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For the first time in its 23-year history, the annual Department of Defense Dependents Schools student Jazz Seminar is making a showing south of the Alps.

Tuesday, 37 students from 18 U.S. military schools throughout Europe will converge in Naples, Italy, for the Big Band Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Vocal Ensemble. The program will culminate with a performance Saturday at Naples High School conducted by jazz veteran Jiggs Whigham.

“I am definitely nervous. This is an event of the best of the best in all of Europe, and I haven’t been playing for very long,” said Naples High School junior Austin Struckmeyer, a trombone player.

“I was surprised when I made it, so yes, I’m nervous. I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t nervous.

“Not to mention, it’s being conducted by Jiggs Whigham, the best trombone player in the whole world. I’m excited. It’s really, really awesome.”

The students also will be performing with and getting lessons from some of the Navy’s top musicians: those of the 6th Fleet Band and the Allied Forces Band Naples, said Gary Marvel, a teacher at Naples and event coordinator.

Whigham, who also is a musical director for the BBC Big Band, helped create the program more than 20 years ago to give students throughout Germany an outlet to learn jazz. The program later expanded to all of Europe.

People aching for some jazz will be able to catch various free performances and practice sessions during the week, starting with a workshop Tuesday at 8 p.m. with the students and a Navy combo at the Holiday Inn in Pinetamare, Marvel said.

Wednesday features a concert with the students and the military Big Band at Naples High School at 7:30 p.m. The students perform twice on Friday, a concert at 10 a.m. at Joint Forces Command in Bagnoli, followed by one at 1:50 p.m. for Naples students at the high school.

The weeklong seminar concludes with Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. performance at Naples High School. There will be a $2 admission charge for adults.

“Jazz is a unique form of American music, and it’s just great that our students are able to perform this unique music with the likes of the military bands there,” said Eric Measells, instructional systems specialists from DODDS-Europe's Visual and Performing Arts department.

And, of course, with Whigham, who has sounded his trombone alongside the likes of Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Cannonball Adderley.

“He adds a reality to every student,” Marvel said. “They’ve read about him, heard him, maybe have seen him on TV. And now they’ll get to perform under his tutelage. Students are always in awe of that.”


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