Pianist brings versatility to Jazz Ambassadors

By Lisa R. Rhodes
Soundoff Staff Writer

News story photo
Photo credit: Jonathan E. Agee
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Young, pianist for the U.S. Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors, rehearses July 29 for the group's annual summer concert Saturday at 7 p.m. at Constitution/Centennial Park. Young plays all styles of jazz, from early ragtime to the sophisticated stylings of Duke Ellington.
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Young had no ambitions to become a jazz pianist.

As a teen, he thought he would work in his parents' housecleaning business in Newport News, Va., after graduating high school.

Even though Young began playing drums in middle school and for his high school marching band, music as a career just wasn't on his radar.

But when Edgar Webb, the director of the high school marching band, suggested he start taking private piano lessons in his junior year, Young decided to give it a try.

"I thought it was a good idea; I was excited to take lessons," said Young, 39. "But I had no idea I would go into music or go to music school."

Today, more than 20 years later, Young is one of the most respected members of the U.S. Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors.

Based at Fort Meade, the Jazz Ambassadors are the premier big band of the Army. The 19-member ensemble is known for its diverse repertoire, which includes big-band swing, bebop, Latin, contemporary jazz, standards, popular tunes, Dixieland and patriotic selections.

As the band's pianist, Young is known for his ability to play all styles of jazz.

"He is among a group of really remarkable musicians, one of the top three to four musicians in the band," said Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, director of the Jazz Ambassadors. "He's very dedicated to increasing his knowledge of various stylings."

Founded in 1969, the Jazz Ambassadors have toured the world and just completed an annual summer tour.

The group will perform for the Fort Meade community Saturday at 7 p.m. at Constitution/Centennial Park as part of the U.S. Army Field Band's annual Summer Concert Series on Fort Meade.

Young comes from a family where music is revered. His father played jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel records when Young was growing up, and his older brother Alphonso is also a jazz lover and plays the drums.

When Alphonso enrolled in the jazz program at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va., Young's parents encouraged him to follow in his brother's footsteps.

After studying jazz and receiving his Bachelor of Music degree from the conservatory, Young earned a Master of Music in jazz in 1997 from the University of North Texas in Denton.

While in graduate school, the young musician played keyboard in the band Mingo Fish Trap, which played everything from soul and pop to funk.

Young said he admires other jazz artists, particularly Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner, and has studied the work of gospel greats Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland and Clara Ward.

After completing graduate school, Young wasn't sure what he would do next. He worked briefly as a substitute teacher in the Denton public school system, but he also prayed for guidance "that the doors of opportunity would open for me," he said.

The following year, Sgt. Maj. Lane Woods, a support staff member of the U.S. Army Field Band, contacted one of Young's graduate school teachers to inquire about up and coming pianists. The professor then called Young and told him about an opening for a pianist with the Jazz Ambassadors and asked if he was interested.

Young sent an audition tape and later auditioned in person. "I thought I'd give it a try, and they liked me," he said.

After Young was offered the position, family and friends encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity. "My parents agreed that it was a good move," Young said.

He enlisted in the Army in 1998. After completing basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., Young joined the Jazz Ambassadors.

Since then, he has toured with the band throughout the United States. This summer alone, he toured five states.

Young's love for music is evident in his commitment to sharing what he has learned. When he is not touring or in rehearsals, Young gives private piano lessons from his Columbia home.

"I like teaching. It's nice to pass on things," Young said, noting he hopes to someday open a piano school.

Kippola said Young's future with the band is bright, including taking on more leadership roles within the U.S. Army Field Band.

Young said he is open to whatever the upcoming years may bring. For now, he is content knowing that he and the other members of the band bring joy to audiences through their performances.

"We touch them with the music," Young said. "People feel good, they feel better."

The U.S. Army Field Band will have two performances in August following Saturday's show. The Volunteers will perform Aug. 14. The Concert Band & Soldiers' Chorus will perform Aug. 21. Each performance will be at 7 p.m. at Constitution/Centennial Park.

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