Renowned jazz musician Jiggs Whigham strikes right chord with DODDS students
By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 12, 2011
Jazz great Jiggs Whigham is a patient man but getting on in years. And if his student musicians didn’t pick up the tempo during practice Tuesday, he jested that his visit to Naples, Italy, just might be his last.
“I’m an old man, and I don’t want to die in Italy,” he joked with the students under his brief, but venerated, tutelage.
Whigham is mentoring 35 Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe students at the annual jazz seminar, a weeklong curriculum for high-schoolers to learn the art form from teachers and Whigham, who has devoted his life to his passion.
It’s the 27th year the internationally acclaimed jazz trombonist, composer, conductor and educator has tutored DODDS students.
“I started when I was 2,” he quipped.
The selected students from Europe-based DODDS schools beat out some 100 others who auditioned for the coveted positions to learn from and play with Whigham, 66 and presently conductor of the BBC Big Band in Great Britain and artistic director of the Berlin Jazz Orchestra.
The band and jazz choir will show what they have learned when they perform at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Naples High School, at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Allied Joint Force Command Bagnoli base and at 7 p.m. Saturday at the high school.
“It’s such a great experience to learn, to play with a professional like Jiggs,” said Lizzie Watson, 16, who plays the baritone saxophone and traveled to Naples this week from Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Watson is one of those students on the precipice of deciding whether music will be a career choice and is the type of student that the program coordinators say they target.
“We all started out the same way, all started playing in school. Somewhere along the way, some of us experienced that ‘wow’ moment,” and opted to pursue music as a career, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Ken Keller, operations chief for the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band in Naples. He coordinated much of the logistics, from getting some students’ equipment to Italy and ensuring the Navy band provided some of the instruments, like piano and drum sets.
“As musicians, we look for chances to give back what we learned over the years.”
Erik Langholz, 16, a trumpeter from Kaiserslautern High School, said that while he’s learned much from teachers and fellow students, attending a seminar taught by “the great Jiggs,” as the students call him, provides extra incentive and uniqueness to the learning process.
Whigham said he has noted a better caliber of talent and enthusiasm over the years as the program has grown among Europe-based DODDS schools, and the competition to make the cut has toughened.
“It’s amazing to watch them. They come in as kids and leave as young adult musicians,” he said.
Program managers are looking to expand the seminar to DODDS schools in the Pacific, Whigham said.
Whigham prefers to shelve his celebrity, modestly saying he just wants to instill in the young musicians a passion for the music. “I was brought up on a farm in Ohio and I’ve never lost sight of that,” he said, despite a professional jazz career that started when he was just 17, and has included time playing with the likes of Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz and at least 100 other big names.
Whigham brings “true professionalism as an artist, and one with such a humanistic character that the kids note that,” said Gary Marvel, the Naples High School band director and program host. “They feel totally at ease working with someone of such high caliber.”