Native New Yorker Les DeMerle is a veteran jazz drummer who is also known for his talents as a vocalist. DeMerle, in fact, is one of the few jazz drummers who has been able to sing and play drums simultaneously. Some jazz drummers who have had vocal skills have opted to compartmentalize the two; Grady Tate, for example, is both a skillful drummer and a skillful singer (although he is better known for the former), but when he recorded his vocal-oriented session, TNT: Grady Tate Sings, for Milestone/Fantasy in 1991, Tate did not play the drums at all and asked Dennis Mackrel to handle all of the drumming. DeMerle, on the other hand, has not put his drums aside when he decided to do some singing. It is safe to say that DeMerle has been one of jazz' more singer-friendly instrumentalists; he has been featuring his wife, singer Bonnie Eisele, extensively since 1986, and by 2007, he had featured her on at least ten of his albums. DeMerle has backed his share of well known singers over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett and Wayne Newton on the traditional pop side and Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormé and Eddie Jefferson on the jazz side.
DeMerle was born on November 4, 1946 in Brooklyn, NY, where he grew up. Although DeMerle's parents were not musicians, they were heavily into big bands and traditional pop and did a lot to encourage his interest in music. DeMerle (whose influences have ranged from Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb to Art Blakey) began studying the drums when he was only 10, and by 15, he was sitting in with two of his idols: Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa. As a young adult, DeMerle led his own band, Sound 67--and when he was 24 in late 1970, he began a 12-year association with the famous big band trumpeter Harry James (who died of lymphatic cancer in 1983). DeMerle played countless gigs with James during the '70s, and it was also during the '70s that he led a fusion band called Transfusion (which included, among others, tenor saxophonists Michael Brecker and Sam Riney, alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal, trumpeter Randy Brecker, electric keyboardist/acoustic pianist David Benoit and Brazilian trombonist Raul De Souza). But even though DeMerle demonstrated that he could play anything from swing and traditional pop to fusion to modal post-bop, DeMerle is a hard bopper more than anything--and bop was the main ingredient when he led both big bands and small groups in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s and featured Eisele consistently in both settings. The 2000s found DeMerle recording a lot of albums for the Seattle-based Origin label, including the live CDs Cookin' at the Corner, Volumes 1 and 2, the Christmas album The Jazz Spirit of Christmas and the tributes to Blue Note Records Hittin' the Blue Notes, Volumes 1 and 2. ~ Alex Henderson