The Amelia Island Jazz Festival began in 2001 when drummer Les DeMerle and his wife, vocalist Bonnie Eisele, fulfilled their lifetime 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. With support from the community and their devoted volunteers and sponsors, the Amelia Island Jazz Festival has grown and thrived.
DeMerle launched his career as drummer for jazz vibraphone great, Lionel Hampton, while still in high school at age 16. He then 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 Manhattan Transfer and appeared with such musical greats as Lou Rawls, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, and Joe Williams. A resident of Amelia Island since 1991, Les continues to perform at concerts, festivals and jazz cruises with his trio, quartet and Dynamic Les DeMerle Big Band Orchestra featuring Bonnie Eisele, which has recorded 14 CDs including their new recording, Hot Night In Venice, an Origin Records release.
Eisele is the featured vocalist with the Dynamic Les DeMerle Band. She has appeared with the band on numerous jazz cruises and at many popular jazz clubs, including Somerset’s in Singapore, The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, City Jazz in Orlando, and Arturo Sandoval’s in Miami. She also has toured the U.S. and Europe with the Chicago Free Street Theater, an original musical theater and dance group. Bonnie’s diverse performing experience includes singing at the Chicago Playboy Club, Chicago Fest, Drury Lane Theater and Miami’s Fontainebleau Resort. She studied music and dance in Brazil on a Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship.
The Amelia Island Jazz Festival provides a rich, diverse cultural offering to the Amelia Island area by exposing thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds to the sounds, excitement and vitality of great jazz. The festival presents world-class jazz in many styles, including swing, bebop, Dixieland, big band, Latin, and contemporary. During the weeklong festival, held in October each year, music is performed by jazz greats as well as fresh, up-and-coming young talent. Performances are staged in several venues around Amelia Island, offering fresh, jazz-centric settings. The goal of the Amelia Island Jazz Festival is to help preserve the American art form, jazz, by increasing the exposure and awareness of the music genre to the general public. This year’s AIJF will be held October 2-9, with many of your favorite jazz artists.
SUPPORTING MUSIC EDUCATION IN NASSAU COUNTY
The Amelia Island Jazz Festival is much more than music. DeMerle and Eisele offer education and scholarship programs to expose young people to the art of jazz, while motivating more students to pursue jazz as a musical endeavor. Featuring workshops led by master musicians for elementary school, middle school, and high school students, more than 2,000 area students attend this program each year.
These educational programs culminate in the Amelia Island Jazz Festival Scholarship, a financial award presented to deserving high school musicians who demonstrate strong potential to perform jazz at the collegiate level. This year’s winner is 18-year-old Cameron DeVane, a gifted saxophone player from Fernandina Beach. A recent graduate from Fernandina Beach High School, DeVane, accepted the award during the AIJF’s Big Band Bash back in February. DeVane sat-in with the Dynamic Les DeMerle Orchestra, featuring vocalist Bonnie Eisele, for a couple of numbers. Says DeMerle, “Cam is a talented young sax player and should have a fine career as a professional musician!”
FREE CONCERT AT THE ATLANTIC REC CENTER ON OCTOBER 2
The Amelia Island Jazz Festival kicks off with a free afternoon “Jazz Party” concert at the Atlantic Recreation Center on Sunday, October 2 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. featuring the University of North Florida 21-piece JE2 Orchestra directed by Dennis Marks. Concert goers are encouraged to enjoy a special Jazz Party lunch prepared by Beyond Horizons’ Chef Courtney Thompson, featuring her delicious B.B. King BarBQ Plates. Wine and other beverages will be available by donation, along with CDs and AIJF merchandise.
On Monday, October 3 at 7 p.m., the festival will present a special evening of jazz hosted by DeMerle and Eisele with special guest pianist/vocalist, Joe Watts, for Bronze Saxophone sponsors of the festival and above. This event is invitation only, and includes music, food, and wine, held at the Courtyard Amelia Island/Springhill Suites. (For sponsorship opportunities, visit www.ameliaislandjazzfestival.com/become-an-aijf-sponsor/)
On Tuesday, October 4, two unique Jazz and Wine Tasting shows will be held, one from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and the other from 7 to 8:30 p.m. These events will feature special wines and a pairing of great jazz for each taste. The description of the wine and jazz compositions being played will complement each sip! This event features multi-instrumentalist Dr. Bill Prince on trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, and flute, plus Doug Matthews on piano, and hosted by AIJF Artistic Director Les DeMerle on drums and vocals. The Jazz and Wine Tasting performances will be held at The Decantery at 117 Centre Street.
JUMP, JIVE, AND WAIL RETURNS TO SADLER RANCH ON OCTOBER 5
On Wednesday, October 5, grab your sweetheart and dance the night away at Jump, Jive, and Wail/Swing Night at Sadler Ranch at 7 p.m. This concert and dance will feature The Dynamic Les DeMerle Little Big Band with Bonnie Eisele, vocals; Jim Malmgren, trumpet; Clarence Hines, trombone; Don Zentz and A.J. McDonell, saxophones; Doug Matthews, piano; Lawrence Buckner, bass; and Les DeMerle, drums.
A full cash bar and food by Beyond Horizons food truck will be available.
And if Latin dance moves are your forte, come back to Sadler Ranch on Thursday, October 6 at 7 p.m. for a special concert and dance featuring Trio Caliente! Trio Caliente unites and inspires audiences around the globe with their inimitable blend of Flamenco, Pop, and Latin dance music. Enjoyed by political luminaries stateside and abroad, notable Fortune 500 companies, and venerated international organizations, festivals and concert venues around the world, Trio Caliente delivers unique sound and style providing an unforgettable experience. Salsa, reggaeton, gypsy rumba, and bossa nova spice up the flavor, while R & B vocals drive home the groove. Sadler Ranch will again be offering a full cash bar and Beyond Horizons food truck will be available.
