Audience Jazzed by U.S. Army Band

By Gae Kane
The Progress, Clearfield, PA

"I was amazed and delighted by the wide variety of jazz music they played - everything from Glenn Miller to Count Basie was incorporated into the concert," Mark Wurster said about the Jazz Ambassadors, a U.S. Army Field Band.
"There was an excellent balance between the vocal and instrumental, Big Band and the early jazz components," Mr. Wurster added. "The virtuosity of the players and their range showed their exceptional talent. This was clearly a professional group of dedicated musicians who love what they are doing," he said.

The Dixieland overtones of several selections drew the approval of others at the concert, as did the selections that link jazz to its origin in New Orleans and contemporary music.

Last night's concert at the Clearfield Area Middle School opened with "Kid From Red Bank," giving the Jazz Ambassadors the opportunity to honor the talent of Count Basie and composer Neal Nifty. Johnny Mercer's "Moon River" and Harry Connick Jr.'s "Just Kiss Me" introduced a more contemporary tone to the concert.

Master Sgt. Marva Lewis, who could definitely hold her own among the legendary jazz singers, sang "East of the Sun," written in the 1930s by Bowman Brooks. The band also paid homage to early jazz music based on the Creole musical tradition, the blues, swing and greats like Benny Goodman, John Coltrane and Johnny Mercer during the concert.

Later in the concert, Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, director of the Jazz Ambassadors, introduced more contemporary jazz music by Van Morrison along with a piece by Marion Sunshine that had a unique African undertone. Then the Jazz Ambassadors turned to classic New Orleans jazz, raising the roof with the talent of the band's horn players, who reached high, clear notes demonstrating a wide array talent and skills.

"Jazz is very accessible music," Mr. Kippola said, "It is the only unique American music. This music is based on a melody and one or two chords, but the musicians have the freedom to play with the structure. The music offers a wide range choices stretching from Dixieland to swing while incorporating the work of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton. In the end, the music offers something for everyone."

It wouldn't be possible to have a military band without military music. During the musical salute, which touched on each branch of the U.S. military, Mr. Kippola saluted the veterans and their family members. Regardless of the music being played, the audience responded, often standing, clapping, and keeping time.

A well-kept secret about the Jazz Ambassadors is that these musicians have seen active military duty around the world. Master Sgt. Lewis, a vocalist, is a veteran of the Gulf War, Desert Storm, and Desert Shield, where she served with the First Cavalry Division.

All of these well-educated musicians have played professionally with greats like Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie, Lou Rawls, Tony Bennett, Frankie Valli, the Four Tops and Mary Wilson. Without a doubt their musical talents and skills showed.

The Clearfield area has a long connection with the Army Field Band that incorporates close-knit ties. Maj. Robert L. Bierly, from Clearfield, served as the band director in the 60s.

The Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1954 was the first time the Army Field Band played in Clearfield. At that time it performed before a crowd of 5,000 on a specially constructed raft on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River near the Market Street Bridge.

The Clearfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Bennett and Houser Funeral Home and Mohney-Yargar Funeral Home of DuBois sponsored the concert last night.

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