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Marine All-Star Jazz Band performs across Michigan

By Sgt. Jimmy D. Shea | | April 19, 2011

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The Marine Corps’ most talented jazz musicians staged performances and held music clinics across Michigan during their third annual All-Star Jazz Band tour from April 10 to 15.

The top 18 jazz musicians were selected from the Marine Corps’ 12 field bands to wow the people of Michigan.

The Marines arrived in Traverse City, Mich., and spent the next two days rehearsing and perfecting the pieces they would soon be performing.

“They are the best players of their own bands,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jim Ford, head of the Marine Corps Music Program at Headquarters Marine Corps. “They learned to play together very quickly due to their top-notch skill and experience.”

For some of these musicians, it was not the first time playing in the All-Star Jazz Band.

“We started this three years ago,” said Ford. “The first two years we toured through South Carolina and Georgia, with a final performance at the Lakeside Jazz Festival in Daytona, Fla.”

After a few days of rehearsal, the Marines spent a week performing and holding jazz clinics at various colleges and high schools.

“The recruiters in parts of the upper Midwest have limited access to high schools,” said Ford. “Two of the schools we visited, Marquette High School and Interlochen Arts Academy, had restricted access. The Marine Corps’ outreach to those schools greatly improved through our visits.”

Ford spoke with Marine music technical assistants stationed in the various Marine Corps Districts to decide where the they would tour this year in order to increase the Corps’ recruiting visibility.

“This tour allows us to take our best musicians and tie into the Northern Michigan University Jazz Festival; building recruiting operations and public performances around that,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Knuckles, a tenor saxophonist and music technical assistant of 9th Marine Corps District.

As an MTA, Knuckles is responsible for auditioning applicants that would like to become Marine musicians in the upper Midwest.

“We held clinics for the students, playing for them and with them,” Knuckles said. “We gave them pointers that will help them further their musical careers and also let them know about the opportunities to pursue music in the Marine Corps.”

As the clinics ended, band rooms buzzed with students talking about what they learned and what they enjoyed most, and some students even approached Knuckles and the local recruiter about a possible Marine music career.

“They sounded great, and being able to play beside [Marines] was an amazing experience,” said Cam Forton, trombonist and senior at Traverse City West High School.

The clinic sparked an interest for Forton in a possible Marine music career, which lead him to set up a meeting with a recruiter later that week.

“It was nice to see there is more to military music than playing in ceremonies,” said Forton. “There are opportunities to teach, tour and travel like these musicians.”

The All Star ensemble’s final concert kicked off the Northern Michigan University Jazz Festival.

“We had the audience on the edge of their seats during the entire concert,” said Ford. “After two hours they wanted more, and that’s unusual. Several people commented, ‘I could’ve stayed here another hour!’”

Wrapping up the tour, the Marines and music educators spent the day judging and holding jazz clinics for band members of 26 Michigan high schools.

From the standing ovations to the positive student feedback, the tour proved to be a success for the third year in a row.

“While the All-Star Jazz Band tour is a major event for the music program and Marine public affairs, the Marine Corps field bands try to reach out as much as they can,” said Ford. “The Twentynine Palms (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.,) and Albany (Marine Corps Logistics Base, Albany, Ga.,) bands do the bulk of our community outreach, greatly improving recruiter access everywhere they go.”


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