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Amelia Islander

Jazz & Blues on Amelia Island

Sep 09, 2014 04:32PM
Fall is a perfect season for music on Amelia Island, with world-class jazz and blues festivals highlighting the calendar. In 1991, jazz artists Les DeMerle and his wife, Bonnie Eisele, moved to Amelia Island when they were invited by The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island to entertain nightly in their Lobby Lounge. They continued making music at festivals, concerts, and clinics throughout the southeast, across the U.S., and around the world on luxury cruise lines. They have recorded 13 CDs together, including their latest release, Feelin’ Good. From a jazz trio to a full, swingin’ 17-piece orchestra, the Dynamic Les DeMerle Band has been jazzin’ up the island for nearly twenty-five years.

In 2001, DeMerle’s longtime dream of creating a jazz festival on Amelia Island became a reality. He and Bonnie produced the festival for three years, then incorporated as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization in 2006. With the help of generous sponsors and volunteers, ten Amelia Island Jazz Festivals have wowed over 9,000 fans at jazz concerts featuring major jazz artists, touched over 3,000 students with band clinics and workshops, and entertained over 2,000 seniors at special jazz presentations. Since 2009, the Festival Board has been excited to present its annual Amelia Island Jazz Festival Scholarships to deserving high school seniors, which assist their study of jazz at the college level.

This October, the 2014 festival with its world-class line-up of performers promises to be as exciting as any jazz festival anywhere. And, to get the season rolling, the Amelia Island Blues Festival, led by festival president Jeff Malone and a dedicated board of directors, kicks off the music in September with another great weekend of soulful blues at Main Beach.

[heading style="subheader"]Les DeMerle Amelia Island Jazz Festival[/heading]

Jazz trumpeter and composer Randy Brecker, a multiple Grammy Award winner, and monster jazz organ player Tony Monaco headline the 2014 Amelia Island Jazz Festival. A hugely successful performer who has sold well over a half million albums as a solo artist, Brecker will be performing a tribute to the Brecker Brothers  in honor of his late brother, Michael, on Saturday, October 18, at the Omni Resort at Amelia Island Plantation. Brecker’s outstanding trumpet and flugelhorn performances have graced hundreds of albums by a wide range of recording artists, from James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, and Parliament Funkadelic to Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, and Jaco Pastorius.

Tony Monaco, who will appear on Friday, October 17 at the Omni, is a leader in the revival of the Hammond B3 organ in jazz. Inspired by the great Jimmy Smith, the critically acclaimed Monaco consistently ranks high among organists in DOWNBEAT Magazine’s Annual Critics Poll. He has released several well-reviewed albums, including his latest, Celebration: Life & Love & Music. He will be performing with his Smokin’ Jazz Quartet and The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band with Bonnie Eisele, as well as special guest saxophonist Hunter Diamond.

Now in its eleventh year, the Amelia Island Jazz Festival’s past headliners have included world-class artists David Sanborn, Ramsey Lewis, Buckwheat Zydeco, Spyro Gyra, and Mindi Abair. According to DeMerle, this year’s lineup will follow in the best of festival traditions. “We are very excited to have Randy, a longtime friend, and Tony this year. Both are highly regarded and among the world’s finest on their respective instruments,” he says. “Fernandina Beach can truly look forward to some spectacular musical fireworks!”

The Amelia Island Jazz Festival runs from October 12 through 19, kicking off with its annual pre-festival free concert in Amelia Park on Sunday, October 12 with U.S. Navy Band Southeast performing from 2 to 4 p.m., with food provided by Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ. A special Amelia Island Jazz Festival Sponsors party on Monday, October 13, will feature The AIJF All-Stars with special guest 2014 Scholarship winner 18-year-old saxophonist Luke Stribling. This event is by invitation only for Bronze Saxophone level and above sponsors.

A Latin Jazz Night showcasing one of the country’s hottest dance groups, El Niño and the Latin Jazz Knights, is scheduled for Thursday, October 16, at Sandy Bottoms. There will also be a wine tasting hosted by Southern Wine and Spirits. Prior to the headliner shows on October 17 and 18, the festival will present saxophonist Luke Stribling and the Next Generation Jazz Band on the Birdland stage at the Omni. The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band, with vocalist Bonnie Eisele and young saxophonist Hunter Diamond, will warm up each headliner show with high-energy sets.

Accomplished and sultry singer Jilla Webb, Jr. will host the fun late-night Jazz Jams, featuring the AIJF’s 2014 musicians, at Dizzy’s Den in the Omni’s Heron Room at Racquet Park following the headliner sets on October 17 and 18. The festival is scheduled to end on a swinging note Sunday, October 19 with a Dixie-to-Swing Jazz Brunch, featuring the Amelia Island Jazz Festival Dixie Swingtet with Dr. Bill Prince on trumpet, sax, clarinet, and flute, Mike Levine, piano, and Dennis Marks, bass, hosted by Les and Bonnie. The Jazz Brunch will be held at David’s Restaurant. Additionally during the week, the AIJF will present a Jazz in the Schools program, plus jazz clinics.

