In the early 1960s when Amelia Island resident Les DeMerle’s dad took him to see Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton and other musical greats at New York City’s Metropole Cafe, the corner of Manhattan’s 48th Street and Broadway, those visits were major factor’s in the then young teenager’s decision to made music a career.
Even though Les’s dad wasn’t a musician he was impressed with his son’s drumming skills as well as a huge music fan, and encouraged the teenager, even having the chutzpah to ask Hampton, the famed jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor to let his kid to sit in on a set one evening in 1963.
As the night wore on Les fell asleep with his head resting on dad’s shoulder and was shaken awake at 3 a.m. when Hampton agreed inviting the young drummer on stage to perform “How High the Moon”, the last tune of the evening with his group.
The now wide-wake aspiring drummer’s performance impressed the famed band leader enough for him to later ask dad for their phone number saying: “In case I need someone to fill in on drums for the band.”
From those evenings at the Metropole, more than 50 years ago, Les progressed to playing with a number of other popular musicians including 12 years with Harry James who hired him to replace Buddy Rich (Yes, Buddy Rich!) ; Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gene Krupa, Wayne Newton, The Manhattan Transfer, among others; produced 14 albums; formed his own 17-piece band; appeared on a variety of national TV shows including Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas; married singer Bonnie Eisele; authored two educational drum books; leads his band on cruise ships; lectures on jazz; teaches music; and is founder and artistic director of one of Amelia Island’s three major annual events — the Amelia Island Jazz Festival.
Following the death of Harry James Les received a call from Wayne Newton inviting him to go on the road with him. He accepted and while doing a show near Chicago, a singer who was performing in Chicago’s Playboy Club was recommended to him and that’s when he met future wife Bonnie Eisele, who he first heard as she sang the Stevie Wonder hit “My Cherie Amor.” They were married 18 months later.
Les and Bonnie moved to Amelia Island in 1991 where they performed at the Ritz-Carlton grand opening and have lived here ever since, when not on tour. For more information on Les and Bonnie go to http://www.LesDeMerle.com.
The Big Three annual island events that attract people from all over the globe are the March 8-11 Concours d’Elegance car show; the May 4-6 Shrimp Festival, and the upcoming October 8-15 Jazz Festival.
Although the 16-year-old Amelia Island Jazz Festival hasn’t hit the international popularity heights of the legendary 63-year-old Newport, RI Jazz Festival, it isn’t far behind as Les is inundated with groups that want to perform during the event and attendance figures grow annually. With the talented and ambitious local drummer’s efforts the two may soon be mentioned in the same breath, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see CD’s labeled “Recorded Live at the Amelia Island Jazz Festival” sold on Amazon soon.
This year’s festival kicks off with a free concert in the park at Amelia Park, October 8, 2-4 p.m. that will include a 21 piece University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble II and a special that Les calls “Rim Shots”, featuring six drummers ages 12-60. Les boasts that the UNF School of Music is one of the best in the world.
This year’s lineup includes jazz stars such as recording artist Rosanna Vitro, who toured with Lionel Hampton among others, who will bring her free spirited spontaneity and scat improvisations for her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald performance October 13, 7-10 pm at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club; Grammy Award winning Jazz flautist Nestor Torres, who has produced some 15 albums and played before such international celebrities as the Dalai Lama, will perform at the golf club October 14, 7-10 p.m. Trio Caliente, a fiery Washington D.C. based Latin group that has performed for several US Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, senators and dignitaries here and abroad, will appear at Main Beach’s Sandbar & Kitchen October 12, 7-10.
And of course the Les DeMerle Band with wife songstress Bonnie Eisele Band will perform October 9 at Horizons Restaurant, 7-9 p.m., October 10 at the Amelia Island Wine Company, 5-7 p.m., October 11, at Sandbar 7-10 p.m.
There are a number of other events and venues featuring these groups among others and a full schedule, biographical information, prices, ticket information and event descriptions which can be found by going to www.ameliaislandjazzfestival.com. Tickets and schedules can also be purchased at the UPS Store at the Island Walk Shopping Center, 1417 Sadler road and the Amelia Island Convention & Visitor Bureau, 102 Centre Street. Or call the Jazz Hotline 904/277-0717.
Carol “Mom” Voorhees: One of Amelia Island’s most genteel and revered residents, Carol Voorhees (73), passed away unexpectedly Friday, September 15.
