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The DODDS Jazz Seminar 2004 big band had an appreciative audience at their concert in Wiesbaden on Thursday.
The DODDS Jazz Seminar 2004 big band had an appreciative audience at their concert in Wiesbaden on Thursday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
The DODDS Jazz Seminar 2004 big band had an appreciative audience at their concert in Wiesbaden on Thursday.
The DODDS Jazz Seminar 2004 big band had an appreciative audience at their concert in Wiesbaden on Thursday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Members of the saxophone section of the DODDS Jazz Seminar 2004 big band blow their horns during a concert in Wiesbaden on Thursday.
Members of the saxophone section of the DODDS Jazz Seminar 2004 big band blow their horns during a concert in Wiesbaden on Thursday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

WIESBADEN, Germany — The big band made a big sound.

“This was one of the best things we did,” said one student at the concert. “It was better than our field trip. If I could, I might get their autographs.”

Not bad for a week’s work.

The members of Jazz Seminar 2004 wrapped up their musical crash course on Thursday with a show at the Taunus Theater on Hainerberg Casern. The annual event brought together top musicians from Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe, whipped them into shape under the tutelage of jazz master Jiggs Whigham, then turned them loose on a two-day, four-concert tour.

Making music, Whigham said, is like cooking Chinese.

“There’s a whole lot a preparing,” he said. “Then you throw it in a wok and serve it up.”

The 28 musicians and singers came mostly from high schools in Germany; a few came from England and Italy. They played jumping jazz, spicy salsa and soulful ballads.

Hannah Shebaro, a junior from Würzburg, sang “Angel Eyes” like Frank Sinatra once did:

“The fact’s uncomfortably clear

Gotta find who’s now No. 1,

And why my angel eyes ain’t here.”

It didn’t matter that the song was older than her parents.

“Any music is good music,” she said, “if you play it and sing it with the respect it deserves.”

The players were already talented. That’s how they got chosen for Jazz Seminar 2004. This was their chance to break away from their school bands and garage bands and swing, baby.

“The whole time limit made it a challenge,” said Doug Francis, an 11th-grader from Ramstein High School who played baritone sax.

“The first day (Jan. 10) we got together for only two hours so that didn’t count. But the next day we just clicked. Once we found out what everyone liked, we just came out and played.”

“A lot of people don’t know how much hard work was put into this,” said Dominic Legette, a junior from Würzburg who played alto sax. “We practiced every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. We got three breaks a day.”

Whigham was a trombone soloist with Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Maynard Ferguson and now conducts the Berlin Jazz Orchestra and British Broadcasting Corporation Big Band.

He was hired to take a group of young people and help the students sound like a band their grandparents used to dance to.

“They came focused and prepared,” Whigham said. “You just keep working at it until it sounds right.”

Eight saxophonists sat in the front row, with five trombonists and six trumpeters behind them. Two guitarists, a bassist, keyboardist and drummer filled out the band. The guys looked sharp in their dark suits and ties; the young ladies were elegant in their evening dresses; brass sparkled in the light of the theater.

Some of the players stood, played solos and sat back down. They were cheered by an audience of about 400, mostly students from Wiesbaden.

Outside the theater, the concertgoers were abuzz from the show. Charles McFadden, Rudy Lynch and Demetrius Brown, ninth-graders from H.H. Arnold High School, were excused from class so they could attend.

“It set a real nice mood,” Charles said. “It was relaxing, actually.”

Rudy said the salsa number was touching. “It soothed me,” he said.

Then Charles added, “Young people don’t listen to just rap these days.”

Yes, it was old-style music, Demetrius said, but it was fresh.

“It was like a remix of Old School,” he said.

When it was over and as the theater cleared, the musicians broke down the sound system and packed up their instruments. Still wearing their nice clothes, they loaded up the vans and buses.

That’s show biz.

“They discovered they were part of a flow, part of a team and learned, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good,’” Whigham said. “It’s wonderful to see them discover themselves.”

Rob Modlin, a Ramstein senior, echoed the thoughts of many when he said, “Jiggs is an amazing person to be with.”

Like members of any team, band mates have a special bond. It can be the way they talk or the way they know what the other person is going to do. Natalie Eslinger, mother of trombonist Bryan Eslinger, a Ramstein senior, said her son and his friends travel to another zone when they gather with their instruments.

“They just communicate on a different level in a different language,” she said. “But they get it.”

Bryan said it’s the slicing and chopping and serving it up that brings musicians together. And when they’re really cooking, it doesn’t get much better.

“The bond is the music itself,” Eslinger said. “When it’s right, you forget the audience, you forget your troubles back home. For that hour, the music is everything.

“Jiggs told us, ‘The music doesn’t lie. It’s either good or bad.’

“It speaks the truth all the time.”

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