Jazz Ambassadors swing for the holidays: Music of Duke Ellington highlights annual holiday concert at Meade High

The Jazz Ambassadors perform an adaptation from “The Nutcracker Suite” arranged by the late Shorty Rogers, a jazz trumpeter, during the U.S. Army Field Band’s annual “Sound The Bells” holiday concert on Dec. 7. The hourlong concert, held at Meade High School, featured music by jazz great Duke Ellington. (Photos by Nate Pesce)

The U.S. Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors ushered in the holiday season with the Field Band’s annual “Sound The Bells” concert that included jazz renditions of favorite Christmas songs.

The one-hour concert was performed Dec. 7 in Meade High School’s auditorium.

“I think it was great,” Odenton resident Linda Mighone said after the concert. “The musicians are very talented. I come every year.”

Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard welcomed the audience and introduced the Jazz Ambassadors, who are known as “America’s Big Band.”

Master Sgt. Tim Young plays the piano during a jazz solo of “O Tannenbaum.” Young retires from the U.S. Army Field Band next year after 20 years of service.

Rickard then presented Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Pick, director of the Jazz Ambassadors, with a commemorative plaque to note the performance.

The Jazz Ambassadors began the concert with a musical prelude of “Deck the Halls” and a stirring rendition of the national anthem by vocalist Sgt. 1st Class Randall Wight.

The auditorium was soon filled with music arranged and composed by jazz great Duke Ellington and his composer-arranger partner Billy Strayhorn.

The Jazz Ambassadors performed an Ellington arrangement of “Jingle Bells” and the Ellington-Strayhorn composition “Sugar Rum Cherry” taken from “The <FZ,1,0,35>Nutcracker Suite.”

A special moment featured a “jazzy” solo performance of “O Tannenbaum” by pianist Master Sgt. Tim Young. The concert was Young’s final Fort Meade Christmas concert with the Jazz Ambassadors as he prepares to retire next year after 20 years of service.

“I’m excited about it,” Young said after the concert. “This is the perfect way to say goodbye. I have no regrets. It was a good service, good duty, and I grew a lot.”

Wight performed such holidays favorites as “Sleigh Ride” and “The Christmas Song” as well as the band’s own adaptation of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s version of “Winter Wonderland.”

Staff Sgt. Wesley Anderson plays the drums with the Jazz Ambassadors. He later performed a solo during the jazz composition “Sing, Sing Sing.”

In addition to piano and vocal performances, the concert included solo performances by Staff Sgt. Kyle Johnson on trombone; Sgt. Maj. Kevin Watt on trumpet; and Master Sgt. Pat Shook, Sgt. 1st Class Bradford Danho and Sgt. Maj. Andrew Layton on saxophone.

Staff Sgt. Wesley Anderson performed two drum solos and Pick played trombone.

The last half-hour of the concert was dedicated to musical arrangements by the late Milton “Shorty” Rogers, a noted jazz trumpeter who is considered one of the pioneers of West Coast jazz, according to The New York Times.

The band played Roger’s arrangements of “Snowball” and “Flowers for the Cats,” another adaptation from “The Nutcracker Suite.”

Jayson Knapps, a DoD civilian employee, plays with his 23-month-old daughter Daniela before the music begins. The concert featured the band’s rendition of “Winter Wonderland”as performed by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

A Christmas medley that included “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” was played by the Dixieland Band, made up of musicians from the Jazz Ambassadors.

Staff Sgt. Hamilton Price plays bass during the annual concert.

The concert ended with the traditional Armed Forces Salute and a gospel-tinged rendition of “America The Beautiful” sung by Wight, who was accompanied by Young on piano.

After a standing ovation, the Jazz Ambassadors played an encore of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” an instrumental composition made famous by Benny Goodman.

“I liked it very much,” retired Air Force Lt. Col. George Alberti said. “It was a great experience.”

Alberti enjoyed the concert with his wife, Penny.

“I love all the different holiday songs,” she said. “We look forward to this music every year.”

Travis Vaughn, a DoD civilian employee who works at the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the concert was the perfect way to spend the evening.

“This was a lot of fun,” he said.

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