Jazzing it up for Maryland music educators

By Jonathan E. Agee
The United States Army Field Band

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Photo credit: Jonathan E. Agee
Chief Warrant Officer 4 William McCulloch, director of the Jazz Ambassadors, speaks to Howard County music educators about the band, their mission, and the opportunities available to work with students around the country.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- “We’re always looking to connect the U.S. Army to the American people and one great way to do this is through education,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William McCulloch, director of the Jazz Ambassadors. “If you’re not educating, things will cease to exist; so in particular for jazz music if we’re not teaching it to our young kids then one day there will be a break in that legacy and we will cease to see it exist.”

This was the theme as the Jazz Ambassadors hosted a performance and discussion panel, April 26, for Howard County Public School music directors.

It was part of a professional development day for the music educators, and having the Jazz Ambassadors on hand provided a plethora of experience that helped the educators improve their jazz programs.

One reason the Jazz Ambassadors were invited was due to the knowledge gained as traveling musicians. More than 100 days annually, the Jazz Ambassadors tour America, taking jazz music and the Army story to the American people.

As part of that mission, the Soldier-Musicians are often hosting master classes and working with educators throughout the country. So when it comes to understanding how to relay the best jazz teaching practices, the Jazz Ambassadors have a wealth of experience to share.

“Being that we are a touring ensemble, we see a lot of things when we clinic on the road that maybe should be addressed better or are maybe being left out,” said Staff Sgt. Josh Fox, saxophonist. “Things that we think maybe they should focus on to improve their programs or help teach young children to play jazz.”

Prior to joining the Jazz Ambassadors, Fox was a music educator in Texas. He admits that he never had the opportunity to have a professional development day focused strictly on music, but thinks the experience would have been extremely beneficial.

The Jazz Ambassadors opened with a 30-minute concert. According to McCulloch, the purpose of the performance was to inspire and showcase a variety of music, not to demonstrate what educators should be teaching to their students.

“Just from the performance angle, it is a reminder of what we’re supposed to be preparing our kids for to take them to the next level,” said Robert White, instructional facilitator of music for Howard County Public School System. “But also they will be providing a discussion opportunity to talk about what they can bring to the clinics for the kids, and also share with our educators, what type of things they recommend they do with kids in terms of preparing them to play.”

During the panel discussion, educators asked a variety of questions ranging from what the Jazz Ambassadors see on the road, to how to have Soldier-Musicians host clinics at their schools.

“Being able to perform in the local community is fantastic,” said McCulloch. “And working on our education mission with music educators, and getting the word out about the band and the components that we can have working in the schools is a great thing.”

Fox, who organized this workshop, hopes that this is the start of many more educational classes to come in the local area.

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