Rustin Musicians Hone Their Craft with the Help of the US Army Field Band

Rustin Musicians Hone Their Craft with the Help of the US Army Field Band

Members of Rustin High School's jazz band receive advice from the US Army Field Band  Rustin High School choir students perform with Sergeant Wright from the US Army Field Band

Rustin High School students recently had a unique opportunity to perform for the US Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors.  The musical group brought their "Greatest Generation" show to Rustin on March 13 for a special community performance. The next day they returned to the school to work with the students.

Members of Rustin's jazz band and choir performed some of their musical selections and received valuable feedback from the seasoned performers.

"What is your concept of section balance? What does that mean to you? How do we balance all of the parts of a section?" asked Staff Sergeant Zachary Steele who plays lead trombone for the Jazz Ambassadors.

"Everybody should listen to the lead player," one student replied.

Staff Sergeant Steele went on to explain how the entire section must work together to support the lead player.

"My argument is, the second player, you are going to feel like you're playing louder than the lead player.  The third player, you can probably play as loud as you want - it's never going to be a problem. It's all going to make the lead player's job easier. It's kind of weird if you think of it that way, but acoustically, it works."

Master Sergeant Liesl Whitaker plays lead trumpet for the Jazz Ambassadors. She joined the Army Blues in 2000 and is the first woman to win a lead position in a premier U.S. military jazz ensemble. Master Sergeant Whitaker joined the U.S. Army Field Band in 2012 and is one of two women currently serving in the Jazz Ambassadors. She listened intently as the young musicians performed and then talked to them about their placement in the group.

"The reason I'm asking where the players are is that you want to keep everyone in a line so when you're switching parts, you want to make sure you're keeping that line," said Master Sergeant Whitaker.

Next to director Mike Shoremount's band room, Ann Ellis's choral students were learning from Sergeant First Class Randy Wright, the vocalist for the Jazz Ambassadors. They were shocked to learn that Sergeant Wright doesn't read music and he learns everything by ear.

"You don't read music?" one student asked in disbelief.

"No, but I highly recommend learning," laughed Sergeant Wright. "I'm in the process of refining my skills."

The students performed Bridge Over Troubled Water and Valentine for Sergeant Wright. He joined in on their performance and offered some advice afterward.

"How do you teach a kid to be loose with their performance?" Mrs. Ellis asked. "I'm Miss Exact. That's my problem!"

"Well, I guess there's that fine line between reading the notes on the page and depending on the context, maybe we need to do exactly what's on the page. There's no improvisation if you're performing Rachmaninoff. But, to be looser with stuff, that comes from improvisation," said Sergeant Wright.

Wright then sat down at the piano and proceeded to riff off of Valentine's chord progression. The students' mouths dropped when he transitioned and played several bars from Your Song by Elton John before transitioning back to Valentine.

"That's getting loose with it, right? You're just doing your thing," said Sergeant Wright.

The Jazz Ambassadors is the United States Army’s premier big band. The 19-member ensemble, formed in 1969, has received great acclaim both at home and abroad performing America’s original art form, jazz.