The Moonlighters offered a big band tribute to veterans Wednesday, and one saxophone player stood tall for more than music.
Bill Jeczalik is a member of the 18-piece Villages’ band led by Len Savery. Jeczalik served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot from 1967-68. He was awarded a Silver Star, — the third highest Military Decoration — for valor in combat.
“We’ve got about half a dozen veterans in our band, and Bill is special,” Savery said before the benefit for Villagers For Veterans at La Hacienda Recreation Center.
“We wanted to honor and recognize him for his service, sacrifice and the Silver Star,” Savery added. He surprised Jeczalik near the end of the first set, right after a rousing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” number.
Savery then announced Jeczalik’s name and explained the magnitude of what the Silver Star represents. The saxophone player appeared a bit shocked but happy, as he stood on stage and waved to the crowd of nearly 300 people.
They gave Jeczalik a standing ovation. That was followed by an inspired musical tribute by the band on “Salute to Armed Forces.”
This was a night for patriotism and musical nostalgia. Savery organized the Moonlighters about three years ago. The group breathes life into classics by Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Cole Porter and Les Brown. The Moonlighters found the musical sweet spot on such standards as “Sentimental Journey,” and “The Tennessee Waltz,” both featuring Diana Arlt on vocals.
Zanna Duckett flashed her vocal range on “I Remember You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
Also honored on this night was the indefatigable leader of Villagers For Veterans, Marie Bogdonoff.
All of the money raised from the volunteer concert went to her group.
“It’s been a tough year with the pandemic, but we’re still out there raising money because there is so much more to do,” she said, noting that the group has raised nearly $1.5 million in its history.
Bogdonoff’s current project is building a transition center for women veterans. She’s hoping it might open in 2022.
Len Savery moved to The Villages from Cape Cod about five years ago, so it was only fitting he and the band opened the show with “Old Cape Cod,” a hit for Patti Page in the 1950s.
“That’s where I came from,” Savery told the audience, and the dance floor was soon filled with couples.
Savery looked the dapper part of the classic big band leader. He wore a black suit, highlighted by a bright red vest. He moved with nimble grace on stage, using his hands to conduct the band, and also playing the trumpet.
The Moonlighters hit their stride on “Moonlight Serenade,” the theme song for Glenn Miller. Then came “Begin the Beguine” and that was followed by a more contemporary sound of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
Diana Arlt added to the contemporary mood with “Can’t We Be Friends,” once recorded by Linda Ronstadt in a big band style.
“We’re here to help a good cause, and a good person named Marie Bogdonoff,” Savery said from the stage. “We’re just happy to be a part of it.”