Jazz Ambassadors Tour the Last Frontier

By Jonathan E. Agee
The United States Army Field Band

News story photo
Photo credit: Jonathan Agee
Staff Sgt. Dustin Mollick, baritone saxophonist, performs for an enthusiastic audience at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Sept. 21.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. — Last month, the Jazz Ambassadors traveled to Alaska, where they performed a week of concerts and educational clinics throughout the state.

It was the first time in more than 30 years the Jazz Ambassadors toured Alaska. The Soldiers were eager to reach as many people as possible with their signature jazz sound. Taking into consideration the nearly day-long flight into and out of the state, the Soldiers had about five days to engage, and they made the most of every second.

Traveling more than 1,000 miles on tour, the band conducted five educational clinics, two educational assemblies, and four concerts. For many residents, having the chance to see the Jazz Ambassadors perform was a rare treat.

“Last night I stood at the door as the community was leaving. Everyone thanked us for hosting,” said Amy Spargo, Wasilla high school principal. “Some of the veterans were excited. They felt encouraged, validated and honored by having the group here. Many people said it is just hard to get that quality of music in rural Alaska.”

According to Chief Warrant Officer 4 William S. McCulloch, director of the Jazz Ambassadors, the Army Field Band is tasked to carry the Army Story to the grassroots of America, and Alaska is a critical part of that mission. “It’s important we get out to all corners; we don’t leave anyone out,” said McCulloch. “It’s very easy to play locally, and we do a lot local, but we don’t want the people of Alaska to think, ‘OK, they’re out there and they have sort of forgotten about us.’”

The Army Field Band also has an extensive educational outreach program, going into schools and providing instrument-specific instruction for students looking to improve their skills.

“As a principal, certainly I wanted my kids and their parents to see what the potential is; we’re building a music program here in Seward and I think the timing is absolutely perfect,” said Trevan Walker, Seward High School principal. “I really do expect this to inspire the next generation of musicians from Seward, which was the reason I was so excited to host the Jazz Ambassadors here.”

The Jazz Ambassadors also coordinate with local schools to have outstanding young musicians perform on stage with the Soldiers during the concert. For some students, the opportunity is the highlight of their young career.

“My daughter played the trombone with them. That was a really fun thing,” said Spargo. “She was just a chatterbox last night at home, because she got a chance to hear what she said were ‘some of the best trombone players in her life.’ She was all abuzz with that when we got home last night.”

Walker summed up the Alaska tour by noting, “The Jazz Ambassadors are aptly named -- phenomenal show for this little corner of America for sure. We have not seen the likes of it, and I don’t expect we will see the likes of it anytime again in the future. It was a wonderful show.”

Alaska is known as the Last Frontier due to the large amounts of land that have not been accurately explored and chartered. It is America’s biggest state and a place where wildlife and harsh environmental conditions are commonplace. But for the Jazz Ambassadors, Alaska is simply another state where the Soldier-Musicians of the Army Field Band can showcase Soldier excellence while sharing the Army Story with the American public.

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