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Amelia Islander

2018 Amelia Island Jazz Festival

Sep 04, 2018 12:59PM
It’s hard to believe that the Amelia Island Jazz Festival is celebrating its 15th year of bringing world-class jazz to Amelia Island! Seems like just yesterday the likes of David Sanborn, Ramsey Lewis, David Benoit, Spyro Gyra, Larry Coryell, Randy Brecker, and Richie Cole were “bringing down the house” in venues throughout the island. In just 15 years, the AIJF has brought thousands of jazz-lovers and jazz musicians together to form partnerships and friendships, benefitting from the vision and energy of a veteran jazz professional who gives the Festival a rich heritage – legendary drummer and Artistic Director Les DeMerle.

DeMerle and his wife and vocalist, Bonnie Eisele, had a longtime dream of creating a diversified jazz festival on Amelia Island. The couple produced the festival for three years prior to its incorporation as a non-profit 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. Since then, with the help of generous sponsors and hardworking volunteers, the Amelia Island Jazz Festival has grown into a spectacular event which attracts major jazz artists and attendees from across the country.

DeMerle toured for 12 years with jazz trumpet master Harry James and recorded three albums with him, including the Grammy Award-winning King James Version. DeMerle’s own jazz/rock/fusion band, Transfusion, recorded five award-winning LPs. He has toured with the Manhattan Transfer and appeared with such musical greats as Lou Rawls, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, and Joe Williams.

Eisele has appeared at many popular jazz clubs, including Somerset’s in Singapore, City Jazz in Orlando, The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, and Arturo Sandoval’s in Miami. She has also toured the U.S. and Europe with the Chicago Free Street Theater, an original musical theater and dance group. Eisele’s diverse performing experience includes singing at the Chicago Playboy Club, Chicago Fest, Drury Lane Theater, and Miami’s Fontainebleau Resort. Eisele and DeMerle perform many styles of jazz ranging from swing and standard ballads, blues, Latin, rhythm and blues, Cajun grooves, Broadway show favorites, and more, performing in various sizes ranging from a trio to a full seventeen-piece big band.

[heading style="subheader"]AMELIA ISLAND JAZZ FESTIVAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS[/heading] The cornerstone of the Amelia Island Jazz Festival is its educational programs; led by DeMerle, the Festival seeks to enrich minds with the sounds, excitement and vitality of jazz. “Jazz in the Schools” was designed to expose young people to the art of jazz, while motivating students to pursue jazz as a musical endeavor. Featuring workshops led by master musicians for grade school, middle school, and high school students, more than 2,000 area students attend this program each year. Each year, since 2009, the Festival’s educational programs culminate in the Amelia Island Jazz Scholarship.

This scholarship is awarded on an annual basis to a graduating high school senior. The scholarship is used toward college expenses necessary to earn a major or minor in music in the area of jazz performance or a related area. It is the desire of the Jazz Festival board to help preserve jazz, the all-American art form, by helping young, talented artists who are pursuing their dream of becoming jazz musicians. This year’s winner, saxophonist David Truilo, will be performing at the Festival in October. Truilo was a member of the Stanford Jazz Institute in 2017, where he learned from luminaries such as Ravi Coltrane, Anat Cohen, and Kendrick Scott. He was also one of a select group of musicians selected for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Summer Jazz Academy in 2018. For his undergraduate degree, David is attending The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City.

In addition, DeMerle, Eisele, and special guests perform a special Jazz for Seniors concert at Savannah Grand of Amelia Island. DeMerle also holds a drum camp for children during the summer months, and presents jazz talks and other special events throughout the island promoting the Festival, along with the history and joy of this uniquely American music.

[heading style="subheader"]JAZZ IN THE PARK KICK-OFF CONCERT[/heading] The Festival kicks off on Sunday, October 7 with a free community concert at Amelia Park with the exciting Florida State University Jazz Ensemble 1, directed by Leon Anderson and featuring the FSU Jazz Faculty. This nationally acclaimed, 21-member orchestra from Tallahassee performs in both on- and off-campus concerts around the state in a variety of traditional and modern jazz styles. The family-friendly concert will be held at 2 p.m. Barbeque from Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen and beverages are available for sale, along with AIJF merchandise, so bring your own lawn chairs and enjoy!

