Just as every beginner wind player learns scales, percussionists are taught rudiments to facilitate technique and create a solid, musical foundation. Terms such as flam, drag, and paradiddle quickly become ingrained in the mind of a young percussionist. An article written by W.F. Ludwig traces the progression of drum rudiments, with a history deeply rooted in fife and drum corps. While this approach to drumming has a strong military background, it can also be transferred into other types of playing. However, as the field of percussion evolves, some players are concerned that rudimental drumming is getting lost, forgotten, or overlooked by the younger generations of today.
The United States Association of Rudimental Drummers (USARD) is an organization that aims to preserve this historical art form. In 2012, the Hellcats drum section performed a 40-minute program while also collaborating with The Old Guard as a joint drumline. On April 26, 2014, the Hellcats offered another performance at the USARD 2014 Convention. During this banquet performance, the Hellcats performed their patriotic show entitled, “The Costs and Joys of Freedom.”
The drum section offered an encore collaborating with Dr. John Wooton and Staff Sgt. Scott Jamison. The rudimental drumming community is tight-knit, connected not only by their passion, but also through master players and teachers. Staff Sgt. Jamison, Sgt. First Class Prosperie, and Dr. Wooton are all former students of the late Marty Hurley.
Regarding the performance, Sgt. First Class Prosperie stated:
I think we reached the big picture, and we served a higher purpose, which was to move people…This venue was intimate; I was able to connect with the audience. The show calls the audience to be interactive as it progresses into different moods, contrasting technical facility with folk melodies. As a musician, you feed off the audience’s interactions and want to give them more…We wanted the show to evolve and unravel … and to be more approachable.
Being in a premier military band has been a dream of mine since I started playing flute at age twelve. I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and attended many military band concerts. From the first one, I knew that’s what I needed to do when I grew up.
When the United States Military Academy Band’s field music group, the Hellcats, announced three piccolo spots, I was ecstatic, but nervous. I was scared to audition and not be hired, crushing my childhood dream. Instead, I was lucky and offered a position. The most exciting part is reestablishing the role of the piccolo in the field music group. There have not been piccolos in the Hellcats for almost forty years, and the three of us now get to restart that tradition. That makes our job even more special to know that we have that part in history with the band.
Once arriving at West Point, we began training to work on our daily job, which is playing breakfast and lunch formations for the cadets. Together, the entire group worked on learning new sets ranging from tunes for the cadets to assemble into formation to music to march them into the mess hall. It has been a fun learning experience.
Besides formations, the Hellcats also participate in military tattoos. We already had three performances planned for April and had to quickly learn a new show. Since it had been so long since the group had piccolos, everyone had to brainstorm ideas for a new show. Some members wrote out new drill to go along with the music. The process of learning the drill and memorizing all of the music was tedious, but well worth the final product.
Our first show occurred on April 5 in New York City. We performed on an international stage with groups from Scotland, Canada, and the United States. As a featured group for the evening, the Hellcats performed for an audience of approximately 1,100 people in Mason Hall. I remember how excited, yet nervous I was before stepping onto that stage for a full house. As we performed, the audience became more and more engaged, and their applause filled the auditorium. After we brought our piccolos down after our feature, “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” the crowd erupted. I couldn’t help but crack a smile. My dream was coming true. We received a standing ovation, and many people expressed their gratitude and joy for the show after its conclusion.
One week later, we were able to debut our new show on our home turf at the 32nd Annual West Point Military Tattoo. It was hosted by the West Point Pipes and Drums, a pipe band organized by the cadets. It held a special place for me because of our daily duty with the corps. We performed in conjunction with 20 other groups from the Tri-State area. The weather warmed up, making it the perfect day to perform at West Point while overlooking the beautiful Hudson. After the performance, many people commented on how much they enjoyed the piccolos. A few even asked why the piccolos took such a long vacation. As a member of the section that is beginning this tradition again, it is exciting hearing people talk about how they enjoy the section and all the compliments about the Hellcats as a whole.
As we prepare for future events, I look forward to the new shows and music we will learn. What an amazing experience to make music and history at the same time!
