National touring act to put on homecoming show

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Dec. 7—SHARON — When Jukebox Saturday Night arrives in Sharon, it will be a homecoming of sorts for drummer Greg Parnell and even more of a homecoming for his wife, Amy, the band's vocalist.

Jukebox Saturday Night will perform a concert of classics from American music's big band era Saturday at the ACTS Performing Arts Center, South Irvine and West State Street in Sharon. Amy Parnell — Amy Zahniser Parnell, formerly of Hermitage — will sing those iconic tunes.

"The show is in her hometown," Greg Parnell said. "She's very excited about that."

The 15-piece orchestra, which includes 14 instrumentalists and Amy Powell on vocals, plays selections from the music of Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other iconic musicians, particularly Glenn Miller, perhaps the most prominent figure of the big band era of the 1930s and 1940s.

Greg Parnell, a native of the Vandergrift area in Westmoreland County, is president of Glenn Miller Productions, which manages several big band and jazz acts including Jukebox Saturday Night, the revived Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Big Band Review and the Music of Mancini.

In that position, he is charge of the legacy of the Big Band era's most historically significant musician. Miller was the top-selling musician from 1939 to 1942.

During World War II, he joined the broadcasting and entertainment services and led a military band, rising to the rank of major in the U.S. Army Air Corps, forerunner of the U.S. Air Force.

Allied leadership credited Miller's performances with raising morale among American and British troops and, in December of 1944, he was planning a series of concerts in Paris and the surrounding area, which had been liberated in the previous months from Nazi Germany.

But the plane that took him across the English Channel was lost on Dec. 15, 1944. Because of chaos surrounding the Battle of the Bulge, which began the next day, Miller's loss wasn't reported until a few days later. His body was never recovered.

Miller's death coincided with a downturn in interest in big band music, Parnell said. It took the release of "The Glenn Miller Story" — which starred Jimmy Stewart, a World War II bomber pilot and native of Indiana, Pa., not far from Vandergrift — to revive interest in Glenn Miller and big band music of the era.

The revived Glenn Miller Orchestra began touring in 1956 and has been performing his music — including "In the Mood," "Moonlight Serenade" and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" — ever since.

"They put the band back together thinking they'd get a year out of it," Parnell said. "It's been touring for more than 60 years."

Parnell, 54, said he had typical musical generational music tastes — he cited The Who, Led Zeppelin and the Police — before going to college at Youngstown State University, when he discovered jazz and big band music.

He joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1999 as a drummer and eventually rose to management for the organization, although he still takes his place on the drum kit both for the orchestra and Jukebox Saturday Night.

Audiences for the big band performances — like the one Saturday in Sharon — tend to be the children and grandchildren of the crowds who listened to Glenn Miller and his contemporaries 80 years ago. Parnell said today's audiences never heard the big band luminaries live, but they can remember hearing their parents play the recordings at home.

"We go out in the lobby and talk to audiences," he said. "What we hear over and over and over again is, 'This was my mom's favorite music. This was my dad's favorite music.'"

On Saturday, Parnell said he will savor the opportunity to preserve the legacy of the uniquely American musical art form known as jazz and its offshoot, big band music.

"We're doing our part to keep this great American music alive," he said. "If you an American, you should be proud of that."

Jukebox Saturday Night will perform at ACTS Performing Arts Center, South Irvine Avenue and West State Street in Sharon. Tickets are $40 and are available at the door, at the ACTS website, actspac.com, and by calling the box office, 724-815-4388