If you’re not yet a Sponsor of the Amelia Island Jazz Festival, it’s not too late to become one. As a Bronze Saxophone Sponsor ($250) or above, you will receive a special invitation to the Jazz Sponsor Party, an exceptional evening of jazz hosted by Les DeMerle and Bonnie Eisele, along with special guests. The party is held at Horizons Restaurant, 5472 First Coast Highway, from 7 to 9 p.m., and includes wine, hors d’oeuvres, and jazz by several of the Festival’s featured musicians, plus surprise guests. Many other sponsorship opportunities are available. Visit their website for details.

[heading style="subheader"]WINE TASTING AND JAZZ AT AMELIA ISLAND WINE COMPANY[/heading] On Tuesday, October 9 from 6 to 8 p.m., Amelia Island Wine Company, 4924 First Coast Highway, is hosting a special Jazz and Wine Tasting event featuring six unique wines with a pairing of jazz for each taste. The performance presents multi-instrumentalist Dr. Bill Prince, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, and flute, with Doug Matthews, piano, and Les DeMerle, drums.

Prince, a professor emeritus at the University of North Florida, has performed with numerous bands and orchestras, including Buddy Rich, Billy Maxted, Pee Wee Hunt, the NORAD Band, the Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and Jacksonville Symphonies, and the American Wind Symphony Orchestra. Matthews has performed with Louie Bellson, Randy Brecker, Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, James Moody, Percy Sledge, and the Dynamic Les DeMerle Big Band. He is an active composer and arranger, and several of his compositions and arrangements have been recorded by various artists.

[heading style="subheader"]SWING NIGHT AT SANDBAR & KITCHEN[/heading] “Papa’s in the icebox lookin’ for a can of ale, Mama’s in the backyard, learning how to jive an’ wail!” If you’re looking for a can of ale and a place to swing, come on down to the Sandbar & Kitchen, 2910 Atlantic Avenue, on October 10 at 7 p.m. for a very special concert and dance featuring The Dynamic Les DeMerle Little Big Band with Bonnie Eisele, vocals, Steve Strawley, trumpet, Clarence Hines, trombone, Al Waters, saxophone, Doug Matthews, piano, Ernie Ealum, bass, and Les DeMerle, drums.

Swing dance developed with the swing style of jazz music in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, and its music features a strong groove and rhythmic innovations. DeMerle’s tight horn section, featuring former Ray Charles sax man Al Waters, turns up the heat while Bonnie Eisele’s vocals soar. You won’t want to miss a beat of Jump, Jive and Wail, so be sure to bring your sweetheart and dance the night away! Food and beverages will be available for sale.

[heading style="subheader"]HOT LATIN JAZZ NIGHT SWING NIGHT AT SANDBAR & KITCHEN [/heading] On October 11 at 7 p.m., El Niño & the Latin Jazz Knights bring you a night of Hot Latin Jazz at the Sandbar & Kitchen, 2910 Atlantic Avenue. Percussionist and band leader Gil “El Niño” Garcia began playing bongos and congas at the age of 11 and is mostly self-taught. His six piece outfit from Tampa, which also includes players from Gloria Estefan’s band, has become one of the most popular Latin-oriented groups in the state.

With the influence of salsa greats like Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, and Ray Barretto, you’ll get an idea of the kind of soulful energy in store for Latin night. They make it a point to keep everyone dancing and the toes a-tapping! Food and beverages will be available for sale.

[heading style="subheader"]HEADLINER HENRY JOHNSON AT FERNANDINA BEACH GOLF CLUB[/heading] On Friday, October 12 at 7 p.m. the Amelia Island Jazz Festival brings you the great jazz guitarist/vocalist Henry Johnson, headlining the show at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club, 2800 Bill Melton Road. Johnson’s musical roots run deep into gospel, blues, and jazz; his strongest and earliest influences were Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and most significantly, Wes Montgomery. While influenced by these acclaimed guitarists, Johnson also cites the music of Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, big bands, and jazz orchestras as integral forces which shaped his sound and style.

