By Lisa R. Rhodes, Fort Meade Soundoff! Staff WriterAugust 21, 2009
Who says young people don't appreciate jazz'
Two-year-old Grace Kiamie danced to the swing and rhythms of the Jazz Ambassadors, the U.S. Army Field Band's premier big band, during the group's 40th anniversary concert Saturday evening outside the Fort Meade Pavilion.
But Grace, daughter of Staff Sgt. Philip Kiamie, a percussionist with the U.S. Army Field Band's Concert Band, wasn't the only star of the night.
The musical blend of jazz standards and original compositions by band members coupled with the solo performances of several founding members of The Studio Band, the predecessor of the Jazz Ambassadors, made the concert a hit with the audience.
"It was fantastic," said Janice Custis, a Laurel resident. "I enjoyed every minute of it. I come to their concert every year."
Part of the Army Field Band's annual summer series, the concert also commemorated the founding of The Studio Band in 1969 by Charles Almeida, now a retired Chief Warrant Officer 3.
Almeida redesigned the U.S. Army Field Band's Ceremonial Detachment, a 40-piece subgroup of the band, into a contemporary jazz/rock group under the direction of Maj. Hal Gibson, then-commander of the Army Field Band.
"We started with the existing musicians in the detachment and added players with the specific talents we needed," Almeida said. "The result was The Studio Band."
The band's first director, Almeida led 25 musicians and a vocalist on a tour of Appalachia in the spring of 1969. The tour was a test run of The Studio Band's popularity with the public.
"We were received very well by the audiences," said retired Sgt. Maj. David Wolpe, a trombonist with the band, who later became its director and a musical arranger.
After the Appalachia tour, the Army Field Band received letters praising The Studio Band's performances, Almedia said. A complimentary 1969 review of a Baltimore concert by the band in Downbeat, the influential jazz magazine, helped to put The Studio Band on the map.
Today, the Jazz Ambassadors perform throughout the United States and abroad, paying homage to America's original art form -- jazz -- as well as the Army and the armed forces. The band's repertoire, which includes big-band swing, contemporary jazz, standards, bebop, Dixieland, Latin, popular tunes and patriotic songs, has earned it acclaim in music circles.
At a rehearsal for the 40th anniversary concert on Aug. 14, retired Staff Sgt. Tom Jaworski, a former saxophonist with The Studio Band, and several other pioneering band members shared their excitement about celebrating 40 years with current band members.
"This is absolutely wonderful," said Jaworski, who played a solo during the concert. "It's an exhilarating experience."
Retired Sgt. Maj. Jerry Lee, another former saxophonist with The Studio Band, said he is proud the Jazz Ambassadors has maintained the musical standards of its predecessor.
"The caliber of the musicians has never faltered," Lee said. "It just gets better."
On Saturday afternoon, members of the Jazz Ambassadors and The Studio Band and their families enjoyed a barbecue at the West Friendship home of Sgt. Maj. Michael Buckley, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Jazz Ambassadors.
A highlight of the barbecue, Almeida said, was hearing tapes of The Studio Band's early performances.
Master Sgt. Marva Lewis, the vocalist for the Jazz Ambassadors, said listening to the music of The Studio Band and the stories of its members made the 40th anniversary unforgettable.
"The concert is going to be like a big jam session," Lewis said. "You can't get better than that."