Carol, who was affectionately dubbed “Mom” by islanders who were acquainted with her, no matter their age or relationship, was an extraordinary lady that I never once heard spout a negative word about another person, a rare quality indeed.
Perched behind her desk on Thursdays at son Pajamadave Voorhees’ South 2nd Street’s downtown Pajama Life shop, or at the island’s Nassau Health Foods Store, Carol could brighten the mood of even the most sullen shopper. Locals stopped by just to say “Hi” and be cheered by this jovial, no-nonsense lady with a bright smile, a hearty laugh and a sincere and inspiring comment. Nobody went friendless or without a smile that met Carol Voorhees, the Aunt Bea of Fernandina Beach.
Born in Camden, New Jersey to Monroe and Minerva Cooper, December 22, 1943, Carol was married for 39 years to Joseph E. Voorhees, Jr., who died in 2008. Following her husband’s death she retired from her job managing the Douglas, GA Golf & Country Club restaurant and kitchen and moved to Fernandina.
While living in Tunkhannock, PA, Carol owned and operated the Sugar Hallow Diner for 10 years, an eatery that became locally renown for her “chicken and biscuits with gravy” specialty. The diner employed various Voorhees family members and according to them this mild-mannered but exacting woman had little tolerance for slackers and ran a tight ship, insisting on perfection in both the kitchen and the dining room. Family members were offered no slack and were dismissed for repeated blunders and rehired when she felt they had learned their lesson, including youngest son and island resident David “Pajamadave” Voorhees.
One evening over a beer at The Crab Trap, Carol (aka Mom) told me that her perpetually pajama-clad, bearded and pony-tailed son, Dave, was a senior class notable at Tunkhannock High School, voted “Best Dressed,” a comment that she knew would initiate beer to shoot out of my nose. And it did.
Carol is survived by six children: Thomas of Lake Winola, PA; Randall and wife Ruth of Lake Winola, PA; Edward and wife Shellie of Douglas, GA: Carolann and husband Chuck of Tunkhannock, PA; Michael and wife Amy of Clarks Summit, PA; David and fiancé Zan Maddox of Fernandina Beach, Fl. Son, Joseph E. Voorhees III, passed away just three weeks ago. She is also survived by fourteen grandchildren: Elizabeth, Joey, Tommy, Randy, William, Jacob, Jett Patrick, Jeffrey, Sara, Will, Tori, Nick, Madison, and Logan; and five great grandchildren, Austin, Logan, Ava, Reid, and Persephone.
The family and friends held a private service aboard one of the Amelia River Cruise boats followed by a public reception at PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden this past Monday evening, an event that had people spilling out onto the street.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested that any donations be made to the Nassau Humane Society in Carol’s name.
She will be missed by many, but for those that knew her, we will always carry fond memories of this kind and gentle lady.
Help Wanted: Fernandina Beach-based Barnabas is seeking volunteers to help distribute food and drinks to those still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irma in the Callahan area of Nassau County. Communications Director Jeff McDowell tells me there’s no heavy lifting involved, just handling out cold and frozen food packets and tearing down boxes. If you want to help and have time to spare on September. 25, October 2, 9 or 23 call Lynne Starling at 904/261-7000 ext. 118. She’ll explain what’s needed and what to do. You’ll be doing better than the government as according to USA Today, faith-based groups have outdone FEMA and provided the vast majority of the relief aid to victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. They are responsible for providing nearly 80 percent of the aid delivered thus far to communities devastated by the recent hurricanes. So what you do really helps.
Eerie Irma: Following Hurricane Irma Island resident, Drake Bordnick, was searching for shells on the north end of Amelia Island when he found the life preserver, pictured at right, washed up on the beach. He contacted the Fernandina Police who he says retrieved it, and says they claim it may have come from a Viação Aérea São Paulo S/A or VASP Brazilian airliner that possibly crashed in the South Atlantic in the early 1980s. VASP, which was founded in Brazil in 1933, ceased operations in 2005. Who knows?
Senator Scott? Governor Rick Scott looked presidential and more senatorial that the state’s two current senators during Hurricane Irma. I obtained more information from Governor Scott’s almost daily press conferences and briefings as he crisscrossed the state, than from any other source, particularly the panicked and erroneous crap posted on Facebook, by folks with keyboards and the IQ of a barrel of hair.
