Amelia Island Jazz Festival

With headliners The Manhattan Transfer and the Tierney Sutton Band, the Amelia Island Jazz Festival marks its 20th anniversary year with another exciting week of concerts.

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 a variety of styles, including swing, bebop, Dixieland, big band, Latin, and contemporary.

During the week-long festival, music is performed by jazz greats as well as up-and-coming young talent. Performances are staged in several venues around Amelia Island, offering 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 to the public. This year’s festival will be held from October 1 through October 8, with concerts featuring many of your favorite jazz artists!

The Amelia Island Jazz Festival began in 2001 when drummer Les DeMerle and his wife, vocalist Bonnie Eisele, fulfilled their 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 festival has grown and thrived.

DeMerle launched his career as drummer with 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 The Manhattan Transfer and appeared with such musical greats as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., 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, on Origin Records.

Eisele is the featured vocalist with the Dynamic Les DeMerle Band. She has appeared on numerous jazz cruises and at many popular jazz clubs, including Somerset’s in Singapore, City Jazz in Orlando, The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, The Venice Jazz Club 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. 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 is much more than music. Through the festival, 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 programs culminate in the Amelia Island Jazz Festival Scholarship, a financial award presented to deserving high school musicians.

This year’s winner is 18-year-old trumpet player, Giovanni Martinez, a senior at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Martinez picked up the trumpet nine years ago, after being informed that his great uncle, Miguel Martinez was “The Father of the Mariachi Trumpet.” Since then, Martinez has incorporated many genres into his musical language, predominantly developing his musicianship in the jazz domain. Martinez will attend the Manhattan School of Music this fall and will be featured in the Late Nite Jams following the headliners on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Amelia Island Jazz Festival kicks off with a free afternoon concert at the Atlantic Recreation Center on Sunday, October 1 from noon to 2 p.m., featuring the University of North Florida’s 21-piece JE2 Orchestra directed by Dennis Marks. Concertgoers are encouraged to enjoy a special Jazz Fest lunch prepared by Beyond Horizons’ Chef Courtney Thompson. CDs and AIJF merchandise will be available.

Also on Sunday, October 1, the AIJF will present two unique Jazz and Wine Tasting shows at The Decantery, located at 117 Centre Street, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and from 7 to 8:30 p.m. These events will feature special wines and a pairing of great jazz for each taste. A 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.

On Monday, October 2, the festival presents a Sponsor Party, by invitation only, for Bronze Saxophone Sponsors and above at The Courtyard by Marriott/Springhill Suites, with an evening of jazz, food, and wine at 7 p.m., hosted by DeMerle and Eisele with special guest pianist/vocalist Joe Watts, former musical director for Mary J. Blige. (For sponsorship opportunities, visit

If you love Latin music, come to Sadler Ranch on Tuesday, October 3 at 7 p.m. for an exciting concert and dance featuring LPT, with its 10-piece Salsa Orchestra. LPT delivers salsa music with high-energy live shows. Formed in 2015, the crew realized that playing salsa music was a way to share the diversity of the area with a new, young audience, while still giving the seasoned salsa veterans a taste of that old school. LPT is becoming the new ambassadors of salsa music in the Southeast! A full cash bar and food by Beyond Horizons food truck will be available.

On Wednesday, October 4, 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, Rob Chapman and A.J. McDonell, saxophones, Doug Matthews, piano, Dennis Marks, bass, and Les DeMerle, drums. A full cash bar and food by Beyond Horizons food truck will be available.

On Thursday, October 5 at 7 p.m., the Amelia Island Jazz Festival is excited to present featured headliner, The Manhattan Transfer. Celebrating their 50th anniversary, The Manhattan Transfer continues to set the standard as one of the world’s greatest and most innovative vocal groups.

Winners of ten Grammy Awards, with millions of records sold worldwide, this amazing quartet is building upon the extraordinary legacy created by founder Tim Hauser, who organized the four-part harmony group along with Janis Siegel (alto), Alan Paul (tenor), and Laurel Masse (soprano) on October 1, 1972. Cheryl Bentyne (soprano) replaced Masse in 1979, and Trist Curless (bass) replaced Tim Hauser following his passing on October 16, 2014.

