america, Army, army band, band, big band, Classical Music, concert band, free performance, japan, Jazz, Jazz knights, marching band, military band, military music, Music, sousa, tokyo, United States Military Academy, West Point, West Point Band, wind ensemble
Finally, after years of work, we were nearing the conclusion of the concert. Two great nations had shared the stage in concert once again. With the Bernstein complete, it was on to the jazz tunes. Judging by the number of jazz clubs I saw around Tokyo, jazz seems to be much more popular in Japan than in the place of its birth, and it was clear that the audience was excited to hear two great American jazz musicians perform in concert.
First up was Caravan. Sgt. 1st Class John Castleman, Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole, and the Central Band’s English horn player came to the front of stage to engage in a free dialogue between musicians. All three played off of one another, drawing inspiration from whatever came from each musician.
After the introduction, it was time for John and Alexis to shine on their own. Alexis held the audience in rapt attention as she sang the melody using only sounds, not words, and then took a scat solo. She drew on her training in Indian classical singing to add an exotic flair to her performance. After Alexis finished, it was time for John to play his solo. The band members already knew what the audience was about to listen to, and I couldn’t help but notice a few smiles, as all on stage knew that the audience was in for a treat. John did not disappoint, thrilling the audience as he played complex lines and leapt up to the top of the trumpet’s range.
Next, Alexis spoke to the audience in Japanese for a bit, something they certainly did not expect. Throughout the concert, the Japanese audience had been deafeningly quiet, without coughing, or unwrapping hard candy, or any of the other noises that filter through concert halls in America. Once Alexis spoke, they finally relaxed and even shared a laugh. With the audience at ease, the band dove into Fly Me to the Moon. Things had come a long way since the first rehearsal; the band sounded really tight, and fed off of the energy from the crowd to inject even more life into their playing. Alexis’ deep, haunting voice filled the hall, and the audience was blown away by her singing. John even had a brief solo in the middle of the tune, and he of course wowed the crowd and ensemble alike.
The concert closed with Les Deux Belles Aires. The piece is a sort of Latin big band chart from the 70s arranged for concert band with an absurd injection of energy. The piece is really impressive to listen to, and is a real crowd pleaser. The audience roared with applause at the conclusion of the concert, and the band had no choice but to play The Stars and Stripes Forever as an encore. Lt. Col. Keene conducted, and as he always does, got the reserved Japanese audience to clap along with vim and vigor.
Finally the concert came to a close. There were many rounds of applause from the grateful audience. What was displayed on stage was not just a concert with some American guest musicians, but a true partnership among nations. Military bands make the best possible emissaries of all nations, because no matter the language barrier, we can always play great music together. The stay was one I will never forget. We made wonderful friends with the Japanese musicians, and hope that we can share the stage again soon.
Words and images by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner