Reunion Jazz Band Returns to its Roots
Reunions are all about bringing people together, but it’s rare for a college reunion to alter people’s creative paths, and almost unbelievable for those changes to stick for the next 25 years.
When the Reunion Jazz Band performs during Beloit’s Reunion Weekend on June 8, they’ll prove that reunions actually can have that kind of power.
The alumni members of the band, who started playing together as students, reunited at Beloit’s 1994 Reunion after being out of touch for 25 years. They’ve stayed together ever since, performing under the Reunion Jazz Band name.
The group started playing jazz and blues together more than 50 years ago when Don Carson’71 (keyboards), Mike Kearsey’71 (bass), and Mike Scavotto’69 (drums) were still Beloit undergraduates. Bob Corbit, a saxophone player from the city of Beloit, rounded out the band, known then as the Don Carson Quartet. The quartet had a successful run, playing on campus and appearing in clubs and bars.
After graduating, everyone went in different directions. Individually, though, they kept their musical interests alive.
The 1994 reunification of the band started with Scavotto. With his 25-year reunion approaching, he debated whether to return to Beloit. As he paged through Reunion materials, his daughter asked him what the college was like. He realized that he couldn’t respond honestly, since he hadn’t kept in touch and hadn’t returned to campus. “What would it take to get you to go back?” she asked. His answer was simple: “Play music with the guys.”
So after 25 years of radio silence, he picked up the phone, called Carson, and floated the idea of getting the band back together to perform in Beloit.
“Scavotto called my house and it was like we’d just talked yesterday,” says Carson, a longtime Beloit College trustee. The 1994 Reunion concert, held in Eaton Chapel, was well-received, and it made the band members realize how much they missed playing together.
Kearsey recalls that night.
“We played, the magic was still there, and we created a new chapter in our musical lives that led to several more college concerts and an annual performance at various venues in St. Louis,” says Kearsey.
Of the three Beloiters, Kearsey is the only one who’s had a full-time career in the music business. He’s played bass with a number of popular West Coast bands, and also composes, arranges, produces, and promotes music. For more than a decade, he hosted a jazz radio show where he lives in Portland, Ore. Both Carson and Scavotto forged careers in business, but music has always played a major part in their lives.
In fact, Scavotto calls jazz his “first love.” For his part, Carson plays in an oldies band in Asheville, N.C., where he currently lives. He also spent some years singing baritone in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, an intense and rewarding experience that required about 70 nights of rehearsing, performing, or recording each year. Carson performed in Carnegie Hall three times with the chorus.
Since Reunion Jazz reunited in 1994, the band has performed at least once a year in St. Louis, Mo., Scavotto’s home base, where he runs a healthcare management consulting company. They’ve played other gigs, too, including a couple of major ones. Twice, they played the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and opened on one of those occasions for noted R&B singer Patti LaBelle.
“Reunion’s sound is unique and it only happens with these musicians,” Scavotto says, pointing to the chemistry the band recaptured that night at Reunion 25 years ago.
“I feel that I made great friends at Beloit, but with Don, Mike and Bob, I made friends that were so important that my choice of colleges was the best choice I ever made,” says Kearsey.
The Reunion Jazz Band, with guitarist Tom Byrne joining Carson, Kearsey, and Scavotto, will perform Saturday, June 8, on Pearsons Hall lawn during Reunion Weekend. The show, held during the all-class dancing and dessert event, begins at 8:30 p.m.