Longtime Brigantine resident Bob Ferris, who died last Christmas Eve at age 86, has not only had the distinction of performing with his band in every concert series since the Community Education and Recreation department launched the program in 1997, he helped lay the groundwork for the series nearly 30 years ago – before the city's current form of government was in place.
Brigantine switched from the city commission form of government to the mayor-manager form in 1991.
“In the late 1980s there was a commissioner in Brigantine named Chris Fiumara, and it was his idea to start a concert series here. That's when Bob became involved,” said CER Director Jim Mogan.
“They're the ones who really started it and got it off the ground, and the city got behind it. But it wasn't on the same scale then that it is now.”
Somewhat loosely structured at first, the free concert series was formally incorporated into an array of entertainment options and activities for Brigantine residents when the CER was started 20 years ago.
The Bob Ferris Big Band — once called the Swingtimers, a name he trademarked in 1994 — has been the only constant over that 20-year stretch.
The band performs 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Brigantine North Middle School auditorium, Lafayette and Evans boulevards.
Typically, and in an effort to keep the series fresh, bands would alternate or sit out a year to make way for new acts throughout the series' history.
“Bob had already had a band for many, many years, and because he was in that inner circle he was able to get other bands lined up, get the paperwork in order for me to sign, and it's been that way from the beginning,” said Mogan, who has been the CER director since its inception. “Bob did about 95 percent of the work putting the series together year to year.”
Part of the arrangement in return for that effort – but certainly based as much on the band's popularity, Mogan said – was that Ferris' group would be part of the series every year. After the Sept. 28 show, a truncated version of the Ferris band will perform at Brigantine's annual tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 1 in front of the fire station.
“If you mention the concert series in Brigantine, people think of Bob Ferris,” Mogan said. “Now, after this year, that's all going to change.”
Jack Melton has performed with Ferris for roughly 25 years in various music ensembles. Melton took over leadership of the group and maintained the name Bob Ferris Big Band for all its scheduled appearances in 2017, but the holiday tree-lighting show in Brigantine will be its last.
Melton said that Ferris – whose wife of 50 years, Clementina, predeceased him by nine months – was an accomplished trombone player but an even better organizer. He was extremely proficient at putting shows together and rallying support for a style of music whose heyday was decades ago.
“There's not as many opportunities for big bands like there once were, and Bob helped keep the style alive,” said Melton, a trumpet player whose jazz quintet has been a regular in the Brigantine series over the years.
“The big band is a throwback to the war years, and stayed popular up through maybe the mid-50s, but then it sort of fell out of popularity and got overshadowed by rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues and other styles of modern music. But Bob would hustle to keep the band working as much as possible, and did a lot to keep that big-band and swing sound alive,” he said.
Names such as the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Guy Lombardo, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman are all associated with the big-band sound.
At Thursday's performance, the Bob Ferris Big Band will likely feature four saxophones, three trombones, four trumpets, a rhythm section of keyboards, bass and guitar, and three singers.