The evening also features the Les DeMerle Quartet with Mike Levine, piano, Dennis Marks, bass, and Bonnie Eisele, vocals. Friday night ticket-holders are also invited to join the musicians for a Late Night Jam at Dizzy’s Den, upstairs at Sliders Beach Bar & Grill, 1998 South Fletcher Avenue, at 10 p.m. And if you can’t make it to the Henry Johnson concert, tickets to the Jam can be purchased separately. Late Night Jams are held both Friday and Saturday night after the headliners’ concerts, and feature the music of David Truilo of Ormond Beach, the AIJF’s 2018 Scholarship winner, along with numerous special guests. “We always look forward to the late night jams where anything can happen, and it does,” says DeMerle. “Last year’s headliners, Nestor Torres and Roseanna Vitro, both joined in the Jam with all the players, and I know David Truilo will blow everyone away with his passionate playing!”

[heading style="subheader"]HEADLINER REQUINTE TRIO AT FERNANDINA BEACH GOLF CLUB[/heading] On Saturday, October 13 at 7 p.m., enjoy contemporary Brazilian jazz at its finest with headliner Brazilian jazz project Requinte Trio at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club. Requinte Trio features pianist/arranger John diMartino and percussionist/singer/guitarist Nanny Assis, plus Janis Siegel, lead singer and 9-time Grammy Award winner with the Manhattan Transfer.

Siegel has sustained a solo career that has spawned almost a dozen finely-crafted solo albums and numerous collaborative projects, amassed a large international fan base, and garnered consistently high critical praise. Joining with diMartino and Assis, Requinte Trio’s first CD, Honey & Air, has garnered much critical and popular acclaim. They have played in London with Brazilians greats João Donato and the guitar wiz Diego Figueiredo. Critics have hailed this group as “the hottest Brazilian band on the planet.” After the concert, stop by Dizzy’s Den at 10 p.m. for another Late Nite Jam – you never know who will show up to play!

[heading style="subheader"]SUNDAY JAZZ BRUNCH AT HORIZONS RESTAURANT[/heading] Don’t plan to sleep in on Sunday, October 14, because there’s more jazz on the way at Horizons Restaurant. If the bone-tired jazz musicians of the AIJF can keep it coming, so can you! The grand finale of the 2018 Jazz Festival is the popular Nawlin’s Dixieland Jazz Brunch offering a special Jazz Festival menu with two seatings at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. featuring The Spare Rib Six Dixieland All-Stars.

Musicians include JB Scott, trumpet, former leader of the Dukes of Dixieland, Dr. Bill Prince, clarinet, Dave Steinmeyer, trombone, former leader of the US Air Force Band, the Airmen of Note, Mike Levine, piano, Miami band leader and recording artist, Dennis Marks, bass, Les DeMerle, drums, and Bonnie Eisele, vocals, along with special guests. Chef Courtney’s special Jazz Festival New Orleans menu and the vibe of the music make this a real party celebration, culminating with a second-ljne Mardi Gras Parade to “Didn’t He Ramble” and “The Saints go Marching In” as a grand finale.

[heading style="subheader"]PARK WEST GALLERY RAISES $7,000 FOR SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM[/heading] When Park West Gallery teams up with its artists for a good cause, they make great music together. Park West helped raise $7,000 for the Amelia Island Jazz Festival’s music scholarship program during the festival’s 7th annual Big Band Bash Gala on February 17 with an art auction.

“We feel so truly blessed to have Park West Gallery’s title sponsorship of the Amelia Island Jazz Festival for several years,” says DeMerle. “The auction isn’t Park West’s only connection to the festival, though. We also selected artist Scott Jacobs to create the artwork for the 2018 Festival. Jacobs is the first-ever officially licensed artist by Harley-Davidson and is renowned for his photorealistic paintings of motorcycles, flowers, and wine.”

“I was very honored that the Amelia Island Jazz Festival would think of me to do it,” Jacobs says. “I love doing special event pieces because it’s something out of the norm of what I do every day.” Jacobs said his vision for the upcoming Festival’s artwork is a still life of jazz instruments, such as drums, saxophones, and trumpets. Jacobs spends 150 to 700 hours creating one of his works of art, and his stellar artwork will appear on the 2018 AIJF’s materials, such as the program, posters, and shirts.

[heading style="subheader"]GET YOUR TICKETS TODAY![/heading] The Amelia Island Jazz Festival is dedicated to building upon this rich cultural foundation by exposing thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds to the sounds, excitement, and vitality of great jazz! Tickets are available online at or by calling the Jazz Hotline at (904) 504-4772. You may also purchase a Jazz Pass, which will get you tickets to all the concerts at a significant discount. Volunteers and sponsorships are also needed.