JB Big Band originated in 2002 when a civic benefit was organized to help the daughter of a recently deceased area musician go to college. Since then, the group has expanded to play in central and eastern Missouri at private dances, public venues, and for educational and school benefits. It was the love of this music and the desire to help perpetuate it while helping community events that has allowed this group to continue and mature. Because of this, the JB Big Band has seen swing music attract not only the expected crowd of the World War II days, but a newer, and much younger, generation of high school youth who want to learn 'swing dance'. The age range of the musicians is 17 to 84 years.
The group, under the direction of John Berkemeyer (hence the name JB Band), is composed of 17 area musicians from all walks of life. Some are music educators, and according to John, others have 'real' day jobs in the fields of media, architecture, law, medicine, horticulture and farming. Some are fortunate enough to be 'simply retired' (but not inactive in the least). Several are retired professional musicians who played with the great swing bands that included Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, The Navy Commodores, Gene Walker Cotton Club Orchestra, Tony Martin, Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Bob Hope Music Shows, Buddy Morrow, Barbara Mandrell, Kansas City Street Band, Jim Widner Big Band, The U.S. Army Band, and countless jazz groups in the United States and abroad. Many band members have played in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, China, Italy, France, Denmark, Austria, Thailand, Brazil, Canada, and throughout the U.S.
Most of the musicians are from Missouri. They hail from Missouri's western and eastern borders, Kansas City and St. Louis, and north and south of Hermann from Hannibal to Rolla. Frequently, musicians from Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois and Kansas join with the band. Since the JB Big Band is a large group as swing bands go, it requires an active group of musicians much larger in number than just the 17 chairs playing any one night. Some members are active with the Houston, Texas Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Springfield Symphony, and Jefferson City Symphony. Many members have their own smaller groups playing in their local areas. The musicians enjoy many forms of music, and they appreciate the opportunity to share with each other and absorb the richness of a big swing band.
Beth Tummons is the vocalist with the JB Big Band. Beth, whose parents are music educators, resides and performs in the Kansas City area. She was classically trained, but her repertoire of swing music is extensive, and she performs it with the same warmth that shows in her smile. She is an immediate hit with audiences.
The band plays all of the old standards like Glen Miller's "In the Mood", "String of Pearls", "Little Brown Jug", Tommy Dorsey's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", and many others too numerous to list. The group also plays many of the newer arrangements and charts, which allows it to meet the musical desires of almost all big band enthusiasts. Some of the charts are original arrangements by members of the band. Listeners are greatly appreciated, and encouraged to dance if the mood moves them.