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Jazz Ambassadors Connect with Youth Through Music

By Heather Santos/The United States Army Field Band

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2009 - "Jazz speaks for life." This declaration by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival says it all.

Recognizing music can be a lifeline for many, the Ambassadors Jazztet, a six-member ensemble comprised of Soldier-musicians from the Jazz Ambassadors-America's Big Band, recently performed for a group of economically disadvantaged kids during their 2009 spring tour.

The students, varying in age from second-graders to high school seniors, thoroughly enjoyed the performance and question-and-answer session that the Jazztet brought to the Sgt. Eli Parker Community Youth Center in Camden, New York.

Master Sgt. Kevin Watt, trumpeter, remarked, "It's a great way to connect with the community."

And, connect they did.

It all started with a simple phone call. When John Piazza Jr., local area music director, learned that the Jazz Ambassadors would be in the area, he immediately got in touch with an old friend, Sgt. 1st Class Pat Shook.

Shook, a multi-instrument artist (he plays the saxophone, clarinet and flute) with the Jazz Ambassadors, was extremely excited about the opportunity to perform and educate the kids of the greater-Utica area.

The feeling was mutual. Shook acknowledged, "It was evident that the kids were very excited about music and creativity. And, John [Piazza] was the catalyst for that."

Piazza, a well-respected trumpeter and educator in his own right, had recently introduced the kids to musical composition. In fact, earlier in the year, each student had written an original musical work that the student-musicians performed. Piazza chronicled each composition and presented the students with recordings of the works.

The Ambassadors Jazztet recognized the energy associated with the composer connection, as many of the selections they performed were original, member-penned compositions.

"It is extremely important to us, as professional musicians, to share our love and our knowledge of music with younger generations, to communicate with them...through music," said Master Sgt. Jeff Lopez, bassist for the group. Lopez added, "It was amazing to see the kids light up the minute we played our first few notes."

Sgt. 1st Class Drew Layton added, "Music is more important than many people may realize."

The significance of music education has been debated for decades. According to the National Association for Music Education, music, in a nutshell, leads to success-in society, in school and learning, in developing intelligence, and in life.

Pianist, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Young, agrees. Exposure to music is vital. Young commented, "Many kids today, particularly in neglected communities, don't have the resources to experience all that music brings to life. We loved playing for these kids!"

Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, conductor of the Jazz Ambassadors, thoughtfully recalled, "Usually, when we perform at concerts and clinics across the Nation, we receive many appreciative comments. The thing I remember most about this specific performance is that when my guys got back from the gig, they were so energized. I found it completely refreshing to hear of how a group of underprivileged kids had such a profound impact on the band."

About the Ambassadors Jazztet:

The Ambassadors Jazztet is composed of six Noncommissioned Officers of the Jazz Ambassadors, the Army's premier touring jazz orchestra. Though the Jazztet performs traditional jazz standards, its primary focus is on new compositions by members of the group. The compositions vary greatly, sometimes paying homage to older styles and sometimes developing an entirely new sound. The Ambassadors Jazztet has presented clinics at colleges and high schools throughout the United States, addressing such subjects as improvisation, arranging, composition, jazz theory, and practice and performance techniques.

Members of the Jazztet are:

Master Sgt. Jeff Lopez-Bass
Master Sgt. Kevin Watt-Trumpet
Sgt. 1st Class Todd Harrison-Drums
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Layton-Alto Saxophone
Sgt. 1st Class Pat Shook-Tenor Saxophone
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Young-Piano

About The United States Army Field Band:

The United States Army Field Band, the Musical Ambassadors of the Army, has performed for more than 100 million people worldwide for more than 50 years. As the premier touring musical representative for the United States Army, this internationally-acclaimed military unit travels thousands of miles each year performing for enthusiastic audiences all over the world. Through these concerts, these Soldiers representing Soldiers continue to tell the Army story and keep the will of the American people behind the members of our armed forces.