“A smile and a hug were always awaiting any of the staff of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry whenever we saw Bob Masteller. His support of our work spanned the entire length of our 20-year history; he was a founding member of the foundation’s board. We are honored that the Junior Jazz Foundation was born as a fund within the Community Foundation. His love for community was expressed in part through the many charitable efforts that found a home at the Jazz Corner – it often serves as a venue for events and fundraisers. Bob lived and breathed and bled jazz music, and his efforts to assure that the art form perpetuates in young people are legendary. In each tentative and then stronger youthful performance — in each inspired improvisation — in the general syncopation of life’s rhythms — we will always hear his deep voice and soft heart and bluesy horn. Until we meet again, Bob.
— Denise K. Spencer, President and CEO, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry



Lois and the Masteller family will host a service for Bob at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 10 at Holy Family Catholic Church on Pope Avenue.