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The Story of Aureus


by Connie Nassios, 2023

Aureus was formed before I joined in 1975 by college buddies who loved horn bands, intricate vocals, and good arrangements. The original band name was Charisma, but they had to change it for legal reasons.

Aureus - Pre 1975

Pre 1975, known as "Charisma"

Aureus - Pre 1975

Pre 1975 with Roger VanDeHeede

STORY OF AUREUS - BEGINNING 1975

I auditioned for Aureus in 1975. At that time, it was a "show" band, with impressive arrangements of jazz-influenced medleys and songs that even now sound very creative and imaginative. Arrangements were done by band members and Michelle Hayes, the original keyboardist/singer. The members were:

  • Mike Menza (sax) from Clarendon Hills, attended (IBC) Illinois Benedictine College
  • Pat Connell (trumpet) from Downers Grove, attended IBC
  • Don Jacobs (trombone) from Downers Grove, attended University of Illinois, Champaign
  • Mark Ellman (guitar) from Glen Ellyn, attended IBC
  • Andy Marchese (bass), attended University of Illinois, Champaign
  • Michelle Hayes (keyboards), attended IBC
  • Mike Albiniak (drums), attended DePaul university
  • Don Smith (bass), briefly in Aureus, was a music teacher in Morrison, IL
  • Janice Borla (keyboards), briefly in Aureus, attended Barat College in Lake Forest, IL

They were gigging in the Chicago area (Pheasant Run in St. Charles, Fiddlers in Mt. Prospect) and Quad Cities (Blackhawk Hotel, Davenport IA). But when the band made plans to go on the road, 4 of the members left. They posted audition notices at music schools in Chicago and at universities and found:

  • Connie Nassios (keyboards) from Sauk Village, attending the American Conservatory of Music; played in a local horn band - Albatross - at Luigi’s in Chicago Heights, and other local bars
  • Wes Young (bass) from Sauk Village, attending Bloom high school, also played in the local band Albatross with Connie
  • Gary Morgan (trombone) from East Alton, IL, graduating from Illinois State University
  • Mark Anzalone (drums) from Niles, IL, graduated from the American Conservatory of Music

The newest members had two weeks to rehearse and learn all the vocals and instrumental parts before our first gig in Moline IL, at the Wells Fargo Lounge on June 10, 1975. We alternated sets of dance music and shows, complete with some costumes and props. Our goal in those days was to be musically excellent, to work as much as possible, and to record an album. Fortunately, we had an agent (Arnie and Jack Prager, Chicago) that kept us working on the road almost continuously, essentially living in hotels while we moved from club to club, city to city. Here is a list of dates and venues.

Aureus First promo picture - 1975

First promo picture

Aureus promo in Philly

In Philadelphia

In 1978, we cleared our road schedule to record our album - "Goin’ Up" at Gary Loizzo’s Pumpkin Studios in Oak Lawn. It is a mix of original tunes and arrangements of covers under our own label - Riff Records.

Aureus in Las Vegas

Las Vegas 1978

Aureus promo picture

Las Vegas 1978

A vivid memory from December 1980: While playing at the Snuggery in Arlington Heights, a man leaned over my keyboard and said to me, “did you hear that John Lennon was just shot?” Being the intense Beatle fan that I am, I did not believe him until I heard the news report later that night. It was a very sad day for me.

Also in December of 1980, we performed in the “Battle of the Bands” at Haymakers in Palatine. We took home the 2nd place prize: silver band jackets! (1st place went to The Trouts, 3rd place was Barking Spiders.)

Aureus silver jackets

Silver jackets won in Battle of the Bands

After traveling all over the U.S. and Canada, in March of 1981, Aureus got a house gig at Bogey’s Barn in Miami, which became home base. We were able to get apartments and stay in one place for the first time in many years. At that time, Mark Ellman (guitar) decided to leave to start a family back home in IL. Billy Whitman was welcomed; in addition to guitar, he sang and played viola. In 1982, Wes (bass) left also to start a family, and Matt Bonelli joined the band to replace Wes.

Aureus in Miami

Aureus in Miami

Bogey’s Barn in Miami was a 700-seat club, and we made a bit of a splash in the area. Local DJs would broadcast from there and played our recordings on the station; we did beach concerts when South Beach was beginning to get popular.

Aureus concert flyer with Dave Mason and Phoebe Snow

Beach concert flyer

Aureus concert tickets with Kenny Rankin and Air Supply

Concert tickets

The house gig at Bogey’s came to an end in 1983 and we began another one at Monty’s on Kendall in Miami. Vic Koler took over on bass, Ken Berry replaced Billy Whitman on guitar, and Tony Lavender came aboard on drums (all students of University of Miami).

