WATERVILLE (AP) – Al Corey, a saxophonist and band leader who played big band music for Maine audiences for more than half a century, died Sunday at a nursing care center. He was 86.

Corey, who full name was Elias J. Corey, started “El Corey’s Big Band” in 1946. But at his first show people called him “Al” and the group “Al Corey’s Big Band,” and the name stuck.

In the decades to come, his group played big band musical selections from the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others.

Corey played at every Governor’s Ball since 1950 and gave free summer concerts at Colby College for nearly 30 years.

He helped generations of struggling musicians who patronized his shop, Al Corey’s Music Center, which he opened on Main Street in the 1940s.

“He was just loved by everybody, particularly the little children he entertained with magic tricks and balloon tricks and his antics,” said former Mayor Paul LaVerdiere, whose wife, Charlene, is Corey’s niece. “He was just a wonderful, wonderful man and uncle to my wife and he really had a great deal to do with bringing up my wife and her two sisters.”

Corey was known as an upbeat and generous person who always had positive things to say about people. He also had a great sense of humor, said the Rev. Peter Joseph, deacon at St. Joseph’s Maronite Catholic Church and a cousin of Corey.

“We were friends for years and years and we were close and we had a certain rapport about telling jokes with each other,” Joseph said. “We said one time we would have a comedy duo. He’d say, ‘I saw you on the street yesterday,’ and I’d say, ‘Why didn’t you wave?’ and he’d say, ‘I didn’t recognize you.’ That was Al Corey. He was quite a guy.”

A memorial Mass is scheduled for Saturday at St. Joseph’s Maronite Catholic Church.

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