“My Big Band, which features some of the finest Jazz musicians and Jazz Educators in the world, is thrilled to be celebrating its 27th anniversary at the Amelia Island Jazz Festival’s seventh annual Valentine’s Day BIG BAND BASH,” said Les DeMerle , the AIJF’s Artistic Director. The popular Dinner/Dance Benefit Gala will be held Saturday, February 17, 2017 from 7:00 – 10:00 PM, in the Amelia Ballroom at the Omni Resorts Amelia Island Plantation. “This aggregation first was formed when the band appeared at the Ritz-Carlton’s Grand Opening 27 years ago. Most of the same musicians are still performing with us and playing better than ever,” he added. The band will swing the classics by Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many more. Veteran members of DeMerle’s Dynamic 17 piece Orchestra include distinctive vocalist Bonnie Eisele, and such accomplished players as multi-instrumentalist and UNF’s Professor Emeritus Bill Prince, Ray Charles alumnus Al Waters and Don Zentz (Director of Jazz Studies at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts), both on saxophones, former Dukes Of Dixieland leader J.B. Scott, trumpet, trombonist and arranger Clarence Hines, piano wizard Doug Matthews, bassist Dennis Marks (Arturo Sandoval), and DeMerle on drums. Through the years this group has played many worldwide gigs together—and locals will recall its strong backing of vocalist Steve March Torme at the 2011 AIJF.
“We’ve prepared some new musical treats and surprises for this year’s event,” said DeMerle, “including a tribute to Benny Goodman led by our superb clarinetist Bill Prince, and a Nat King Cole tribute that will feature Doug Matthews playing and Bonnie singing some Cole classics. We’ll also pay homage to my old boss, bandleader Harry James, for whom I worked 12 years,” DeMerle said. “Come early for cocktails to meet and greet the musicians from 6:30 PM to 7 PM.” The Fernandina Beach HS Rose Saxophone Quartet will entertain arriving patrons prior to the show.
Admission includes a sumptuous gourmet dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and an exquisite silent auction organized by AIJF fundraising chairperson Lynne Ruppel that will present “very beautiful and exciting items to bid on, all donated to the Festival from businesses in our community.” One of the festival’s key sponsors, the Park West Gallery, has donated artwork for the auction as well.
The AIFJ’s BIG BAND BASH, is the festival’s primary fundraiser in support of its Scholarship Awards program. “We now have several scholars in colleges all over the country,” said DeMerle, “and our goal is to keep this critical American art form alive in North Florida. To quote Wynton Marsalis: ‘The Amelia Island Jazz Festival is the real deal because it entertains and educates at the highest level. Keep up your great presentations and keep swingin’!’”
Tickets for the Big Band Bash are priced at $90 per person, and the proceeds will benefit the Amelia Island Jazz Festival Scholarship Program.