Airmen of Note hits home runs at major jazz festivals
By Tech. Sgt. Chris Ziemba, The United States Air Force Band
/ Published September 04, 2019
JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. --
June was an exciting month for the Airmen of Note, as they traveled to headline at back-to-back jazz festivals in the Great Lakes region, one for the very first time. The Elkhart Jazz Festival in Elkhart, Indiana, and the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, Ohio, each an annual tradition extending back decades, are held in high regard in their respective locales and among jazz aficionados nationwide.
The ‘Note is no stranger to the Elkhart Jazz Festival, having previously performed there in 2014. This year, the landmark Lerner Theater was filled to capacity with a spirited audience that included a large number of veterans.
Drummer Butch Miles, a guest artist with the ‘Note at the 2007 Jazz Heritage Series, was also in attendance and was among the first to greet the band after the concert’s conclusion. This moment had special meaning for Master Sgt. Grant Langford, who, prior to joining the ‘Note, worked alongside Mr. Miles as a member of the Count Basie Jazz Orchestra.
Now in its 32nd year, having drawn over 20,000 people to the event during a three-day period, the Elkhart Festival’s popularity is continuing to rise.
“We’ve talked to so many people who said this was just the best festival we’ve ever had,” said festival co-chairman Kurt Janowsky, “and some of them have been coming for years. This is becoming known as the festival of choice not just in the region but across the Midwest and beyond.”
Just a few days later, the ‘Note arrived in downtown Cleveland for its first-ever performance at the Tri-C JazzFest, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. This concert, however, was barely two minutes into the program on the outdoor main stage when the sudden onset of a thunderstorm put an abrupt halt to the music.
Thanks to the flexibility of the festival staff, members of the Airmen of Note and audience members alike, the concert was reset indoors in a theater that, by no small coincidence, was already staged for big band. The band was able to resume as if nothing had happened, with only a few damp instrument cases to suggest otherwise.
“I was impressed by the fast thinking and action taken by everyone,” relays trombonist Master Sgt. Kevin Cerovich. "I'm especially proud of the high level of flexibility and excellence that members of our ensemble demonstrated during such a quick move to a new venue."
For those who don't live near the Washington, D.C., metro area or who haven't had the opportunity of seeing the band on a national tour, the experience of a hearing the group at a jazz festival is unique. And some fans will travel many miles for such a treat.
“In spite of Mother Nature’s best efforts, it was a fabulous performance,” related one audience member, who drove three hours from Buffalo, New York, specifically to hear the band.
Often held during the summer months, jazz festivals like these provide the Airmen of Note the opportunity to use music to strengthen bonds and connect with the national community.
“Jazz festivals represent not only a highly enthusiastic audience who are very ‘in tune’ with our music, but they also come from a larger region geographically than a typical public concert," shares Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns, the senior enlisted leader of the ‘Note. "They represent an entire state or even multi-state area. It’s a beautiful way to connect a large audience to the Air Force and honor our veterans, inside the inspiration of experiencing some of the best-performed big band jazz they may ever hear!”