SHIRLEY -- Ted Wirt, musical director for the Skeletones Big Band, has pet names for all of his musicians, from "Count Jackula" for bassist Gary Jackson, to "Screamin'" Jake Weiner on baritone sax.
With style and humor, Wirt led the 11-piece Skeletones, including legendary New Orleans saxophonist Charles Neville, through a repertoire of music from Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "A Train," to Louisiana bandleader David Bartholomew's "Good Jax Boogie," to Louis Prima's swinging "Jump, Jive an' Wail."
Most of the band members, including Neville, currently hail from Pioneer Valley towns such as Westfield, Springfield, Holyoke and Greenfield, and all are experienced, top-notch performers.
Although Neville is world-renowned, the 10 other local musicians missed nary a beat as they played off each other on songs such as Herbie Hancock's 16-bar blues rhythm "Watermelon Man," B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel," sung by trombonist Joe Reidy, and Little Richard's rock 'n' roll "Good Golly Miss Molly." The Grammy Award-winning Neville wrote several of the evening's arrangements.
The last performance of this year's Shirley Charitable Foundation free summer concert series, the Skeletones drew a large, appreciative crowd of all ages.
SCF uses its resources to aid community members and programs to enrich the quality of life in Shirley. Established 15 years ago, its goal is to identify local issues, create proactive solutions and award grants to those causes that meet specific foundation guidelines.
Some of the organizations that have benefited from SCF grants include the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District and associated athletic organizations, Shirley Boy Scouts, Shirley Council on Aging, Friends of Hazen Library, Shirley Police Department and Benjamin Hill Pool Committee.
The SCF also provides direction for and works with other charitable organizations such as "Celebrate Shirley!" and the Shirley Playboard.
At the end of Friday night's concert, SCF Administrator Kevin Johnston, obviously delighted with the performance and the turnout, thanked the many people and organizations that made the series possible, including Center Town Hall Committee Chair Jodie Rachman, the senior citizens who provided much of the food, ShirleyArts! Artistic Director Meredith Marcinkewicz, the Shirley Cultural Council, Fidelity Bank and the audience.
The summer concert series, started 10 years ago, perhaps best demonstrates to those unfamiliar with SCF how it fosters community focus and improves the quality of life for all. At the very least, last Friday's performance injected a lot of swing and a little more joy into everyone's step.