Jazz master leading DODDS-Europe musicians to swinging times
January 13, 2005
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Jiggs Whigham has played trombone alongside the likes of Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Cannonball Adderly. But this week, he shared the stage with some lesser-known artists: Students in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system.
During a weeklong jazz session in Heidelberg, Whigham instructed 27 handpicked students in the art of jazz. The band was to perform in a concert hall near Heidelberg on Wednesday night and was set to perform its final concert Thursday at Patch High School in Stuttgart.
The jazz session is an annual event that rotates throughout Europe and attracts students from Italy to England. Whigham, an acclaimed trombone player who conducts 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.
Many students returned this year for the second or third time. They said they came back because of the inspiration Whigham gave them and to be around other teenagers who like jazz.
“It’s definitely a life-changing experience,” said Doug Francis, a senior at Ramstein High School in Germany, who attended the seminar last year. “Before, I was just a little troglodyte scared to come out of my shell, and then I came here and I am willing to try anything.”
Katie Thompson, a senior at Alconbury High School in England, said she was most excited about learning how to scat, or improvise singing using sounds rather than words. During a practice Tuesday, Whigham touched his heart and leaned back in joy as Thompson sang “Everyday I Have the Blues.”
Angel Ayres, a senior at Würzburg High School in Germany, said she knew little about playing jazz on her bass guitar before she started coming to the annual seminar. Three years later, she said she has developed a love for jazz.
“It will always be part of my life,” Ayers said.
Whigham mentions Ayres when he speaks about what keeps him coming back. He remembers when Ayers could hardly strum a tune, much less keep up with up-tempo jazz songs.
“It’s like being a proud father,” Whigham said. “You see them grow. They’ve taken the ball, and they’ve run with it.”
Whigham said the seminar is about more than music. He entreats students to find a career they will enjoy and do their best in that field.
At Tuesday’s practice, Whigham told the students about “the hang,” a term he used to describe the culture around music. Jazz musicians hang around each other, creating a tight-knit community, he said.
Three high school music teachers watching the practice participated in “the hang” themselves, discussing whether Whigham was the best living jazz trombone player in the world. They agreed he was.
Jim Curtis, a senior at Würzburg, said two years attending the seminar was enough to ensure he will play his trumpet in a jazz band wherever he can find one. He checked to make sure the University of Houston, where he will attend next year, has student jazz bands.
As for Thursday’s final concert: “It’ll be great,” Curtis said. “As long as my lips hold out.”