It’s an age-old dilemma every bride and groom must face before walking down the aisle: DJ or live band? If Kurt Titchenell had his way, it would always be the latter (though he can handle the DJ part, too).
With its 13 members, irrepressible horn section, silly name and serious track record for letting the good times roll, Titchenell’s Jellyroll is the area’s go-to act for weddings, mitzvahs, galas and more. Bragging rights include repeat appearances on “Best of” lists in Main Line Today, Delaware Today and Philadelphia Magazine. They’ve also been named one of Modern Bride Magazine’s 150 Hottest Party Bands in the nation.
Jellyroll is one of many acts under the Brandywine Valley Talent umbrella. The Chadds Ford-based entertainment company was founded by Titchenell, who is also Jellyroll’s trombone player. He started the band as a student at West Chester University in 1980. Back then, it was an eight-piece unit with a decided rock edge—think Tower of Power meets Steely Dan meets Bon Jovi. By 1985, the group had grown to 12 members and was playing bars and clubs throughout the Mid-Atlantic. “We weren’t really trying to be rock stars—but, then again, there wasn’t a place we didn’t play back in those days,” Titchenell says.
Jellyroll’s transition from clubs to private events happened naturally, thanks to the group’s surprising staying power in the area. “All of a sudden, our fans were starting to get married,” says Titchenell. “I saw it as an opportunity because I knew our band was at least as good as all the wedding groups out there.”
Making the most of his marketing degree, Titchenell was snatching up great-paying gigs in no time. By the late 1990s, Jellyroll was playing more than 90 weddings a year. Fast-forward to now, and Jellyroll’s résumé includes gigs at the Philadelphia Auto Show, the Franklin Institute, numerous pro sports fundraisers, and countless other swanky events. In 2007, Jellyroll even got the nod to play the White House’s Congressional Ball, a two-hour-plus performance with an encore request from former President George W. Bush. A year later, former First Lady Laura Bush had the band play her 44th high school reunion.
“I mean, how lucky are we?” poses Titchenell. “We did an event at the Greenville Country Club [in Delaware], and one of the Bush twins was there with some friends. She loved Jellyroll, and a week later, we were invited to a meeting at the White House.”
As you might surmise, Jellyroll isn’t your typical wedding band. No hokey-pokey, Macarena or “funky chicken” to be had here—unless, of course, there’s a special request. These days, Jellyroll can play just about anything, though Motown, jazz and soul are acknowledged specialties.
“We’re a high-energy band, and we’re definitely not for everyone,” says Titchenell. “To us, the music is the most important aspect of the event, and I love clients who give me flexibility in terms of what kind they want—or don’t want—to hear that night.”
Such flexibility involves seamless coordination with wedding planners and food-service employees to set just the right mood. Dancing is encouraged, and no request is too big or too complicated—even if it’s in another language. “We did a wedding once where the bride was Chinese and about 35 percent of the guests didn’t speak English,” Titchenell recalls. “[We were] asked to learn a special song in Mandarin Chinese, so, naturally, we did it—and it actually turned out great.”
When they’re not on stage, Jellyroll members are busy prepping for upcoming events. The group’s repertoire is as varied as it is extensive, with a tight horn section and soulful vocals leading the way, whether its Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire or Tina Turner. Effortless transitions from sexy to romantic, mellow to raucous, are a hallmark. “When there’s a larger crowd, everyone feeds off of the same energy,” says Tesa Williams, Jellyroll’s lead female vocalist. “Everyone looks at each other, and just wants to get up and dance.”
Capable of pulling off up to five events a weekend, Titchenell and his team somehow find time for other commitments Monday-Friday. “What most people don’t realize is that these band members have been doing this their entire lives,” says singer Amee Kurtz. “Many of us are music teachers or have recorded our own albums.”
This past August, I witnessed Jellyroll in its element. A late-summer Saturday found the band at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, where a newly wedded 20-something couple was celebrating with about 300 friends and family members. Playing to a young crowd in a gorgeous space, Jellyroll kicked things off with the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”
Communication among band members was flawless and barely noticeable. All 13 components gelled like a well-oiled machine, segueing effortlessly into the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” before taking it down a few soulful notches with Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” then back up again with a little “Respect” courtesy of Aretha Franklin via Williams, Kurtz and male vocalists Dondi Allen and Ronin Ali. Later, Williams’ powerful rendition of “Con te Partirò” brought tears to more than a few eyes, while Allen and Ali channeled Sinatra and Cee Lo, respectively.
The following evening, Jellyroll made its way to the Four Seasons in Center City for a more formal event with a smaller guest list. Highlights included a sultry cover of Etta James’ “At Last” and a rousing rendition of “Hava Nagila.” Then, before guests could take their seats, the first notes of “Proud Mary” changed more than a few minds. The dancing continued for the rest of the night.
Perhaps cheesy wedding band stereotypes are alive and well somewhere, but not here. “Nobody really remembers what was on their plates that night or who wore what,” says BVT event specialist Bill McCue. “But everyone remembers what was happening on the dance floor.”
Jellyroll may take center stage in the Brandywine Valley Talent lineup, but Kurt Titchenell’s entertainment company features more than 25 options for any occasion. Other bands include Midnight Hour, City Rhythm and the Sid Miller Dance Band. For those whose tastes run a little more old-school, Inspired Emotion features members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and the Philly Pops. To learn more, check out an upcoming BVT showcase event, which includes meet-and-greets with band leaders and live performances. For details on the next showcase, call (610) 358-9010 or visit brandywinevalleytalent.com.