WASHINGTON - There was a lot of "looking up" going on when the Jazz Ambassadors of The United States Army Field Band performed at Music Education Week in Washington for MENC: The National Association for Music Education.

Everyone looked up to the emcee for the evening's performance: basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

All the musicians in the room, both on-stage and in the audience, looked up to the three phenomenal guest artists: Joshua Redman, Lew Soloff and Anne Drummond.

And, everyone looked up, perhaps with some surprise, to discover that it was a group of Army musicians on stage performing as one of the best big bands in the world.

The June 18 performance for educators, students and the general public presented more than two hours of world class jazz.

Abdul-Jabbar, a lifelong jazz fan, expressed heartfelt appreciation to the United States Army, for their support of America's great cultural contribution to the world of jazz, specifically noting the night's performance by the Jazz Ambassadors-America's Big Band.

Throughout the performance, Abdul-Jabbar shared stories of his father, a police officer and jazz musician, who briefly served as an Army Bandsman. He also told of his ability to interact with many famous jazz musicians he had known throughout his life.

The evening kicked off with a high-energy set by the Frank Catalano Quartet followed by Jazz Flutist Anne Drummond, who joined the Jazz Ambassador's rhythm section for a soulful rendition of "But Not for Me." Drummond was then joined by Lew Soloff for an intense version of "Istanbul."

The entire big band took the stage to back Soloff in "Tribute to Duke Ellington."

Lew Soloff, perhaps best known for his trumpet work with the legendary band, "Blood, Sweat & Tears," commented that he had "never heard a challenging medley of Duke Ellington songs played so well before."

Soloff, who has played with a veritable "Who's Who" of great jazz artists and world class bands, further remarked, "They [the Jazz Ambassadors] are one of the finest big bands I have ever played with, and I hope to do it again."

The Jazz Ambassadors demonstrated why they are considered America's Big Band and showed the audience what it is they do when they're on the road for approximately one hundred days a year-play some of the most exciting, most precise big band jazz in the world for enthusiastic audiences all over the country.

Master Sgt. Marva Lewis, vocalist with the Jazz Ambassadors, was featured on "Never Will I Marry," "Make It Easy On Yourself," and "Day In, Day Out."

But, by far, the highlight of the evening was a four-song set, two songs of which were original compositions by members of the Jazz Ambassadors, with highly-acclaimed tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman.

Redman delighted and amazed the audience with his solo performances on on "Third Ear" (an original composition by baritone saxophonist, Staff Sgt. Paul White).

Equally amazing was Redman's performance of "Ah Dju Bah," an original work of art by Master Sgt. Vince Norman. The composition has an added layer of endearment as it was inspired by Norman's now 6-year-old son, Raymond. When Raymond was not quite 2, he pulled himself up on his father's piano and banged out on the keys what would become the first five notes of the composition. "Ah Dju Bah" just happened to be Raymond's favorite phrase at the time.

Joshua Redman then set a contemplative mood with Maria Schneider's "My Lament."

The concert closed with Staff Sgt. Paul White's moving and modern arrangement of "Transition."

The members of the audience, comprised mostly of music educators and music students, reacted enthusiastically. And, even though the hour was late, many remained after the conclusion of the concert to talk to the musicians.

It was an outstanding kickoff to Jazz Education Week in Washington.

As long as there are big bands like the Jazz Ambassadors to keep this uniquely American music alive and to help light the way for young musicians, the future of jazz in the United States will always be "looking up."

Vist www.armyfieldband.com for more information.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16