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SIMON SAYS JAZZ, BLUES VIABLE ON ST. JOHN (AND FUN)

Nov. 28, 2003 – Saturday's Jazz in the Moonlight concert on the beach at the Westin Resort on St. John will run you $10 if you're over the age of 18. That, to producer Steve Simon's way of thinking, signals that the concert series starting its third season has attained a level of acceptance and appreciation that makes it in music lovers' minds quite literally worth the price of admission.
For Latin Grammy winning Puerto Rican flutist Nestor Torres and his band, Cuban piano legend Hilario Duran, Venezuelan vocalist Adriana and the Latin Jazz All Stars, it may seem like a steal. (See "Nestor Torres headlines Nov. 29 jazz concert".)
But it's $10 more than concertgoers were asked to fork over for Simon's previous Moonlight Jazz concerts or his first St. John Blues Festival last February.
"I decided to not charge for our previous concerts and festival because I wanted to give our audience an opportunity to see what we could do," Simon says. "These past two seasons afforded us the opportunity to establish Jazz in the Moonlight and the St. John Blues Festival as viable and entertaining evenings of live music.
"Now most people know that they are in for an amazing evening of entertainment when they attend one of our shows, and that quality translates into the ability to charge for the shows without losing attendance."
Furthermore, he continues, "most people are aware that we are in this for the fun of it, to help entertain our island and to use our stage to promote the quality of life on St. John while assisting some of our children with their education. Not a bad combination."
"We" is primarily Simon, but also the people he has pulled together to help produce the concerts and run the Moonlight Foundation that he founded to provide scholarships for students to attend St. John's Coral Bay High School, as well as college. Proceeds from the concerts will benefit the foundation.
The season opening Saturday night on St. John will include a total of seven events, three of them on St. Croix, and the last the five-day 2nd annual St. John Blues Festival. That's quite a leap from what's gone before — jazz concerts in June, November and December of 2002 and last February's premiere blues bash, all on St. John.
Last fall, the St. John School of the Arts returned to a classics-only concert season after five years that had also included jazz, blues and more. Ruth "Sis" Frank, school director, said at the time that she didn't mind letting go of the non-classics "with Steve Simon, jazz entrepreneur, to fill the gap."
Business successes with music on the side
Jazz and blues entrepreneurship is far from Simon's first career, although music has been an elemental ingredient of his life from childhood.
"Both of my parents were accomplished musicians and encouraged my brother and me to follow in their musical footsteps, which we did," he relates. "Over the years I have become an accomplished jazz clarinetist and pianist, a prolific composer and a concert producer. I have produced four CD's, five major jazz shows and one blues festival, and I have composed over 300 songs — most of which I did while running an international financial services business."
After college and a stint in the Army, he began working in his family's printing and publishing business in New York. He moved to Miami in 1975 and founded what became one of the largest financial printing brokerage companies in the Southeast. He sold it in a decade later and started an insurance industry consulting business, which in 1989 became the foundation for American Life Resources, which pioneered the concept of "positively impacting the quality of life for the terminally ill by converting their life insurance policies into cash while they were still alive."
The firm, Simon says, was the subject of articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, as well as an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC-TV's "Prime Time Live." "Our pioneering efforts forever changed the landscape of the life insurance industry," he says.
In 1995, he sold American Life Resources "and founded Auction Finance Group to provide financial services to the automotive industry. By 1999, we had become one of the largest independent automotive finance companies in the Unites States and the third-largest automobile auction company in the world."
And then, in June of 2000, he sold his companies and retired at the age of 54 with his wife, Helen — "and made St. John our permanent home." That was after having been part-time residents from 1993, shuttling back and forth from Miami Beach and Toronto.
From their first visit to the island in 1991, Simon says, "we knew that we had found the perfect place for us. We had always loved living by the sea, and we had always loved living amongst peaceful and creative people, and St. John embodies all of that for us."
Creating a perfect place for himself
Simon, who spends his leisure time boating, playing tennis, reading and composing, says retirement has given him "the opportunity to use my passion for music and my business and creative skills to create the perfect place for myself — producing and promoting jazz and blues concerts in the U.S.V.I."
