Art Curley's bigger-than-big band Sunday afternoons on Fenwick Island, the only place to be is on your feet for the swingingest set around.


FENWICK ISLAND -- This place rocks -- no, swings. The Bahamas might have reggae and steel drum bands, but Fenwick Island has the one and only Art Curley Trio, featuring Mr. Art Curley on clarinet and alto saxophone.

You won't hear Art Curley's music on the radio. VH-1 "Storytellers" won't be booking him. And unless you are of a certain advanced age, you'll probably never feel the pulsating urge to crash one of his performances.

But come Sunday, Art Curley owns Fenwick Island.

"He's my hero. He's like everyone's grandfather," says Eddie O'Malley, owner of the Shark's Cove restaurant. For eight years, Art Curley has played the small room at Shark's Cove, every Sunday, beginning at 4 p.m., but you better get here by 3 p.m.

"You can't get a seat here on Sundays," O'Malley says. "And people crucify me if I have the piano taking up some of the dance floor."

Move the piano, Eddie. People want to dance to this 75-year-old guy, whose chops are still in good shape. Oh, Curley sings a bit and invites closet musicians to sit in with the band. But mainly, Curley belts out "Little Brown Jug," "Blues in the Night" and "New York, New York" on his horns. Sunday come Sunday.

"I guess we're doing something right," he says.

After a career in radio news (including jobs at Baltimore stations), the barrel-voiced Curley formed a trio in 1985. The Delaware native had been weaned on Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey: Big Band music. His parents' music. His music.

"We don't do rock," he says, as if there is any doubt.

The Sunday crowd at Shark's Cove is older, naturally. No eyebrow or septum piercings, just a few tasteful earrings. The late-afternoon crowd knows Curley's play list by heart and soul because they, too, grew up listening to "Stardust," "Satin Doll" and "In the Mood."

"It's their music," Curley says.

But the best part of each Sunday night, the most powerful part, is when people are moved to dance. "They swish by and they look at me ... and smile," Art Curley says.

Who among us can claim that?

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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