by daniel goncalves
Who is Jacksonville’s official band? The St. Johns River City Band. Actually, they’re also the official band for the Sunshine State (that’s Florida for you cocoon dwellers). Their “big band” is pulled from a pool of about 50 professional musicians for their performances.
Diantha Grant, executive director of the band says “the mission of the St. Johns River City Band is to keep jazz and other American music alive through performance and education.” The group is part of the “State Touring Program,” which allows the band to perform for schools and has taken the band to various parts of Florida with it’s Salute to the Big Bands, Yuletide Swing, and other programs. The program is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Some of the band’s gigs include the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and Premier Party, Seawalk Pavilion, Flagler Auditorium, and other venues throughout the State of Florida. The Big Band performs in schools, teaching students about improvisation, jazz, swing, blues, Latin, and other music concepts. On December 19, 2003, the St. Johns River City Big Band performed the closing concert of the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, Illinois.
I was recently invited to join the gang on a trip to Madison, Florida where they played for the North Florida Community College. It was a long drive to and from Madison, which gave me a chance to get to know these fine musicians while they welcomed me into their circle. They truly are a class act. There was bantering and teasing from some of the guys (mostly JB Scott, trumpet) and a sense of friendship in the group. There was a good crowd at NFCC’s Van H. Priest Auditorium and once they got started, they owned the audience. They were swingin’ and jiving! Some of the numbers they played included, Isham Jones’ ‘It had to be you’, Neil Fefti’s ‘ Shiny Stockings,’ and ‘Florida, Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky.’ All were sung by an amazing vocalist, Lisa Kelly.
Music director, and bass trombonist Chris Crewswell says it’s a tight knit group with a lot of history. Chris mentioned that many of the players in the band were his professors in college. After college he ventured out to New York and then Los Angeles. When he moved back to Jacksonville he became a member of the band and when the position opened up for music director, he applied and got it.
The River City Band is celebrating their 25th anniversary in November. What do you do on your birthday? You throw a party. They’re throwing a big one on November 14th under the stars with Taste The Muzyk – Tribute to Lynyrd Skynrd concert and food event. Valerie Segraves of WEJZ is the emcee and featuring entertainment by River City Fusion…and maybe a special guest. The event will be staged at Metropolitan Park’s Pavilion and the band hopes to raise money for their music education outreach. VIP Tickets – $125, General Admission Tickets – $60, Premium Stage Tickets Available – Please call for pricing. Tickets: 390-1999 or rivercityband.com
The band also plans on releasing a 25th anniversary CD. Make sure you come out and celebrate a great accomplishment while dancing under the stars.
jacksonville jazz on the road
by daniel goncalves