The opening act for this show features Les DeMerle Sound 67 with Bonnie Eisele. They will be performing a selection of music from DeMerle’s newly released CD, Once in a Lifetime, a rare lost work that was recorded by Atlantic Records in 1967. The concert will be held at First Baptist Church at 1600 South 8th Street.

On Friday, Octoer 6, the AIJF presents legendary jazz flautist Néstor Torres in concert at Courtyard Amelia Island/Springhill Suites by Marriott at 7 p.m. Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Torres moved to New York City where he pursued classical flute studies at Mannes School of Music, jazz at Berklee College of Music, and classical and jazz at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

During that time, he also learned to improvise in the ‘Charanga’ Cuban dance music style, which helped shape and develop Néstor’s melodic and danceable sound. This concert also features the Les DeMerle Jazz Quartet with Les DeMerle, drums, Mike Levine, piano, Dennis Marks, bass, Bonnie Eisele, vocals, plus special guest Doc Handy, percussion.

For jazz-loving night owls, head over to “Dizzy’s Den” at Mocama Beer Company, 629 South 8th Street, for a Late Nite Jam after the concert from 10 p.m. to midnight. Every Friday or Saturday headliner ticket holder is invited to the Late Nite Jam on the same evening. Tickets to the Jam can also be purchased separately. Visit the AIJF website for more details.

On Saturday, October 7 at 7 p.m., be prepared to be wowed by the Tierney Sutton Band at Courtyard Amelia Island/Springhill Suites by Marriott. Since 1993, the 9-time Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, Tierney Sutton, has fronted The Tierney Sutton Band, which has featured instrumental virtuosos Christian Jacob, Trey Henry, Kevin Axt, and Ray Brinker, functioning as true collaborative partners in business as well as music.

Known especially for their imaginative and groundbreaking treatments of well-known songs, they received a Grammy nomination for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals,” the first band ever to receive this honor. This concert also features the Les DeMerle Quartet, with Les DeMerle, drums, Mike Levine, piano, Dennis Marks, bass, special guest Longineu Parsons, trumpet/vocals, along with a second Late Nite Jam at Mocama Beer Company at 10 p.m.

And on Sunday morning, October 8, after a whole week of world-class jazz, join DeMerle and Eisele for the Grand Finale of the 2023 Amelia Island Jazz Festival, the popular Dixie to Swing Jazz Brunch at Springhill Suites, offering a special N’Awlins jazz menu prepared by Niko, former head chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. There will be two seatings for this event, one at 10:30 a.m. and another at 1 p.m. featuring The Spare Rib Six Dixieland All-Stars: Longineu Parsons trumpet, Dr. Bill Prince, clarinet, Cameron Strine, trombone, Mike Levine, piano, Dennis Marks, bass, Les DeMerle, drums, and Bonnie Eisele, vocals. In previous years, some headliners have joined in at this event. You never know who’s going to show up! 

The AIJF is thankful for 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 auctions, and also provides original art annually 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 Mark Kostabi, unquestionably one of the most recognizable icons to emerge from New York’s legendary 1980s East Village art scene. A contemporary of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kostabi invented a wholly unique art style that has resonated with audiences around the globe. Kostabi is also a jazz pianist and holds a special place in his heart for jazz music.”

“The Amelia Island Jazz Festival has now become a year-round mission for us,” adds DeMerle. “With our wide-reaching programs Jazz in the Schools and Jazz for Seniors, 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 like Wynton Marsalis endorse AIJF, as well as our former headliners David Sanborn, Ramsey Lewis, Buckwheat Zydeco, David Benoit, Mindi Abair, Randy Brecker, Kevin Mahogany, Houston Person, Delfeayo Marsalis, and many more! 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, along with a special Jazz Pass offering for all the concerts at a special rate.