By Staff Sgt. Courtney Martin
April is Jazz Appreciation Month! The West Point Band’s Jazz Knights celebrated it in a big way through partnering with West Point’s academic departments and clubs for several joint events. It was a historic month of “firsts,” with the “first” first being a record set for the number of Jazz Knights-cadet collaborations in a one-month period! I can’t wait to tell you about them, so here they are.
Night of the Arts The month-long celebration of jazz began with Night of the Arts or, NOTA, an annual celebration of cadet artistic excellence sponsored by the Department of English and Philosophy. For the first time ever, this year’s NOTA featured a cadet jazz band performance (see photo), with a little help from their friends, the Jazz Knights. The cadets came to the West Point Band building, where I had the opportunity to help rehearse them, and saxophonist Sgt. 1st Class Derrick James and trombonist Staff Sgt. Barry Cooper of the Jazz Knights provided expert coaching to the horn players. At NOTA, the cadets performed the classic Horace Silver piece “Song For My Father,” each taking improvised solos to rousing applause. (I assisted on bass.) As a testament to the historic nature of the performance, the photo in this blog made the Picture of the Week in the Dean’s Significant Activities Report!
Jazz Improvisation Class In four separate presentations to nearly 500 members of the Class of 2017 enrolled in EN102 (Literature) and PY201x (Philosophy), Sgt. 1st Class Mike Reifenberg presented a class entitled Jazz Improvisation: The Art of Spontaneity. It was the final installment in a four-part series requested by Maj. Harry Jones of the Philosophy Department, examining how the arts can be a model for creative problem-solving. Sgt. 1st Class Reifenberg, on alto saxophone, was joined by a Jazz Knights combo featuring drummer Master Sgt. Scott Drewes, bassist Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Nelson, and me on guitar. Using lecture, live musical demonstration, recordings, visual aids, and much interactive discussion, Sgt. 1st Class Reifenberg opened a window into the intriguing world of jazz improvisation. Cadets got in on the action, too, with a version of “stump the band” in which they chose from a list of jazz songs that the combo previously had not seen. This exercise showed how jazz musicians must use prior knowledge in responding swiftly to unexpected situations. Fortunately, the band came through unscathed, even when one cadet picked John Coltrane’s famously challenging composition “Giant Steps”! In all, the Jazz Knights enjoyed working with the cadets, who walked away from the class with new insights on the skills inherent to jazz improvisation, which they can apply to their own lives and careers.
Field trip to NYC One of my favorite additional duties is being the Noncommissioned Officer In Charge of the cadet Jazz Forum Club, a group that, until recently, I didn’t even know existed. But thanks to a phone call a couple of years ago from the club’s former Officer In Charge (OIC), Maj. John Dvorak, the Jazz Forum Club and the Jazz Knights have been joined at the hip ever since. We have done a number of great activities together over the past two years, and we are continuing the tradition. This year, cadets in the club, along with current OIC Maj. Robert Crouse and myself, took a field trip to the jazz mecca of the world, New York City, to immerse ourselves in all things jazz.
The day began with a visit to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Loren Schoenberg, director of the museum and a well-known jazz saxophonist and educator, presented a private lecture to our group on the importance of jazz in our nation’s history and the role of the museum in promoting jazz. Fittingly, Mr. Schoenberg opened the lecture with his piano performance of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s theme song, “Take The A Train,” an homage to Harlem, through which the A train runs. He noted that the jazz museum is located in Harlem because of Harlem’s prominent place in jazz history. Mr. Schoenberg indicated that the museum strives to document, preserve, and advance jazz as an original American artform in the same way that baseball and other things uniquely American have a hall of fame. Cadets were able to view the museum’s current exhibit, examine historical jazz memorabilia, and interact with the museum’s highly knowledgeable staff.
After visiting the museum, the group headed downtown to Greenwich Village and divided up to sample the eclectic variety of dining choices that “the Village” offers. After dinner, we met up again at the world famous Village Vanguard jazz club to see jazz guitar genius Kurt Rosenwinkel and his quartet. Cadets were able to soak in the unique history of the Vanguard, gazing around the room at the images of jazz’s elite lining the walls, all of whom had set foot in the Vanguard as performers. Just before the performance, the Vanguard’s host acknowledged our group and thanked the cadets for their service, which was met with enthusiastic applause from the Vanguard’s patrons. But it was all music after that, as Mr. Rosenwinkel proceeded to dazzle the audience with his brilliant musicianship in a set of all-original compositions. We left the city at 10:30pm– late for cadets, early for jazz musicians– thoroughly inspired by a day of jazz immersion.
