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By Frank Thomas Croisdale

Imagine that it is 1946 and you're out with your favorite girl on a balmy July Saturday night. The warm wind is blowing the stars around while moonlight dances on the glimmering waves of Lake Erie. You and your date are cheek-to-cheek on the dance floor at the Crystal Palace as you slowly groove to the sounds of the incredible house band, Buffalo's own Harold Austin and his Orchestra.

There was something about witnessing the magic of Big Band music live that offered a visceral thrill as unique as the slice in the fabric of time that birthed it into the universe in the first place. Rock and Roll was just on the horizon. It, of course, would change everything, but none of that mattered to the hormonal kids box-stepping their way around the hardwood floor to the music made popular by people with last names like Goodman, James and Miller.

Where Rock would employ the use of electrified amplification to tingle the spines of listeners, the Big Band orchestra relied solely upon the blending of strings, brass and woodwinds to create what the great Louis Armstrong called "Struttin' with Some Barbecue."

It's not uncommon today to hear people too young to have experienced that era say things like, "I wish there was something like that alive today."

People seem to be looking for an excuse to get dressed to the nines -- party dresses and tailored suits -- then hit the dance floor and groove to some music the way it was played before the Beatles, Stones and the rest of the British Invasion kidnapped it and held it for a ransom that was never paid.

Maybe it is the influence of "Dancing with the Stars." Maybe it is the cyclical nature of music. Maybe it is the desire to return to a simpler time, or possibly it's just a need to scratch the itch of boredom.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that there are few options available for ballroom dancing in the Niagara Buffalo region. That's why anyone who has ever wanted to solve the Riddle of Nelson, has had a Woody for Nelson, or who has dreamed of hopping in a Cab for Calloway needs to circle the night of Saturday, June 25, on the calendar.

That is the evening Niagara Rises Inc. will present a night with the George Scott 18-piece orchestra, featuring vocalist Melissa Kate, at the Niagara Falls Conference Center, as part of the Third Annual Niagara Homecoming weekend of events. The festivities kick off at 6 p.m. and run until about 10 p.m. Over the course of the evening, attendees will not only be serenaded by the sounds of Mr. Scott and Ms. Kate, but will also feast on a bonanza of food, including a carving station, prepared by the NCCC Culinary School staff and students. In addition, wines from the award-winning group of Niagara Escarpment wineries will be savored and tasted.

Now, I want you to take a minute and ask yourself how much you think an evening like the one I've described would set you back. Fifty dollars a head? Seventy-five? A hundred bucks?

How about $25? That's right -- if you pre-purchase your tickets, they're just $25 a person. A Jefferson and a Lincoln will give you a presidential evening that is usually the sole domain of the Benjamins.

Take a second and think about that. Twenty-five dollars is the average cost to dine at any number of national eateries like the ones that have taken up roost all along Military Road and are always packed to the gills on a weekend night.

While those places are fine, they do not offer an evening designed to provide memories that will last a lifetime. There are only 500 tickets available for the Big Band Homecoming Gala and they are going like hotcakes. It's no wonder, considering the pedigree of the band and vocalist that will be taking center stage for the evening.

The George Scott Big Band formed in 1997 and is the featured act every Monday night at the historical Colored Musicians Club at the corner of Broadway and Michigan avenues in Buffalo. The 18-piece orchestra features alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The band performs all the classics from the Big Band era.

Melissa Kate is an international recording artist who embodies the phrase "cool jazz." Her voice is liquid silk, full of deep blues and brassy golds that create just the right elixir to make a listener's ear shudder with delight and beg to be held afterward.

Kate blends with the George Scott players like red blending with blue to create something purple and superior. They stay true to their roots, but add enough New Age nuances to reboot some old chestnuts for a sunny life in the new millennium.

All that for just $25!

Event organizer Eileen Soro has concocted an evening rarely seen in Western New York. Ice sculptures, festive displays courtesy of Harris and Lever florists, and a 50/50 split help round out the experience. Proceeds will go toward a scholarship program for the culinary school, in keeping with Niagara Rises' mission to combat poverty and juvenile delinquency in our community by retaining the next generation of residents and helping them gain long-term prosperous employment in our city.

Oh, and did I mention that tickets are only $25?

To get your tickets, e-mail me at nfreporter@roadrunner.com, or call 201-2611 and leave your name and call-back information. The event is sure to sell out and will be the talk around the water cooler come Monday morning.

So dust off your dancing shoes, order a boutonniere and a corsage, and get ready for a big night with a Big Band theme.

You don't need to have Basie as your last name to know that you can Count on it!

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 14, 2011