***image1***‘Check Six’ serves as musical ambassadors while performing on six-day tour of Russia
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band’s “Check Six” was music to Russian ears March 31 as they entertained and fostered relations between the United States and Russia.
USAFE’s premier band served as musical ambassadors helping the U.S. Consulate General celebrate its 10-year anniversary in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
For many citizens, it was the first time they had ever seen U.S. servicemembers, said Maj. Scott Guidry, USAFE Band commander.
“Part of our band’s mission is to win the hearts and minds of people; we’re in the business of influence. People here don’t know what to expect of American military members, so for them to see musicians helps open doors.”
The importance of the trip diplomatically was incredible Major Guidry said because it is an awesome responsibility.
“We are here representing a lot of things – USAFE and military members in Europe and the United States,” he said. “Although traveling to foreign countries is routine for us, this trip is different, because it’s a place we didn’t tour too often in the past.”
Keeping Check Six on the same sheet of music was Tech. Sgt. Bill King, NCO in charge of the band and alto saxophonist.
“It took a lot of coordination and planning to ensure things went smoothly,” Sergeant King said. “But overall, everything went well, and the event was successful.”
As his first trip to Russia, Sergeant King wasn’t sure what to expect of the country’s people and culture.
“I was surprised about how friendly the people were and how receptive they were of us,” he said. “We really enjoyed playing for them and watching their positive reaction to our music.”
Nine years ago, Tech. Sgt. Cully Joyce, the band’s tenor saxophonist, helped the city celebrate the U.S. Consulate’s first anniversary in Yekaterinburg.
“Everything is more open and has more western influence now. The city has grown into a large metropolitan area,” said the 14-year career technical sergeant.
Although things have changed, one thing remained the same, said Sergeant Joyce.
“The people here are still very warm and friendly. They have a lot of pride in their country and are very hospitable,” he said. “This was a very good opportunity for us to come to this country. Our relationship with Russia is very important, and this was a rewarding tour for us.”
Sergeant Joyce’s wife, Staff Sgt. Krista Joyce, who serves as the band’s vocalist, echoed this sentiment.
“On trips like these, we are diplomats — and that is a great reason for being in the band,” Staff Sergeant Joyce said. “Much of the music we play is from the World War II era, which is a lot of feel-good music. Many people here could relate to that kind of music. It was also a good way to put people in a military uniform in front of a crowd in a non-threatening sort of way to make a friendly presence known.”
During the concert, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation Alexander Vershbow was more than a spectator — he was a guest drummer.
“It was great playing with the band. They played excellent music and had fantastic arrangements,” said the ambassador, who once played with Comedian Bob Hope during a morale tour for military troops. “I was very pleased they could come here to Yekaterinburg to join in the celebration. It was fitting that they play at the 10th anniversary.”
Check Six is a 13-piece musical ensemble made of a rhythm section, seven horns, a vocalist and an audio technician. Their mission includes preserving and promoting a musical art form that is strictly unique to the United States — jazz.
They perform for thousands of people throughout Europe, Scandinavia and Southwest Asia – not just for foreign countries, but for the troops too, said Major Guidry.
“Gen. (Robert H. “Doc”) Foglesong (USAFE commander) puts emphasis on taking care of our men and women in blue, especially those that are in harm’s way,” the major said. “We play for the troops to let them know we haven’t forgotten about them, and to put smiles on their faces – it’s extremely gratifying.”
Check Six also played concerts at Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, Russia.