Free U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors concert

Posted: January 23, 2014

The Winchester Star

Winchester — Patriotic music is just scratching the surface of what the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors like to perform.

The official touring big band of the U.S. Army plays a variety of music that includes jazz, Dixieland, big band standards, bebop, Latin, and popular tunes, said Sgt. 1st Class Adam Getz, one of the group’s tour coordinators.

“It is a terrific musical ensemble. They perform music that audiences very much enjoy,” he said.

The 20-member military ensemble will offer a free concert at 8 p.m. Friday in Armstrong Concert Hall on the Shenandoah University campus. The concert is free, but a ticket is required.

Winchester’s proximity to Washington, D.C., puts it within easy driving distance for the group, although they travel all around the world to perform, said Robert Larson, director of Jazz Studies at SU and coordinator of the concert. The group has appeared in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, Japan, India and throughout Europe.

The Ambassadors last performed in Winchester in 2009, when they put on a wonderful show, Larson said.

One of the highlights for him is seeing former student and SU alum Timothy Young, class of 1993, who is the pianist for the Army band.

“It is nice to see him and hear him play,” he said. “I also personally know quite a few members of the band and have played with them. There are some fantastic players in this band.”

Jazz is the United States’ classical music and its contribution to world music, Larson said. The Ambassadors celebrate the unique style of jazz that can only be heard in a big band.

“The big bands were popular in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. They are hard to hear these days unless you are listening to a military or college band. They do exist, but they are not nearly as prevalent,” he said.

Chief Warrant Officer William S. McCulloch, who directs the band, likes to take time between songs to talk about the tunes being played, giving background on them or pointing out something interesting about their sound, Getz said.

The group sometimes comes across people who say they are not fans of jazz who still enjoy the concert, Getz said. He attributes it to the wide selection of music the group performs and the enthusiasm the musicians put into every show.

Most of the performers auditioned to be in the group, some even joining the military and going through basic training once they were accepted, he said. “Most of them have at least a master’s degree in music or some sort of music history.”

The performance always begins with the National Anthem and ends with the playing of the different service medleys, he said. As each branch’s song is played, veterans and active military who served in it are asked to stand and be recognized.

“That is always a nice moment because their service is really invaluable. It is a great way for us to show appreciation for them,” Getz said.

The Jazz Ambassadors group was formed in 1969 and is one of four bands that make up the U.S. Army Field Band, he said. Each component tours annually throughout the United States and travels abroad as directed by the Secretary of the Army for a combined total of more than 400 days each year.

Each concert must be presented on an admission-free basis as a public service, he said. The Department of the Army covers the costs for transportation, lodging and meals. “We do that because it is our way of connecting with the public.”

Other recent performances by the jazz band were at the Toronto Jazz Festival, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Jazz Education Network Conference, and an appearance on the Colbert Report.

Information

The U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors will perform at 8 p.m. Friday in Armstrong Concert Hall on the Shenandoah University campus. It is free, but a ticket is required. Call the box office at 540-665-4569.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com