A jazz club in a small resort town might sound unlikely even these days. When The Jazz Corner opened in 1999, the prospect seemed even more remote.
But Bob Masteller's club has continued to thrive throughout the years, and recently received some recognition. Veritable jazz bible Downbeat listed The Jazz Corner as one of its "150 Great Jazz Rooms" worldwide in its February issue.
Masteller explains the success behind The Jazz Corner.
Question. How did the mention in Downbeat come about?
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Answer. I got a letter from the publisher. It didn't explain, but I just think it's recommendations from the cadre of musicians we have through here. We spent an awful lot of time in designing the club to be musician-friendly. That, and just 11 years of hanging around, I guess.
Q. You're the only place in South Carolina on the list?
A. The only place on the Southeast Coast. It feels good, but it's bit of a reminder that clubs are endangered. Some places have jazz just a few nights, maybe Thursday through Saturday. We have music seven days a week. There was a good club years ago in Tampa (Fla.). Savannah originally had a place called Sweet Georgia Brown's. That was a well-designed club. Stage was a bit narrow, but a great bar. They moved that to the DeSoto Hilton. But they put it upstairs, and that didn't work out. I think Charleston would be a great place for a club. They have a good audience there.
Q. What is it about Hilton Head that made it work?
A. At the time we put The Jazz Corner in, we had done some study of the area. There was enough of a niche audience to build a small core of patrons. If it had been, say, 1989, there just wasn't enough of an audience here. By 1999, the time seemed right. What's always stayed me in my hour or hours of discontent is that every year we've taken a step up revenue-wise.
Q. Have there been any times when you thought it wasn't going to work out?
A. Two moments. One was following (the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks). One month that always resonates on this island was October. Weather-wise you can't ask for anything better. Golf is just a dream. But October 2002 was different. My partner at the time, Charlie Swift, was saying "I don't know if we can make it." I left the villa to come over to the club. It was a Tuesday night in October. I was playing. I came from Forest Beach down Pope (Avenue) to (the club) and didn't see one car. That night I think there were more people in the band than in the audience. It was trouble.
Another moment was 2007. Costs went skyward. Food prices went way up. We lost our shirt in 2007 because of costs, but our revenue crept up. We didn't lose customers. I said to my wife, Lois, "This is the time to go back around and shake everybody's hand again and say, 'Hope we see you soon.'<2009>"
But it's all worked out. I attribute that to the great staff I have working for me. Last year ended up being our best year e