Mike Willette and his swing band will pay tribute to Frank Sinatra and other big band favorites May 8 at the Franco-American Heritage Center.

ell-known local vocalist Mike Willette and his band will get into the swing of things on the eve of Mother’s Day at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s in Lewiston.

The Mike Willette Swing Band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8, offering a program that pays tribute to Frank Sinatra and other big band favorites.

A native of Lewiston/Auburn, Willette decided the band’s debut performance should be at the heritage center. “This band was born in my mind over 30 years ago,” Willette said.

“As a kid, I remember listening to big bands on the radio and learning most of the songs of that era. As a matter of fact, I was living just around the corner from St. Mary’s at that time.

“In the years since then, I’ve sung in a lot of bands, from small combos to large, full-sized bands. For a vocalist, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of singing in front of that big band.”

The birth of this style was in the original jazz bands. The music that swing accompanied was jazz, with origins in ragtime, Dixieland and the blues. The jazz music of the big band era of the ’30’s and ’40’s was the culmination of more than 30 years of musical development.

What is it that made jazz so innovative and different?

And what is it about big band jazz that makes the feet tap and the heart race? It’s a rich tradition and The Mike Willette Swing Band recreates that music, but also plays the “new” big band sounds of today.

This music “never went away … and perhaps is more popular with the young folks than it’s ever been,” Willette said, citing recent performances by Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Brian Setzer, Harry Connick Jr. and Natalie Cole. “Even Tony Bennett is hotter than ever,” Willette said, noting: “Great music is always popular.”

The Mike Willette Swing Band is comprised of talented, Maine musicians of all ages, many of whom are music educators in school systems. Most of the musicians, including the music director of the band Mike Plossay, have played in well-known national bands.

Plossay, who’s arguably one of the best lead trumpet players in Maine, is a partner with Mike Willette in the band.

Willette’s band will give a Las-Vegas style presentation of swing featuring songs by Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Johnny Rae and others. During the evening, the band will record a live album to be released shortly after the May 8 performance.

Besides performances at the heritage center, the band plans to play at festivals, private and corporate functions and charity events. “We’re proud to be part of the growth of the L/A area and the fund-raising efforts of this terrific new performing arts center,” Willette said.

Advance tickets are $15 and are available at Hannaford supermarkets in Lewiston and Auburn; Victor News on Park Street in Lewiston; and Kwik Shop in Monmouth. Tickets at the door will be $18. Doors will open at 7 p.m.

For more information, call 783-1585.

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