Hurricane Forecasters: “Precision still lacks in weather forecasts, despite better advance warnings. Modeling the path of Hurricane Irma caused real and hazardous consequences for millions of people in Georgia and Florida. As Douglas MacKinnon writes for FEE, ‘First, they had it going to the east coast of Florida. Then just off the east coast. Then more to the middle of the state. Then the exact middle of Florida. Then more to the west. Then directly over the west coast of Florida. Are you kidding me? Just admit you don’t know what you are talking about and be done with it.’ ” — Source: Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
Interesting Sports Quote: When former American League baseball umpire Ken Kaiser, who died last week, was challenged to a fight by Baltimore Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray for ejecting him from a game, Kaiser agreed telling Murray: “Eddie, you can even bring your bat with you. The way you’re swinging this year, you couldn’t hit me with it anyway.”
Good News & Stupid News Department: A new U.S. Census Bureau report says that U.S. medium income increased 3.2 percent raising 2.5 million folks out of poverty with minorities hauling in the largest gains with blacks and Hispanics climbing 5.7% and 4.3% respectively. Millions of middle income folks are also moving into higher income brackets the report says.
More people have jobs, incomes are rising, the stock market is up 4,000 points since the election, and prices for goods and services remain stable except in one area — higher education.
Why are the media ignoring the fact that tuition, room and board, books, etc. at colleges and universities around the country are soaring, forcing students to pay more and more for less and less and graduate saddled with unimaginable debt and worthless degrees. College costs may be the fastest rising of any service in the country. If gasoline or food were increasing comparably it would be front page news on a daily basis.
In most cases the students are their own worst enemies. For example at Berkeley, which already has an operating deficit, it cost $600,000 to provide adequate security for conservative speaker Ben Shapiro last week. These costs will continue as students and misguided faculty call for protests, violence, and boycotts against free speech. The schools then spend extravagantly, not only on security, but on mental health support and counseling services for students in order to “protect” them from a talk nobody is required listen to or attend, while ignoring students who may actually have genuine mental health problems.
These people are so dim they don’t realize that their destructive and shameful acts are not only putting them in the “Rioting With Idiots” spotlight, but the costs for their preposterous mental health sessions, safe places and security are raising their own tuition, not to mention the damage done to the institution’s reputation. Stocking “safe places” with crayons, coloring books, Play Doh, and kitten and puppy videos isn’t cheap when purchased by the thousands for these immature snowflakes.
The situation on campus has become so absurd administrators and faculty should never be gifted with tax payer money, much less trusted to educate our children. They shouldn’t even be allowed to own pets.
Speaking Of Stupid & Shameful: “The Week” magazine reports that a newsletter posted at the University of Colorado calls for a nationwide ban on veterans as students, claiming the military is a “white supremacist organization.” The authors assert that veterans have been “permanently tainted” by military culture, causing many students to be “frightened” by their presence. Veterans should be restricted to trade schools it says so colleges will feel “safe.” Do you as a parent feel your kids are “safe” in the hands of loons like this that run these schools? I went back to college using the GI Bill in the 1960s following my military service, and if I scared anyone there or made them feel unsafe it was never mentioned to me, and this was during the Vietnam War protesting period. Why are parents sending their kids to these asylums?
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: There has been a change in the kitchen at the recently opened Sandbar & Kitchen at Main Beach and as a result folks can now order crab cakes, conch fritters, grouper bites, Buffalo , barbeque and dry rub dragon wings and more, very tasty servings that I can attest will prove extremely popular. There’ll be more to come I’m sure. I can’t verify it, but I’ve heard that the former owners of the South 14th Street Doo Wop Diner have reclaimed their eatery and things there will resort back to what locals were used to prior to the transition. Maybe the Fat Men From Space should make a return trip to re-evaluate the Doo Wop’s burger offering as the one they tried under the new ownership failed spectacularly. Down Under’ s Ernie Saltmarsh is putting in his third dining room floor as that was the damage done by Irma and will delay the opening there by about three weeks, but will be worth the wait. If you haven’t tried an Amelia Island Downtown Tasting Tour you need to do so. Call 904/330-5746 to book: Thursday Booze & Bites tour @ 2:30pm; Friday Cocktail Tour @ 5:30pm; or Sunday Cocktail tour @ 2pm; or go to Ameliaislanddowntowntastingtours.com