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photo 2Earlier this month members of the Jazz Knights traveled to the Zenith City of the North, Duluth, Minnesota for the 41st annual Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival at the University of MN-Duluth. Head of the Lakes is a non-competitive festival, offering positive, learning-based experiences for young jazz ensembles throughout the area. This positive, learning-oriented approach has become a hallmark of the Head of the Lakes Festival.

Duluth is in the midst of a cultural boom and overflowing with music, especially jazz and folk. The city is full of all sorts of venues: clubs, hotels, schools, churches and libraries. Not a huge surprise for the city that can lay claim as Bob Dylan’s birthplace. It’s wonderful to see a city with big bands and small groups playing everything from Dixie to Duke Ellington on any night of the week.

During the days leading up to the festival, we had the honor of performing for college students and faculty from around the area. On Thursday we visited the UMD Music Department during their weekly “Recital Hour” and had the opportunity to work with not only the Jazz Studies students that day, but the entire Music Department in their beautiful music hall. UMD Jazz Department Head, Ryan Frane, and everyone on the jazz faculty at UMD is world class and it was a privilege to perform with Adam Booker and Gene Koshinski, the departments jazz bass and drum instructors.


Along with our rendition of Thad Jones classic “Three and One,” we had the added bonus of performing some brand new arrangements SGM Scott Arcangel composed earlier that morning. When inspiration knocks, you answer the door, and the tunes went so well there were requests for copies for the school groups to play after we left. After our performance we spoke to the students about our experiences after graduating from school, what inspired us to join the Army and serve as NCOs in the West Point Band, and how our studies prepared us to be versatile musicians in an ever changing world. “Be versatile, be professional and be resilient.” 

MSG Rich Johnson, a UMD alumni, then gave a trumpet workshop on the challenges of transitioning from school to professional life as a trumpet player and his experiences recovering from a broken embouchure, all the way to earning a position in the West Point Band. It was a enthusiastic discussion about training for quick recovery, adapting to new situations and creating a foundation for a life long career.

Friday we crossed over the high bridge, with it’s awe-inspiring view of a frozen Lake Superior, and traveled to the University of Wisonson-Superior to work with Jazz Studies Department head Greg Moore and his UWS big band as they prepare to travel to the Eau Claire Jazz Festival this spring. Dr. Moore is an excellent director and tenor saxophonist, who’s love of the music is clearly evident in his approach to leading a band. His passion is infectious and the students level of commitment to the music and each other was clearly evident. What a great team! When rehearsal was over we stayed to perform with students in a workshopping session and SFC Dan Pierce led a great discussion about our career field, what it means to be adaptable in today’s job market, and ended with an inspiring talk about personal musical influences and how those led us to where we are today.

ImageEarlier that day, we had the chance to visit the Duluth Veterans Memorial on the shores of Lake Superior. This was especially significant to MSG Johnson, since he had performed Taps for services at the memorial while he was still a music student at UMD. The white, wave inspired monument set against the big lake, frozen over for the first time since 1996 was a moving site and the names of local service members inside the memorial was a powerful reminder of service and sacrifice.

2014-03-08 14.29.09Head of the Lakes was in full swing Saturday with high school jazz bands from across Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Jazz Knights spent the day adjudicating big bands with other area professionals and participating in instrument workshops and lectures. Each ensemble received 40 minutes of individualized time that included a  performance and evaluation with adjudicators. It was inspiring to work with such talented and motivated students, everyone came ready to play and they all performed at the top of their various levels. Being able to really dig into the music with them and discuss specific details that will take them to the next level was very rewarding for both us and the students. 

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That evening we helped close out the festival with the UMD Jazz Faculty All-Stars and SGM Arcangel’s new arrangements. The packed house enjoyed the evening and left taping their toes and whistling the tunes. Later that night at the post-festival jam session, we sat in with UMD students, talked more about our experiences as members of the West Point Band, and worked on session etiquette; when to lead and when to follow, and how to quickly develop structure while improvising on the bandstand –
“Be versatile, be professional and be resilient.” 

After the last chorus was played and the instruments were packed up, we were able to work with and perform for over 1000 area students and audience members. Jazz is alive and well in Duluth and it was an honor to share our Army experiences with such a dedicated community.

Great People on a Great Lake!