The Jazz in the Moonlight concerts were inspired by the St. John School of the Arts concerts and Michael and Barbie Barry's Music in the Moonlight events, he says. "I loved all of those shows and thought that creating a larger venue for larger shows could be accomplished with a little help from the community at large."
He created the Moonlight Orchestra for the first concert, drawing on local talent. "Its members change from concert to concert," he says, with the goal being "to give as many local musicians an opportunity to perform in our shows as possible."
The Moonlight Foundation he describes as "an extension of our family's charitable giving." His wife chairs the Coral Bay School board, and the couple decided to help support the school "mainly because we wanted to help our island provide a quality high school education" to St. John young people without their having to commute to St. Thomas. The foundation directors are Simon, his wife, and St. John author Gerald Singer.
On Nov. 1, Simon introduced the "Jazz in the Moonlight" CD, a selection of live recordings from the first three concerts. His thank-you list for that endeavor included Danny Silber and Michael Barry. Silber, he explains, is a 30-year resident of St. John "who is an accomplished jazz pianist and is responsible for creating the renowned Sunday Jazz Jam on St. John which is now in its third year." And Barry owns the Sun Dog Café in Cruz Bay "and is the founder of the Music in the Moonlight evening that showcases our island’s amateur musicians."
The two, he says, "were not only a major part of my inspiration for Jazz in the Moonlight but also assisted me in producing the very first concert."
Simon says the talent pool he is drawing from for the concerts comprises "professional performers whom I know personally as well as those that I don’t know personally but am a big fan of their music." The bottom line, he said, "is that I am presenting performers whom I would enjoy going out to see."
He describes himself in this regard as "a production company all rolled up into one 57-year-old musician. I don't work with any particular label or agency, but it is a small industry out there, and it doesn't take long to know just about everyone in it."
St. John soon synonymous with the blues?
With the premiere St. John Blues Festival under his belt, h
e says "we are well on our way to making St. John synonymous with the blues, and it has been one of my most gratifying experiences here." He says he has always loved blues music because "it's so American, and it's so expressive, and just about every performer in this wonderful genre is a show unto themselves."
The February event, held out of doors in Coral Bay, attracted more than 2,000 attendees — on an island said to have a population of 5,000. "And this year, it will be even bigger," he predicts.
Over five days, there will be six events, culminating in a concert featuring Dr. John in the Coral Bay ballfield. Admission for that one will be $10, too.
The lineup also includes all-night blues parties at Island Blues in Coral Bay on March 3, Gecko Gazebo in Mongoose Junction on March 4 and Shipwreck Landing in Coral Bay on March 5, then an afternoon party at Skinny Legs in Coral Bay on March 6, and winding up with a closing party the afternoon of March 7 at the Beach Bar in Wharfside in Cruz Bay.
In addition to Dr. John, the Saturday night concert will present Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen; Richard "Sweet" Waters & The Blues Boyz with SVR recording artist Tim Gonzalez; and The David James Band. There will be taxi service all night between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay, and ferry service all night between Cruz Bay and Red Hook, Simon says. Cleary and the Gents are booked for the Sunday afternoon gig, too.
As for the jazz (and a bit of the blues) concerts, they look like this:
Nov. 29 — Nestor Torres, Puerto Rican flutist, and his band with Adriana and Hilario Duran, Westin Resort, St. John, 8 p.m.
Dec. 6 – repeat of the Nov. 29 concert, Island Center, St. Croix, 8 p.m.
Jan. 9 – Gato Barbieri, Argentine saxophonist, Island Center, 8 p.m.
Jan. 10 – repeat of the Jan. 9 concert, Westin Resort, 8 p.m.
Feb. 7 – Special EFX world fusion band featuring guitarist Chieli Minucci, Island Center, 8 p.m.
Feb. 14 – Kim Waters, saxophonist, and Maryel Epps, rhythm 'n' blues singer, Westin Resort, 8 p.m.
Want to know more? Check out the Jazz in the Moonlight Web site, send an e-mail to Steve Simon or call him at 693-8120.

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