This past Sunday evening, I met some friends to hear free concert at The Carter Barron Amitheatre. Opened in 1950 and named after one of its primary sponsors, the ampitheatre has hosted a variety of musical and theatrical events over the years including Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Ethel Merman, Henry Mancini, Harry Belafonte, Andy Williams, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, B.B. King, the O'Jays, Smokey Robinson, and the Four Tops.
Sunday evening it featured a program called “Joint Service Jazz” with performances by the big bands of the US Navy, Army, and Air Force.
DC is fortunate to be home to these ensembles which are part of the larger military band organizations of each of the armed services. Their primary mission is to play music for the troops and provide good public relations for the military which means lots of free concerts like the one last night.
Personally I appreciate these kinds of concerts since I don’t go out of my way to hear more modern jazz. I have a limited affinity for it, but for free, in a great outdoor space, on a beautiful night? I’m game.
The evening was primarily organized by the Airmen of Note, the jazz big band of the US Air Force. During their set, a spokesman for the band talked about how the bands had not shared a stage together in over 20 years until they started doing this a few years ago.
The evening started off with the US Navy Commodores. We came in a couple songs after they started, but were treated to some lovely vocals by Yolanda C. Pelzer including a rendition of Irving Berlins’s “Let’s Face The Music & Dance.” In addition to a great voice, she had an impressive stage presence that commanded the audience for the few songs that she sang. Afterwords, saxophonist Scott Silbert, noted that the evening wasn't a competition between the bands but if it were, she would be their secret weapon.
Out of all the military jazz big bands I’m most familiar with the Commodores from other performances. I’ve also noticed that those musicians tend to fill out the ranks of the other local bands here in DC including the Brooks Tegler Big Band. However, last night I only recognized saxophonist Scott Silbert, who did the bulk of the introductions for the band.
Next up was the US Army Blues who opened with a blazing Buddy Rich arrangement of “Love For Sale”
Here’s a clip of them performing it earlier this year.
I actually heard them play that song couple days earlier, during their Jazz in the Garden appearance, but this was a much more spirited performance including crackling solos by the drummer.
They followed that with some original compositions by various band members before ending with the Count Basie’s “Blues In Hoss’ Flat.” Before they started, band conductor Charles H. Vollherbst referenced this clip of Jerry Lewis pantomiming to the song in his 1961 movie, Errand Boy.
Here's the band itself performing the song at another concert just couple of months ago at National Trumpet Competition with some special guest artists.
Part 2 feturing some raucous interplay between the trumpeters
The US Air Force Airman of Note wrapped up the evening, mostly with their original compositions. Eventually they ended with a medley of jazz versions of the various service fight songs where they asked veterans to stand and be recognized when their song was played.
As the main organizers of the evening they even gave away free cd's of the band at the end of the night to everyone in attendance.
Apparently all the bands are about giving away free music. You can download all the Airmen of Note cd's in their entirety from their website. They even have a cd dedicated to the music of Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band from which the current band is descended.
The great thing about these bands is that they are some of the few professional traveling big bands of the modern era. When they are not performing in the DC area, they are on tour around the world.
You can check their websites for their future gigs along with the public performances of the other military bands.