Headliner Randy Brecker is pleased to be part of the festival in 2014. “I heard from my dear friend David Sanborn that this festival was the real deal because its focus is jazz, and the setting on Amelia Island is beautiful,” says Brecker. “I have also known Les DeMerle for over 30 years! We played together in New York in his ground-breaking Sound 67 Band. This weekend will be incredible, and I look forward to performing a special tribute to my late brother, Michael with a set dedicated to the Brecker Brothers Band.”

Tony Monaco is also delighted to be headlining the festival this year. “I can’t wait to play at the Amelia Island Jazz Festival in October,” says Monaco. “This will be so exciting, especially with jazz luminaries like Randy Brecker and Les DeMerle. Man, this is going to be one special weekend of great swingin’ music. I’m going to pull out all the stops and wail!” For more information, contact the Festival Hotline at (904) 504-4772 or visit

[heading style="subheader"]Amelia Island Blues Festival[/heading]

The 2014 Amelia Island Blues Festival, held Friday, September 12  and Saturday, September 13, returns to the ocean breezes of Main Beach this year. “We are very fortunate to have a perfect backdrop of the ocean waves for our festival,” says Jeff Malone, festival president. Since 2010, dedicated organizers and volunteers have brought an excellent end-of-summer music event to Amelia Island that incorporates beach, barbeque, and the blues, and this year’s festival promises to be one the best. Previous year’s headliners included world-renowned artists such as Mud Morganfield, the oldest son of Muddy Waters, along with Shameka Copeland, Anna Popovic, John Nemeth, Albert Castiglia, Zac Harmon, Sean Chambers, Shane Dwight, JP Soars and the Redhots, plus many other talented blues performers.

The Amelia Island Blues Festival Committee and Board of Directors, which includes Tom Keenan, Jim Weinser, Chief Jim Hurley, Han Ramakers, Ric McGuire, and Colson Hillier, along with Malone, all shared the common goal of creating a world-class blues event on Amelia Island. “In our fourth year, we all do it for the love of the blues,” says Malone. “And with the continued support of our sponsors, including Rock-Tenn and Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ, we love promoting Amelia Island through this great music.”

Four award-winning artists are set to headline this year’s festival, including Curtis Salgado. Salgado, winner of the 2010 Blues Music Award, effortlessly mixes blues, funk, and R&B with a delivery that is raw and heartfelt, which inspired his friend John Belushi to create the Blues Brothers. Chicago Blues legend, Grammy Award nominee, and Blues Music Award nominee John Primer is one of the finest performers of Chicago Blues today. Samantha Fish won her 2012 Blues Music Award for “Best New Artist Debut” for her album, “Runaway,” and her new CD, “Black Wind Howlin’,” will be released two days before the festival. Bernard Allison’s acclaimed career has included decades of performing the blues, toting the same smokin’ six-string shooter as his late father, blues legend Luther Allison. Matthew Curry is a young blues guitar prodigy coming to the stage this year. “We are very excited to have such fine blues musicians at our festival this year,” says Malone. “What a great line-up we have!”

On day one, Friday, Sept 12, the gates will open at 5:30 p.m., with the music beginning at 6 p.m., featuring Fernandina Beach’s very own “Blues in School” Band with band leaders Johnny Robinson, and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson. From 6:30 to 8 p.m., The Mojo Roots, performers at the 2013 Chicago Blues Festival, will take the stage. Their brand of soul-soaked blues is captivating audiences in their home state of Missouri and beyond.

On day two, Saturday, September 13, the gates open at 11:30 a.m. with musical performances from 12:15 to 8 p.m. Ben Prestage is returning to the festival this year to perform throughout the day. Blues guitar prodigy Matthew Curry, along with Bernard Allison, Samantha Fish, John Primer, and Curtis Salgado, will headline the second day of the festival.

The two-day general admission tickets are $25 in advance, and $30 at the gate. Two-day VIP tickets are also available for $75, and include VIP seating, a festival  tee shirt, hospitality tent VIP access, food and beverage VIP access, and dining tent VIP access, shared with the festival artists. Single day tickets are also available. Premium festival parking is available, with proceeds benefiting the Barnabas Food Pantry and the Fernandina Beach High School Girls Soccer Team. Since the event is partnering again this year with the Barnabas Food Pantry, be sure to bring a food donation on Friday and receive $5 off the gate ticket price. On Saturday, with your food donation, receive a raffle ticket with a chance to win an artist-signed guitar. For more information, visit