Celebrating a native son
Les Brown Festival set for next weekend
S tep aside, Dorsey brothers, for it’s time to pay tribute to another jazz band leader and Schuylkill County native. The 12th annual Les Brown Big Band-Weekend will be held next weekend in the area of Les’ hometown, Tower City, and will be saluting-Dean-Martin and Les’ Band of Renown, said Joel Guldin, Les Brown Big Band Festival Committee chairman.
Theweekend will kick off with the Les Brown Dance from 7 to 10 p. m. April 13 at Tower City American Legion, 2 Clarks Valley Road. The following day The Les Brown Big Band Festival will start at noon, with doors opening at 11: 30 a. m. at Williams Valley High School, 10330 Route 209, Tower City. Then, on April 15, theweekend will culminate with a Celebration of Music service at 3 p. m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 415 E. Grand Ave. Food will be available at both the dance and festival. Tickets for the dance and the festival are $ 10 and are available at the door; students, up to college, can enter the festival for free, Guldin said.
“We’ve done that all these years because we really want to keep it for a younger generation that may not be familiar with big band music,” Guldin said. Abig reason they put on the festival is “not just for the older folks to remember who Les Brown is, but also to educate everybody in the valley to find out who he was, his uniqueness to the valley and also to expose them to that music.”
Exposing them to that music at the dance will be the M & J Big Band, Pottsville, playing standards from the ’ 40s and ’ 50s, aswell as Les’ No. 1 hit, “Sentimental Journey,” which, like the Band of Renown, was popular among military members.
“He ( Les) gained his fame with being Bob Hope’s band, and they went on all the USO tours that Bob did in Korea and Vietnam, so the servicemen knew who he was,” Guldin said.
Special guests include two instrumentalists fromthe time he toured for the troops, Hal Espinosa, former lead trumpeter, and Jack Redmond, former trombonist. Andy DiMino will be in full get- up in order to honor Rat Pack member and the “King of Cool,” Dean Martin. Jasmine Brooks, Channel 21 news anchor, will serve as mistress of ceremonies for the festival, which is set to be a day full of nonstop entertainment.
The festival, which includes entertainers at both themain stage and food court, leads in with a trivia session between students and
former members of the band, and will continue with musicians ranging from area high school bands to America’s Sweethearts, a ladies’ trio based in New York City, playing more jazz standards.
“Between bands, we have times where our emcee will sit down and interview. It gives a little break while bands are setting up behind stage. People like to hear the little reminisces from back then,” Guldin said, adding they could add more insight about who Les was.
“He wasn’t out there as muchas the Dorseys, Duke ( Ellington), Count( Basie) or Glenn Miller. But he was around a lot longer than they were. All of their bands did fold eventually andre organized, but Les’ kept going continuously for about 60,65 years until Les died,” Guldin said. “He was a giant in the big bandfield, although, I think he was kind of underrated. All of the musicians from the band said Les was a very niceguy and treated his band members sowell, which a lot of bigband leaders didn’t. Alot of his guys played with him 30, 40, 50 years.”
Organizers will also set up a Les memorabilia exhibit in the hallway, showing albums, pictures, videos, records and more.
Then, on the day of rest, the non- denominational service will feature Heart& Soul, aswell as organist David Minnich, Les’ cousin.
Despite the amount of effort by both organizers and performers during theweekend, Guldin said none of it could be done without the help of local sponsors.
“Without the area businesses, thiswould not be possible. They’re very generous. The businesses are really the backbone of what keep this festival going.”
Formore information about theweekend, visit www.lesbrownfest.org.
America’s Sweethearts, New York City, will perform as part of the 12th annual Les Brown Big Band Weekend, scheduled for April 13- 15. The festival will begin at noon April 14 at Williams Valley High School, Tower City. Members of the group include, from left, Marissa Miller, Ashleigh Rainey and Bex Odorisio.