Party serves up musical variety

Sunday, October 2, 2005
Jerry Ford led his brass band in the march style of John Phillip Sousa at the Southeast Missourian centennial celebration Saturday. (FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@

When the Southeast Jazz Ensemble launched into the Glenn Miller classic "Little Brown Jug" Saturday, Fred Moyers started swaying a little in his chair.

And when they followed it up with "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," things couldn't get any better.

For Moyers, 82, the swing-era jazz numbers unlock the key to his youth. More than 60 years ago, he recalled, he was stationed with the Army Air Force in Atlantic City, N.J., he had a pass in his pocket and Glenn Miller's Army Band was playing that night.

"That was the only worthwhile pass we got," Moyers said.

The taste of that long-ago era came courtesy of the Southeast Missourian. The Southeast Jazz Ensemble, directed by Bob Conger, played as part of the Missourian's Centennial celebration.

"What I like is that it is so smooth," Moyers said of Miller's music. "It is all tied together so smoothly."

His grade for the student band: an "A."

The jazz was just one slice of the entertainment served up to crowd.

Those who like the music of the era when the Southeast Missourian was founded could get their fill from the Jerry Ford Band, which provided patriotic music in the brass-band style of John Philip Sousa. Creole Stomp provided a cajun flavor and Alex Riffle, a 13-year-old banjo prodigy, showed his licks.

An alternative to music came from Bonne Terre actor Jack Beahan, who portrayed Missouri-born author and humorist Mark Twain.

'Migrated to bluegrass'

For Sharon and Lee Coonce, retirees who recently moved to Cape Girardeau, a shady spot on the lawn of the Common Pleas Courthouse was the right place to enjoy the Ezells, a three-piece old-time country and bluegrass ensemble.

"My dad was a country fiddler, so I grew up with it," Coonce said. "I can't play a lick, but over the years I have migrated to bluegrass."

The trio, Marge Ezell on vocals and upright bass, Don Ezell on guitar and their son Rory Ezell on mandolin, did a string of recognizable tunes. Hank Williams' song "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," followed by Eddy Arnold's "Cattle Call."

"She's a pretty good yodeler," Coonce said as his wife, Sharon, nodded in agreement. "A lot of times your bluegrass bands have four or five pieces. With a three-piece band, they are very good."

The Ezells have received recognition -- Marge Ezell is three-time winner of the Midwest Vocalist of the Year from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music. But that wasn't enough to keep the band touring. The show during the centennial celebration was a rare outing for the family, Rory Ezell said.

"We only do a few select shows," he said. "We're road weary."

The entertainment, like much of the celebration such as period costumes, helped highlight decades of the Missourian's existence.

The swing-era tunes chosen by the Southeast Jazz Ensemble were chosen for that reason, Conger said.

"Everybody knows these tunes, and we decided to focus on the past rather than the present," Conger said. "I told them before we rehearsed it that there are going to be people out there who know Glenn Miller."

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