'You just swing'-Jazz Ambassadors help student record original jazz piece

By Lisa R. Rhodes
Fort Meade Public Affairs

News story photo
Photo credit: Sarah Nix
Jonathan Engelberg (left) poses for a portrait with his composition teacher, Gary Dailey, while the U.S. Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors rehearse on March 12. Engelberg, a senior at Atholton High School, composed a jazz piece, which the group recorded.
One day last spring, Jonathan Engelberg heard 12 bars of a melody in his head. A musician, Engelberg played the melody on a piano and liked it so much that he brought it to the attention of Gary Daily, his private music composition teacher.

"I wanted to write a piece for a jazz band," said Engelberg, 18, a senior at Atholton High School in Columbia and a member of the high school's jazz band for four years. "I love jazz music."

Little did Engelberg know that just a few months later, he would conduct the U.S. Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors in its professional recording of "Low Tide," the teen's original jazz composition, in the band's Fort Meade rehearsal studio.

The following month, in November 2008, Engelberg entered the recording of "Low Tide" in the National Association of Music Education Young Composers competition. In January, he was notified that his composition was chosen from numerous other entries around the country to premiere as a performance piece at a concert scheduled for Friday in Providence, R.I.

"I was surprised," Engelberg said of "Low Tide's" selection. "I was blown away."

Sgt. Maj. Michael Buckley, noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the Jazz Ambassadors, said collaborating with Engelberg was a "unique opportunity" that is central to the jazz band's commitment to youth and music education.

"Educational outreach is very important to the band," said Buckley, noting that the band was pleased to support a young jazz composer.

Dailey, a former trumpeter and composer with the Jazz Ambassadors, spent several months guiding Engelberg as he wrote "Low Tide," using an electronic keyboard and a computer software program that allows musicians to write and rewrite compositions.

When the creative process was complete, Engelberg, who also plays the saxophone and flute, had composed a composition for an 18-piece jazz band.

"When you listen to it, you just swing," the teen said.

Dailey, who has taught Engelberg for a year, suggested he enter his composition in the composer contest. Dailey also contacted the Jazz Ambassadors and asked if the band would help Engelberg make a professional recording to submit to the competition.

"I wanted to give [Engelberg] the best shot possible and to give him a good chance of being heard by the competition review board," Dailey said. "Whenever a really talented young composer comes along, I want to give them a showcase to expose them to a higher level of performance."

The Jazz Ambassadors agreed, and, two days before starting its fall tour, the band was recording "Low Tide" in its rehearsal studio with Engelberg in the conductor's seat.

Band members first rehearsed "Low Tide," then offered advice to Engelberg about how to improve the composition. Together, they made a few adjustments and then spent an hour recording the piece.

"It was an exciting experience to hear a professional band play it," Engelberg said. "They took the song and turned it into music."

Buckley said Engelberg composed a standard blues composition with impressive orchestration for a jazz band. "We were thrilled to see a young person playing to that caliber," Buckley said.

Engelberg intends to study music composition in college, although he's not sure just what he will do as a career. "I want to do anything creative," he said. "Music will always be a part of my life."

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