Jazz Ambassador vies for top honors at Cab Calloway competition
July 20, 2009
FORT MEADE, Md. Aca,!" He took the stage Sunday afternoon at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in front of 300 people without hesitation when his name was called.
Various taps and thumps were heard as he took the microphone from the stand.
As a semifinalist, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Armstrong had bested numerous candidates to get to this phase of the 3rd Annual Cab Calloway Vocal Competition.
The all-male vocal event took place in conjunction with the Billie Holiday Vocal Competition for female vocalists, now in its 20th year.
Armstrong, a trumpeter with the Jazz Ambassadors of The United States Army Field Band, had 10 minutes, two songs and one shot to make it to the finals. And the competition was fierce.
He was first in the semifinal lineup. The music began. He took a breath.
Aca,!A"Try to think that loveAca,!a,,cs not around,Aca,!A? Armstrong began with warm, rich vocals.
The lyrics, from Aca,!A"Angel Eyes,Aca,!A? a popular jazz standard recorded by such greats as Pat Metheny, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, immediately struck a chord with audience members, who could be seen nodding their heads as Armstrong sang the melancholy song with passionate interpretation.
His second song was a selection from the required list, associated with Cab Calloway.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cve Got You Under My Skin,Aca,!A? a tune written by Cole Porter and made popular by Frank Sinatra, was recorded by Calloway in the Aca,!Eoe40s.
ArmstrongAca,!a,,cs ability to croon was evident, and his version was so soulful it would be easy to imagine sitting in a jazz club, minimally illuminated with a bright spotlight on the singer.
The audience cheered him loudly as he placed the microphone back in the stand, took a bow and exited the stage.
The remaining competitors took their turns, each singing two songs. As the semifinals concluded, the contestants were asked to return to the hall at 3 p.m. to learn their fate.
Who would be selected to perform one closing song of his choosing and, ultimately, be named the hippest of hepcats'
Armstrong played down his chances, citing that this event marks the first time he has ever competed in a singing contest. In fact, he hasnAca,!a,,ct taken the stage to perform vocally since high school.
He discovered the competition while surfing the web. He was excited, as he greatly admires Cab Calloway and, like Calloway, is devoted to the preservation of jazz as an art form, as well as educating the next generation of jazz musicians.
ArmstrongAca,!a,,cs personal musical journey began in Fairfield, Calif., when he was 3 years old.
Aca,!A"My parents had a turntable, and I spent most of my time listening to records on it,Aca,!A? he said.
According to his family, Aca,!A"The Sound of MusicAca,!A? soundtrack and songs by Eddy Arnold, noted country music artist of the Aca,!Eoe60s, were his favorites then.
Though his parents were not musicians (his mother, a nurse, and his father, a career Air Force servicemember), they always encouraged and supported his musical endeavors.
Armstrong has been a professional musician for nearly 30 years, and has gained numerous accolades by many jazz musicians with whom he has played.
Aca,!A"He means what he says, musically,Aca,!A? commented Sgt. 1st Class Todd Harrison, drummer for the Jazz Ambassadors.
Harrison continued, Aca,!A"He plays music for musicAca,!a,,cs sake, not for himself. He puts everything he has into it, into that moment.Aca,!A?
Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, director of the Jazz Ambassadors, could not agree more.
Aca,!A"ArmstrongAca,!a,,cs improvisational prowess is unique, and you can sense the passion and commitment that he gives to every note,Aca,!A? Kippola remarked.
Armstrong has performed, recorded with and arranged for numerous bands, including the bands of legends Diane Schuur and Maynard Ferguson. He has a reputation for being one of the best and is always on the radar to perform with notable musicians.
ThatAca,!a,,cs how good he is.
These things arenAca,!a,,ct immediately apparent, though, because Armstrong doesnAca,!a,,ct blow his own horn.
Kippola notes that Armstrong has numerous qualities that make him a phenomenal musician.
Aca,!A"He is pretty humble. He is very gifted. But, itAca,!a,,cs not just talent. HeAca,!a,,cs worked hard his entire life,Aca,!A? Kippola said.
Hard work is required in the music industry, as Armstrong points out that Aca,!A"being a musician is an obstacle in itself.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"The schedule, the pay, the time spent on the road away from family, the rehearsals, finding practice time whenever and wherever you can get it, lugging gear and breaking your back, money lost in recording projects that may never be heard, keeping a steady fast food diet for lunch during five-week stretches Aca,!A| the list goes on.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"But,Aca,!A? he exclaims, Aca,!A"the alternative of not being a musician isnAca,!a,,ct an option! I am hooked and wouldnAca,!a,,ct have it any other way!Aca,!A?
As the semifinalists filed back onto the stage to hear who was selected to move onto the finals, the auditorium fell silent.
The emcee, Aca,!A"DowntownAca,!A? Larry Brown, explained the judgment criteria to the audience as he began opening the envelope that secured the names of the finalists.
Aca,!A"Let me just say that all these artists did a great job,Aca,!A? Brown said as he called for one final round of applause for all of the contestants.
Armstrong was not summoned to the stage as one of the finalists, but he did receive a citation from Baltimore Mayor, Sheila Dixon.
Though he did not get to sing one final song for the crowd, Armstrong already thinks of himself as a winner.
Armstrong, who hasnAca,!a,,ct sung for an audience in approximately 28 years, said modestly, Aca,!A"I consider singing on the stage of the Meyerhoff in a vocal competition a win. I just wanted to enjoy myself.Aca,!A?
So did the audience.
Sgt. 1st Class Armstrong exemplifies a true commitment to service to our Nation. His dedication is one such story that illustrates why the Secretary of the Army dedicated 2009 as Aca,!A"The Year of the NCO.Aca,!A?
To learn more about The United States Army Field Band, visit our website at www.armyfieldband.com.