As a kid growing up in Rehoboth Beach, Cody Leavel grew up with big band music. His father was a jazz drummer and although not a musician, his grandfather constantly listened to it.
“He used to always joke that he couldn’t play an instrument but he could play records,” Mr. Leavel recalled.
So it wasn’t all that surprising that he developed an appreciation for the genre. But what makes it special is that he’s now a part of it.
The 25-year-old Mr. Leavel plays tenor sax and clarinet for the legendary Glenn Miller Orchestra, which is making a sold-out stop at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center at 7 Friday night.
A part of the band for almost three years, the Cape Henlopen High School graduate travels the world playing the hits of a distant past including “In the Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “A String of Pearls.”
He got the big band bug at around 10 years old. He wanted to play saxophone but money was tight so his dad geared him toward the clarinet. After listening to some Benny Goodman recordings, he was sold.
“That was it. I heard how he played and his virtuosic technique and I was hooked,” Mr. Leavel said Tuesday morning shortly after the tour bus pulled into Muskegon, Michigan, for a show that night.
At 13 years old and finally stepping up to the saxophone, Mr. Leavel’s father took him to see the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra at Cape Henlopen High.
“Buddy Morrow was their leader at the time and I walked to him after the show and he signed a CD for me. I told my dad that I wished more bands were that way and someday I’d like to travel around with a big band,” he said.
Shortly after graduating from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia, he got his wish.
Although at the time he had put away big band music for “serious” jazz, he got word through the musical grapevine that the Glenn Miller Orchestra was looking for a musician.
“I sent in some stuff. I didn’t expect to get the job but they gave me a call asking if I wanted it,” Mr. Leavel said.
The only drawback was the orchestra’s grueling schedule. Members are on the road for 48 weeks out of the year.
“I’m a real homebody. I didn’t want to be away from home that long but my parents convinced me I should do it and now I love it,” Mr. Leavel said.
The gig has taken him all over the world. The orchestra is set to make its annual tour through Japan Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
“At 25 I don’t have anything tying me down at this point. I get to see so much every day. I’m a big railroad enthusiast so being able to see much of that across the country is amazing,” he said.
Japan is always a highlight of the year for Leavel, as he’s about to leave on his third trip to the Far East.
“I really enjoy it. I enjoy hotels and they are so nice there. I just like sitting in the hotel. Although I do enjoy exploring as well — and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal there,” he said.
Mr. Leavel said the Japanese are huge big band fans.
“You’ll walk into a McDonald’s and you’ll hear (jazz saxophonist) Stan Getz playing through the speakers,” he said.
Although he loves the travel, it’s, of course, playing the music that he digs the most.
“It’s great to see people really enjoying it. It’s fun to see older people turn into kids again with their eyes as lit up as a Christmas tree,” Mr. Leavel said.
He recalls a concert at a high school where the school’s jazz band was going to join the orchestra in the timeless standard “In the Mood.”
“One of the kids came up to me and said ‘I’ve gotten tired of playing this song because we do it every day. How are you able to play this night after night?’ And it’s because of the audience reactions. I never get tired of seeing their faces when we play this music,” he said.
Although Mr. Leavel does envision a time when he gets off the road to possibly pursue teaching music on the college level, he says the Glenn Miller Orchestra will live on in perpetuity.
“It’s like Harry Morgan’s character says to Helen Morgan after Glenn dies in ‘The Glenn Miller Story.’ ‘This band is an institution. It will always be around. This music will never die.’ And he’s right. It won’t. It’s too good,” he said.
Liggins’ work at DSU
At Delaware State University, it’s homecoming weekend.
In conjunction with the events, the school will feature the work of internationally renowned abstract expressionist artist Anthony Liggins during the second annual Alumni and Friends Arts Fair from 6 to 8 Friday night in the first-floor lobby of Martin Luther King Student Center.
The paintings of Mr. Liggins – who attended then-Delaware State College in the late 1970s – will be shown alongside the works of other alumni artists during the event.
Mr. Liggins has exhibited his abstract works in major arts shows, galleries and events around the world, and his work has been featured in numerous art and design magazines.
He is featured in more than 3,200 collections and his public commissions and collections include the Lindbergh City Center, the Intercontinental Hotel, the Loews Hotel and the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs.
His art his collected by notables such as actress Angela Bassett, singer/actor Usher, as well as filmmaker Tyler Perry, who has used his paintings in the movies “Good Deeds” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?”
He draws from ancient philosophies such as Zen and Wabi Sabi, as well as his experience as a fashion designer. He has received international acclaim for his ability to transform color into a universal language through his color layering technique and bold brush strokes.
In 2014, Mr. Liggins published the 200-page book “Art is Love, Love is an Art,” a visual journey of the artist’s 13 years crafting abstract dreamscapes and an ode to his collectors and the influences who have inspired him through the decades.
Concert for a Cure tonight
The Capital School District and Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition will present “A Concert for a Cure” at Dover High School off Del. 8 tonight from 6 to 9, featuring Capital School District alumni, singer/songwriter Kevin McCove and Atlantic recording artist Andre “Royal” Watson.
The concert also will feature opening acts by local artists. Proceeds from the concert will go toward local programs for breast cancer and raise awareness throughout the community.
Ticket prices are $5 for children and $8 for adults for advance purchases or $10 admission at the door.
No alcoholic beverages are permitted on school property.
Tickets can be purchased and donations made can be by going online to www.aconcertforacure.wix.com/concert. They also can be purchased at William Henry Middle School on 65 Carver Road, Central Middle School at 211 Delaware Ave., and Dover High School.
The Schwartz Center for the Arts has rescheduled the date for famed folk singer John McCutcheon’s show to April 22.
Originally scheduled to play Oct. 2, the show was postponed due to weather concerns.
Tickets, at $29-$32, are available at www.schwartzcenter.com, by calling 678-5152 or stopping by the box office at 226 S. State St., Dover.
From book to movie
Finally, word came that Dover author Everett De Morier has had his book “Thirty-Three Cecils” optioned for a motion picture.
It was published from a small independent press this past spring without a large book tour or celebrity endorsements. But since its release, interest in the book has been building.
It was nominated for two awards and was featured on ABC News, NPR Radio.
Blydyn Square Books, the publisher of “Thirty-Three Cecils,” partnered this week with Hornpin Media, a new collective of motion picture investors, producers and professionals.
“This book is totally unique,” said Alton Brenom, spokesman for Hornpin Media. “It’s a powerful literary story with great character development. But then it has this fantasy element running in the background. That type of story is ideal for film.
“The ink is still wet on our business cards. And we went after this book the very first thing.”
Mr. De Morier first began the novel as a story about his kids and then it evolved.
“It didn’t take 10 years to write but I started it 10 years ago. It just kept changing,” he said.
When asked if he ever thought the book would make a film, Mr. De Morier laughed.
“I never thought I’d finish it as a book,” he said.
New this weekend in theaters is Bill Murray in the comedy/drama “Rock the Kasbah” the action-adventure films “Jem and The Holograms” and “The Last Witch Hunter” and the biopic “Steve Jobs.”
On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the comedy/sci-fi film “Pixels” with Adam Sandler, Jake Gyllenhaal in the boxing drama “Southpaw,” Jason Bateman in the thriller “The Gift” and the horror film “Human Centipede 3.”