By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterApril 18, 2019
Master Sgt. Graham Breedlove's name sounds jazzy.
He talks with a coolness of a Sunday morning disc jockey spinning Herbie Hancock, George Benson or Wynton Marsalis selections during a radio station's jazz hour.
His musical pedigree and heritage brings a smile to his face and produces a tap to his step when he performs with The U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own". He's a trumpet player from Louisiana. The same Louisiana where jazz was born and flourished in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Invented in New Orleans, jazz is an authentic, made-in-the-USA product. Since the musical genre was developed, nurtured and perfected in America, it is fitting that "Pershing's Own" has its own jazz ensembles entitled The U.S. Army Blues and Swamp Romp.
As a member of those two musical groups, a portion of Breedlove's mission is to spread the history and heritage of jazz through his horn blowing.
This month has been busy for The U.S. Army Blues since April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Created in 2001 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., Jazz Appreciation Month was born with the intention of educating and entertaining individuals with 30 days of bass, swing, scat lyrics and improvisation with a dash of history in the harmony.
Breedlove gave a quick run through of jazz education and what makes the musical composition different from other types of American music.
"What makes jazz different from the other types of music is improvisation by everybody," Breedlove said. "If an orchestra plays a piece of music, they are more than likely going to play that piece of music the same way every time they perform it. (A jazz band) can play the same song 10 different ways, 10 times in a row and it is never is going to start and end in the same place, we never know who is going to solo, and we don't know which direction that solo is going to take."
Jazz was the prequel to rock 'n' roll and became the music of choice among the young folk 100 years ago when it started to invade dance halls and clubs in American cities. Jazz pioneers like Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington built a tree of music that eventually branched out to include the talents of Chuck Barry, James Brown and later, Bruno Mars.
"Someone like Bruno Mars was strongly influenced by James Brown, who was strongly influenced by jazz musicians from the 1950s and 1960s," Breedlove said. "I think there's a lineage. As for Bruno, I can hear some stuff that traces back to jazz."
Breedlove feels jazz is popular in the local area because of military bands. The Military District of Washington has an abundance of premiere military jazz ensembles and groups. The U.S. Army Blues can match note for note with service member bands like The U.S. Air Force Band's Airmen of Note and The U.S. Navy Band Commodores.
"You have world-class jazz bands with world-class musicians playing right here in town," he said. "I think the state of jazz today is as strong as it's ever been because there are so many groups advocating for the music."
Breedlove said when jazz lovers attend a Swamp Romp jam session or U.S. Army Blues concert, they are getting a double dose of Americana.
"Part of our mission is to preserve that art form. We have a two-pronged mission," he said. "First and foremost, we have to make people feel good about the Army. When we go in front of an audience, the show has to reflect positively on the Army, and the secondary part of that is that they need to feel good about America's music which is jazz. It was invented in America, so in my mind, there is nothing more patriotic than an American military group playing jazz."
April has already been a whirlwind month for The U.S. Army Blue preforming in Fort Washington, Maryland, and at the Kennedy Center. The band will return April 29 to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. The two winners of TUSAB's young Jazz soloist competition, one from the high school ranks and another from university-aged students, will accompany the group in a 6 p.m. concert start.
The performance is free and no tickets are required for admission.