When Hobart alum Bob Masteller ’60 was on campus preparing to perform his fundraiser concert for the St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy, it was Whitman Littlefield ’11 who was assigned to write the article for the Finger Lakes Times. Littlefield is currently interning with the Times and spoke to Masteller about the concert and his career as a musician.
Of the moments of Masteller’s life Littlefield writes about was one in 1968, when Masteller played “Hello, Dolly!” for Sen. Robert Kennedy and his wife, Ethel.
“After the song was over, Robert Kennedy reportedly climbed onto the truck, telling Masteller, ‘That was a big thrill!'” Littlefield writes.
The full text of the article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
Jazzin’ It Up For the Arts
Hobart Alum in town for fundraiser
Whitman Littlefield • June 12, 2009
GENEVA – A Hobart College graduate turned jazz icon is back at his alma mater this weekend.
Bob Masteller, Class of 1960, owns Jazz Corner on Hilton Head Island, S.C., considered one of the world’s top 10 jazz clubs. He has played with Louis Armstrong and piano legend George Shearing and has performed for presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford.
Beginning tonight, he and his band will play at Hobart and William Smith Colleges to benefit St. Peter’s Community Arts Academy.
“The lesson I learned from Hobart was to always give back,” Masteller said.
Music has been part of Masteller’s life since childhood.
“Music means more to me every year of my life,” he said. “Jazz music is the inner soul turned outward.”
At age 8, Masteller picked up the cornet. By 12, he was performing in his father Harold Masteller’s 14-piece jazz and swing band. Learning to play next to his father taught him “what was right about the business and what was wrong about the business,” he said.
In fact, Masteller’s father pushed him away from the music industry and urged him to get an education.
“He didn’t encourage me to go into music as a career,” Masteller said. “He said, ‘Be strong and make sure you get your education.'”
During his time at Hobart, Masteller played baseball and basketball. But he still managed to maintain a band, “The Bob Masteller Quintet,” which played New Orleans Jazz – still his favorite style.
After graduating from Hobart, Masteller earned a master’s degree from the University of Rochester in 1973 and began work as a human resource director at corporations in Oswego, Syracuse and, finally, Hilton Head.
In between came a special performance – one of the highlights of his career. In 1968, standing on the riser of a flatbed truck in Oswego, he played “Hello, Dolly!” for Sen. Robert Kennedy and his wife, Ethel.
“It was her favorite song,” he explained.
After the song was over, Robert Kennedy reportedly climbed onto the truck, telling Masteller, “That was a big thrill!”
Perhaps most important to Masteller, though, is not the people he has played for or even the people he has played with, but a “respect for the human element.”
In 1999, when he began work on the Jazz Corner, his chief concern was not the sound he produced but to treat everyone with respect.
That ideal came from Masteller’s belief that “jazz musicians got lost in their own world,” became unable to see outside their own skill and forgot about “the people who are listening.”
He hasn’t forgotten them – including his early listeners in Geneva.
“I love Geneva,” he said. “It’s always been a magical place to me.”