Jazz at Grant Hall Jazz Appreciation month closed out on a literal high note with a true jazz standard, the jam session, hosted by Grant Hall. The mostly-cadet crowd was treated to a rare evening of live jazz, with a number of their own among the performers. Several cadets brought their “axes” to jam with a Jazz Knights combo consisting of Staff Sgt. Vito Speranza on trumpet, Staff Sgt. Geoff Vidal on tenor saxophone, Master Sgt. Drewes, Sgt. 1st Class Dan Pierce on bass, and me on guitar. Grant’s patrons went wild for the music, and the apparently very educated jazz crowd even applauded after individual solos. A great time was had by all.
What a spectacular month. As a jazz musician and educator, I was fortunate to be involved with two things I love doing— performing and teaching jazz. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share my love of jazz with so many cadets and to help them learn about a world and a life that means so much to me personally. The faces said it all: a satisfied smile for applause on an improvised solo, a look of pride in learning about the importance of jazz in our nation’s heritage, or the dawning of recognition in making a connection about jazz improvisation. And I got to see it all happen in abundance with West Point’s tremendous cadets. In that way, I consider myself a pretty lucky guy. And I look forward to being as lucky in the future as the Jazz Knights continue to partner with West Point’s academic departments and clubs to contribute to cadets’ cultural enrichment through jazz.
By Sgt. 1st Class Mark Tonelli
Members of the Jazz Knights will be touring Northern Ohio from Wednesday, April 8th to Saturday, April 12th, with visits to Capital University, Ohio State University, University of Akron, and a free Friday evening performance at the iconic Cleveland jazz spot, Nighttown Cleveland. The jazz septet features vocalist Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole and a three-horn front line performing original compositions and arrangements alongside classics from the American songbook and the jazz tradition.
After each university performance, the Jazz Knights will visit with current music students to discuss opportunities in the Army Music Program and their experiences serving our nation as members of the West Point Band.
Please visit www.westpointband.com for details on the upcoming performances, and contact U.S. Army Music Program Midwest Region Audition Coordinator Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Knight if you would like more information on Army Bands.
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Members of the West Point Band supported Army Women’s Basketball in their second ever NCAA appearance this weekend. The request for band support came just a few days before the game and the roster was filled with band members excited to see Army take on Maryland. Several NCOs and officers worked quickly, creating 10 new musical arrangments for the group in a single day. With one rehearsal under our belt we boarded the bus to Bethesda.
Sunday morning we sent the team off in style from the hotel with a rousing rendition of On Brave Old Army Team and music from Rocky. You could feel the excitement as we boarded our own bus to the University of Maryland Comcast Center to get ready for the game.
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gaynor sang a wonderful rendition of our National Anthem and soon the game was underway. Army kept it close during the beginning of the first half and Cadet Kelsey Minato led the Black Knights with an Army NCAA Tournament record 27 points.
In the end Maryland won the game, but Army gave it their all and the effort and team work displayed on the court was an inspiring reminder of team spirit and the resilient, never quit, attitude that makes Army sports so great. Go Army! Proud to Serve!
Earlier 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.
Earlier 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.
Head 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.
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!
SSG Torin Olsen gave a presentation entitled Photography: The Art of Seeing, to cadets in PY201, Intro to Philosophy, MAJ Harry Jones. SSG Olsen is the West Point Band’s piccolo player and a professional photographer. He showed how the processes inherent to photography can be a model for creative-problem solving.
SSG Olsen involved cadets directly in the photographic process by having them choose different variables– lighting, background, lens, depth of field– as one of their classmates became the subject of SSG Olsen’s photos. The photos were uploaded in real time to a screen, and the cadets were able to discuss how their choices affected the outcomes of the photos.
SSG Olsen’s presentation is part of a Creativity Series sponsored by the West Point Band’s Academic Initiative, which collaborates with West Point – The U.S. Military Academy’s academic departments to teach academic principles through the arts. Upcoming classes in the series include Creativity And Problem-Solving Through Percussion, The Art of Reed Making, and Jazz Improvisation and Ethics.