All That Jazz

For a celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Roaring ‘20s, supporters of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia will channel their inner Jay Gatsbys for the Symphony Society’s annual Cabaret fundraiser, “A Gatsby Gala.”

The event will celebrate the spirit of the time, which is most often recognized as the “Jazz Era.”

“(The Roaring ‘20s) marked a huge change in culture for America and for the music scene,” says Gail McCarty, Cabaret chairperson. “People had cars and small appliances. Women could vote for the first time. It was a fascinating time in American history. We went from being isolated to — with cars and airplanes — the beginning of globalization. For the first time in history, families gathered around their radios and had music playing in their living rooms. A great deal of that music was jazz, such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

The event will take place Friday, January 24, at the Cloister on Sea Island. The cocktail reception starts at 6 p.m. and precedes a seated dinner. The Jordan Gilman Septet, which includes a trombone, trumpet, clarinet, double bass, saxophone, and a singer, will perform jazz music of the era.

The fundraiser includes both silent and live auctions, and attendees can bid on artwork, adventures, and a stay in a Tuscan villa, among other items. The silent auction will begin with the cocktail reception. Attendees are encouraged to don Gatsby-like attire.

This year’s “A Gatsby Gala” marks the 16th year that the symphony and the society have sponsored Cabaret. The themes of past Cabarets have ranged from the excitement of Paris and Venice to that of Vegas and Broadway, but the event always includes a seated dinner and entertainment. “It is the major fundraiser of the year,” says Sharon Flores, Coastal Symphony’s executive director.

Established in 2006, the Symphony Society currently includes more than 200 members. Proceeds from concert tickets only cover a portion of the operating budget; fundraising events and activities keep the symphony viable. Initially, the symphony’s board was doing that work. “So, we started the society,” Flores says. “It has been a fundraiser and friend-raiser since 2006. It’s an affiliate of the Coastal Symphony that serves as the volunteer arm.”

The symphony itself dates back 37 years. From its start as the Brunswick Community Orchestra until 2005, the symphony was made up of local musicians, amateurs, and some professionals from the Jacksonville Symphony, according to Flores.

The makeup of the symphony transitioned to professional musicians around 2013, when music director/conductor Luis Haza and general manager Jorge Peña were hired.

About 70 musicians make up the Coastal Symphony, although the size of the orchestra changes depending on the musical selection. Currently, the Coastal Symphony is under the direction of Michelle Merrill, who came to the symphony from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where she was the associate conductor for four years.

“Our symphony is more than music from 1750 to 1820,” McCarty says. “Our new director, Michelle Merrill, has featured American composers, women composers, and living composers.

The music our symphony is performing is exciting and gives us a possible glimpse into where orchestral music may be heading in the future. We listen to classical music constantly when watching television and movies, we’ve just stopped recognizing it as classical music.”

The symphony performs four concerts each season. There are two concerts left in the 2019-2020 season: March 2 and April 13. Concerts take place at the Brunswick High School auditorium.

The Coastal Symphony of Georgia supports local music education by maintaining a presence in local schools. Through a program called, “Musical Mentors,” the symphony takes guest musicians or artists, flown in for concerts, to schools to talk to students about music. For example, last spring, the symphony played a piece by a composer from Colorado. The symphony flew the composer in, and he visited with high school band and chorus students at Glynn Academy and students at Frederica Academy. Through another program, “Music in the Schools,” members of the symphony visit fourth and fifth graders and, in an hour-long presentation by the musicians, students see, hear, and touch different instruments.

Participation in this year’s Cabaret event supports the symphony as well as its outreach efforts. The event can accommodate 300 people. To purchase tickets, visit or call Sharon Flores at 912-223-6755.

“It’s very unusual for a community this size to have a symphony like this,” McCarty says. “The symphony is a tremendous cultural asset to the Golden Isles community. It’s an asset worth protecting and supporting.”

“A Gatsby Gala,” the Coastal Symphony of Georgia and Symphony Society’s annual Cabaret fundraiser, will be held January 24, 2020, at The Cloister at Sea Island. The cocktail reception and silent auction starts at 6 p.m., and the seated dinner begins at 7 p.m. The event also includes a live auction and jazz music by the Jordan Gilman Septet. Mildred Huie Wilcox, a community icon and veteran of the fashion and art worlds, is the honorary chairperson. Attendees are encouraged to wear clothes inspired by the Roaring ‘20s. To purchase tickets, visit or call Sharon Flores at 912-223-6755.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  “All That Jazz,” by Kathryn Schiliro.