Diane Herring, left, and Bob Bailey rehearse with the band.

The musicians waited attentively for music director Carl Nalls to call out the number of the next song they would play in their Sunday afternoon rehearsal.

“Let’s rock and roll,” Nalls said.

“Is that what we’re doing today, rock and roll?” saxophonist Diane Herring replied with a smile.

Well, sometimes. Band business manager Bob Bailey of Dunwoody likes to say the Atlanta Blue Notes Big Band “plays everything from standards to jazz to Latin to Dixieland to a touch of rock.”

Good Neighbor Day

Place: DeKalb-Peachtree Airport

Date and time: May 12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: admission is free; parking costs $5 per vehicle

For more information: www.pdkairshow.com

Still, when that 19-piece band cranks up, it’s more likely to tackle Big Band jazz than small-combo rock. With five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, a rhythm section and singers making music, this band might seem more suited to the sound of Glenn Miller than Chuck Berry.

Why play big-band music? “I love it,” Nalls said later. “I’ve been in [a big band] since I was 14 years old. I still love it. It’s great music.”

Nalls is 69 now. “Stan Kenton is my favorite band leader and I just love to play that music,” he said.

So does Bailey, who’s 80 and plays saxophone and clarinet with the Blue Notes. He helped found the band back in the 1980s and named it for a group he’d played with when he was growing up in Virginia. He still books the Atlanta Blue Notes’ shows, including the big band’s regular annual appearances at the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport’s Good Neighbor Day.

Bailey likes playing the air show because “I’m an aviation nut.”

No one seems sure how many years the band has played PDK’s annual open house, but Assistant Airport Director Mario Evans says it’s been for at least 15 years.This year, airport officials expect 18,000 people to attend the air show, which includes aerobatics and teams of airplanes flying in formation.

The band is a natural fit for Good Neighbor Day, which puts World War II-vintage aircraft on display while it offers high-flying aerobatics over the airfield. “They’re just a good all-around band,” Evans said. “They’re fairly local and wholesome for a family event. … It’s just a fine family thing to have at an event such as our open house and air show.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.