The gig at Monty’s came to an end, and it was difficult to keep working enough to support all 8 of us. We had some tensions, to be expected after such a long run together, and 4 members (including me) gave their notice to leave. Our last gig together was in October 1986 at the Bounty Lounge in Boca Raton, FL.

In 2021, during the pandemic, some members of Aureus began collaborating on recordings for YouTube. At this writing, there are 5 and you can click to view them :

BAND MEMBERS (1975-1986) / years in the band / where are they now (2023)?

  • Mike Menza (sax) / 1975-86: Mike and Pat moved to LA and worked as distributors of the LA Weekly. Mike passed away in 2009.
  • Pat Connell (trumpet) / 1975-86: Moved to LA; worked with Mike as distributor of the LA Weekly. They hired musicians and played together as Aureus for a few years. He and Mike also produced, played, and sang on many radio jingles for the Chicago area (Connie and Gary frequently sang on them). He now owns a print distribution company in LA.
  • Mark Ellman (guitar) / 1975-81: Moved back to the Chicago area and worked as an insurance agent. He is retired now and continues playing and singing in local bands.
  • Gary Morgan (trombone) / 1975-86: Moved to CO, then LA; worked at Anheuser Busch. Gary passed away in 2005.
  • Connie Nassios (keyboards) 1975-86: Moved to LA; played keyboards in Exposé and Real McCoy as well as many rehearsal bands; now builds websites and is learning to play the bass.
  • Wes Young (bass) / 1975-82: Moved back to the Chicago area and played with local party bands. He is a now successful software salesman.
  • Mark Anzalone (drums) / 1975-84: Stayed in FL; worked at Herballife.
  • Gary Schmitt (sound) / 1977-84: Left to do sound for José Luis Rodríguez (El Puma).
  • Jim Thomas (sound) / 1984-86
  • Billy Whitman (guitar) / 1981-84: Stayed in FL; is now a retired music teacher; plays and sings in local bands.
  • Matt Bonelli (bass) / 1982-83: Stayed in FL; worked with the BeeGees and others; now a retired music teacher.
  • Vic Koler (bass) / 1983-86: Moved to LA; played in various folk music bands. Vic passed away in 2013.
  • Ken Berry (guitar) / 1984-86: Moved to LA; played guitar 5 years and recorded/produced with Barry Manilow; continues to work as a composer for television; plays in many LA area bands.
  • Tony Lavender (drums) / 1984-86: Stayed in FL; worked as a music teacher. Tony passed away in 2017.

RECORDED AT

  • Universal, Chicago - Les Hooper, producer
  • Streeterville Studios, Chicago
  • Pumpkin Studios, Oak Lawn, IL
  • Smoketree Ranch, Tarzana, CA
  • New River, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • Sunshine Studios, N. Miami (You Don't Know, Love Don't Always Come Easy, Until You Are Mine)
  • Gusman, University of Miami

SELF-RELEASED VINYL RECORDINGS

  • 1978 Album: "Goin’ Up" - recorded at Pumpkin Studios, Gary Loizzo, engineer
  • Single: "You Don’t Know" / "Love Don’t Always Come Easy"
  • Single: "Movin’ Along" / "Breakaway"

CONCERTS

  • Rickover Jr. High School, Sauk Village, IL (5/5/1977)
  • Bloom Trail High School, Sauk Village, IL (6/4/1978)
  • Bloom Trail High School, Sauk Village, IL (4/20/1980)
  • Gusman Hall, Miami; with Kenny Rankin (6/1/1982)
  • Bogey’s North, Miami; with Bobby Caldwell (10/30/1982)
  • Club Heaven, Ft. Lauderdale; with Sister Sledge (11/5-6/1982)
  • Beach concert, Miami; with Dave Mason, Phoebe Snow (7/2/1983)
  • Miami Marine Stadium; with Air Supply and John Ford Coley (8/26/1983)

TV APPEARANCES

  • Jerry Lewis Telethon (Moline, IL), 9/5/1976
  • Georgia On Q (Moline, IL), 1976?
  • Video Music Marathon (Miami), 1983

CHICAGO AREA VENUES

  • Patrick’s Pub (Aurora), 1975-80
  • Allgauer’s (Northbrook), 1977-78
  • Svoboda’s Nickelodeon, 1980
  • Snuggery, 1980-81
  • Haymakers, 1980
  • Sassafras, 1981
  • Charlie Club, 1981

VENUES OUTSIDE OF CHICAGO

Aureus worked almost continuously 1975-1986. In Illinois, we often worked at the Wells Fargo Lounge in Moline. But we criss-crossed the country in a couple of cars and our equipment van to many hotels and clubs: Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn, Rodeway Inn, Marriott, supper clubs, and lounges in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, New York, Mississippi, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia. We also traveled outside the country to Freeport, Bahamas, and to Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto in Canada.