HEADLINER KEN PEPLOWSKI AT SPRINGHILL SUITES ON OCTOBER 7
On Friday, October 7, the AIJF presents headliner Ken Peplowksi in concert at 7 p.m. in the ballroom at Springhill Suites. A legendary jazz clarinetist and saxophonist, Peplowski is one of the most recorded jazz players to date, with over 50 CDs as soloist and nearly 400 as a featured sideman. He has performed with Charlie Byrd, Mel Tormé, Rosemary Clooney, Hank Jones, Peggy Lee, Bill Charlap, Woody Allen, Benny Goodman and many other legendary musicians.
Based in New York City, Ken travels about half the year playing in clubs, colleges, jazz societies, parties, concert halls and festivals. He is a longtime performer on and consultant to The Jazz Cruise, and in 2013 was elected to the Jazz Cruise Hall of Fame. This concert also features the Les DeMerle Quartet, with Les DeMerle, drums; Mike Levine, piano; Dennis Marks, bass; and Bonnie Eisele, vocals.
For the jazz-loving night owls out there, head over to “Dizzy’s Den” at Mocama Beer Company, 629 South 8th Street, for a Late Night Jam. “This popular event features Janae Yates, the young drummer who was our AIJF 2020 scholarship winner. She will lead the trio at the Jams, and Lawrence Buckner, a seasoned player and jazz educator, will be featured on bass,” says DeMerle.
“Our 2022 scholarship winner, 18-year-old sax player, Cameron DeVane, will host the Jams, that will also feature our 2021 scholarship winner, trumpet player Wyatt Bruno. In addition, you never know who’s going to show up to jam with these talented musicians!” Late Nite Jam is held 10 p.m. to midnight. Every Friday or Saturday headliner ticket holder is invited to the Late Nite Jam on the same night. Tickets to the Jam can also be purchased separately.
HEADLINER JOHN PIZZARELLI TRIO AT SPRINGHILL SUITES ON OCTOBER 8
On Saturday, October 8 at 7 p.m., get wowed by the John Pizzarelli Trio in concert at the Springhill Suites ballroom. Vocalist and guitarist John Pizzarelli’s unpretentious, song-centered approach has earned wide crossover success during a career that includes numerous tribute recordings honoring both jazz and pop artists.
World-renowned guitarist and singer, John Pizzarelli, has been hailed by the Boston Globe for “reinvigorating the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz.” The Toronto Star pegged him as the “genial genius of the guitar.” And the Seattle Times saluted him as “a rare entertainer of the old school.” This concert also features the Les DeMerle Quartet, with Les DeMerle, drums; Mike Levine, piano; Dennis Marks, bass; along with a second Late Nite Jam at Mocama Beer Company at 10 p.m.
And if you can rouse yourself on Sunday morning, October 9, after a whole week of world-class jazz, join DeMerle and Eisele for a Dixieland Jazz Brunch at Springhill Suites. There will be two seatings for this event, one at 10:30 a.m. and another at 1 p.m. A special Jazz Festival menu has been created by Niko, former head chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. This grand finale of the 2022 season will feature The Spare Rib Six: JB Scott, trumpet; Dr. Bill Prince, clarinet; Dave Steinmeyer, trombone; Mike Levine, piano; Dennis Marks, bass; Les DeMerle, drums; and Bonnie Eisele, vocals.
PARK WEST GALLERY ART AUCTION SUPPORTS THE FESTIVAL
The AIJF operates with the donations from corporate and individual sponsors, along with countless volunteers. Since 2014, Park West Gallery, the world’s largest art dealer, has sponsored the festival with an auction, and also provides original art for the Festival’s posters and event brochures.
“Park West Gallery recognized the importance of promoting our Festival,” says DeMerle. “Their generous grants and continuous support help us achieve our mission. This year’s AIJF poster was created by artist Jim Warren, who has painted hundreds of magazine illustrations, movie posters, book covers, and especially album covers for such stars as Alice Cooper, Prince, and Bob Seger, the latter winning a Grammy Award for best album package for the cover of “Against the Wind,” which topped the Billboard 200. And for us this year, our vision of jazz!”
The Amelia Island Jazz Festival has now become a year-round mission for us,” says DeMerle. “With our wide-reaching Jazz in the Schools and Jazz for Seniors programs, our goal is to inspire local citizens of all ages to appreciate the scope and meaning of our American art form, jazz.”
The Amelia Island Jazz Festival would not be possible without the help of volunteers from the community. Volunteers are needed for a wide range of activities, all of which are crucial to the production of a successful Festival. The AIJF is always seeking individuals who possess a variety of talents, skills, and interests. The festival is also seeking corporate and individual sponsors so it may continue to provide world-class jazz to Amelia Island and north Florida, grow its education and senior programs, and expand its scholarship program.
“Jazz greats endorse AIJF!” says DeMerle. “Jazz luminaries Wynton Marsalis and Tony Bennett endorse AIJF, as well as AIJF headliners David Sanborn, Ramsey Lewis, Buckwheat Zydeco, David Benoit, Mindi Abair, Randy Brecker, Kevin Mahogany, Houston Person, Bria Skonberg, Roseanna Vitro, Néstor Torres, Henry Johnson, Requinte Trio with Janis Siegel, Jamil Sharif and Delfeayo Marsalis. This level of talent is what makes the Amelia Island Jazz Festival what it is today. And we’re still growing!”
Tickets and information about Festival events and artists are all available online at www.ameliaislandjazzfestival.com, along with a special Jazz Pass that will get you into all the concerts at a special rate.