At that Jazz

Monica Mendoza, Story and photos
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***The students came together from 23 high schools across Europe. It was, for many of them, the first time they’d met one another. Some came packing brass, others unpacked keyboards, drums and guitars on the stage at the Kaiserslautern American High School auditorium. They were there for one reason – all that jazz.

For five days, the 35 students played, sang and improvised until their lips and voices were sore, often playing and singing seven or eight hours straight.

“We got to scat, which is making it up right from the heart,” said vocalist Virginia Wootten, 17, a Ramstein American High School senior.

For the past 23 years, ***image2***Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Europe students have gathered in one location to learn and to play the music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. They came for a chance to learn from jazz trombonist Jiggs Whigham, currently the conductor of the BBC Big Band in Great Britain and the artistic director of the Berlin Jazz Orchestra.
The man who has played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie tapped his foot and led the students through the big band sound.

“Man, you guys are swinging. Woa. Woa. Woa. That is the sound of music,” Mr. Whigham told the students several hours into play Tuesday.

Can’t beat that, students said. They loved the freedom and improvisation of jazz music and playing alongside students who shared their appreciation for the ***image3***music.

“When you come here with so many good people, you learn something new,” said Ryan McDermott, 17, on saxophone, a senior from Wűrzberg High School.

All of them – singers and musicians – auditioned for the chance to spend five days and nights blowing their horns and learning the value of hard work, said Wayne Fears, KAHS music instructor.

Competition to get into the seminar was stiff. Organizers said there was a 33 percent increase this year in the number of applicants over last year – nearly 120 students tried out for the limited slots, said Eric Measells, DODDS visual and performing arts ***image4***specialist.

“Jazz is usually taught after class, something extra,” Mr. Measells said. “These students had the opportunity to come in and work with a group of musicians who are all proficient, all at the same level.”

John Frank, KAHS sophomore, who was blowing tunes from his trumpet, said he loves the tempo and the swing of jazz music.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

For two days, students played with the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band. Members of the USAFE Band gave performances and individual instruction.

“They definitely come back a changed person,” Mr. Fears said. “Now, they have played with a professional musician.”

And play they did. The jazz ensemble played for their peers at both KAHS and RAHS. Finally, they showcased their talent Wednesday at a public concert in Ramstein.

Chris McCormick, RAHS senior, said he first picked up a guitar the summer before high school. Jazz, he said, takes more concentration to play than popular music.

This week, he found himself letting go on his semi-hollow body electric guitar.

“This is awesome,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest things – just a chance to play with these great musicians.”