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On Saturday, February 9, Cleveland music lovers will be jumping, jiving, and wailing to the sounds of the Swing Era.
Their guides on this trip down memory lane won’t be silver-haired historians or collectors of dusty vinyl records. Instead, this high-energy music will be presented by the Delta State University Jazz Ensemble—a select group of student and community musicians whose great-grandparents may have enjoyed the sounds of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller in their heyday. “It’s fun to see college students so excited about this music,” said Dr. Bret Pimentel, the group's faculty director. “Once this music was the sound of youthful energy, freedom, and fun. It still has those qualities for these musicians, and for the audiences that hear them, whether young or old.”
The Big Band Bash is in its fifth year, but this time in a new venue, the Cleveland Country Club. It is an evening of music, food, dancing, and entertainment that in past years has included costume contests, dance-offs, and a New-Orleans-style jazz parade around the restaurant. It is also a crucial fundraiser for Delta State's jazz-related activities. “This music needs to be preserved, remembered, and enjoyed,” said Dr. Paul Hankins, a former director of the ensemble and current interim dean of Delta State's College of Arts and Sciences. “In this part of the country, where there is such a rich musical tradition, it's especially important that we keep the sounds of jazz alive.” Funds raised from the Big Band Bash have resulted in the establishment of a new scholarship program for members of the DSU Jazz Ensemble.
Local businessman Rogers Varner is the originator of the event and one of its driving forces, helping to organize the event, selling tickets, and even playing in the band’s saxophone section. He has participated in the DSU Jazz Ensemble as a community member for a number of years that he politely declines to disclose. He is humble about his skills as a musician, though the other band members—mostly students in professional training as musicians and music educators—value his contribution and welcome him as a member of the group. “It’s an escape for me,” he said. “I’ve always loved this music, and it’s a treat to get to rehearse and perform with people who feel the same way I do.” In 2011, Varner was awarded the Delta State Music Department’s Philanthropy Award for his work on the Big Band Bash.
This year’s Big Band Bash will have Mardi Gras theme. In addition to the DSU Jazz Ensemble, there will be small-group performances by local professional musicians including Hankins and Pimentel.
General tickets cost $20, and DSU student tickets are $5. One hundred percent of ticket proceeds go to the DSU Jazz program as a tax-deductible donation. The Cleveland Country Club will have dinner and drinks available from a special menu prepared for the evening’s festivities. The event will start at 7 p.m. Contact Rogers Varner at (662) 846-6657 for more information or to purchase tickets.