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The Airmen of Note Bring Unique Innovations to Jazz Heritage Series

Members of the Airmen of Note diligently rehearse for the upcoming and innovative Jazz Heritage Series video recording. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns)

Members of the Airmen of Note diligently rehearse for the upcoming and innovative Jazz Heritage Series video recording. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns)

Bassist, Technical Sgt. Benjamin Thomas, and Percussionist, Master Sgt. David McDonald earnestly rehearse for the first-ever Jazz Heritage Series video recording project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns)

Bassist, Technical Sgt. Benjamin Thomas, and Percussionist, Master Sgt. David McDonald earnestly rehearse for the first-ever Jazz Heritage Series video recording project. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns)

Master Sgt. Tedd Baker rehearses with the Airmen of Note for the Jazz Heritage Series ground-breaking video project. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns)

Master Sgt. Tedd Baker rehearses with the Airmen of Note for the Jazz Heritage Series ground-breaking video project. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns)

JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. --

The spring season for The U.S. Air Force Band buzzes with excitement, as each of the performing flights prepares for upcoming virtual concerts and educational outreach missions. For the Airmen of Note, the spring means the blossoming of the annual Jazz Heritage Series concerts (JHS), which in essence will continue throughout the year.

In a typical year, the JHS concert series features one guest artist per month, culminating in concerts during the first week of February, March and April at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center. However, due to public health restrictions implemented as a result of COVID-19, members of the Airmen of Note have been forced to adapt and reimagine the series. This year’s series will build upon the tradition of creating a full-length studio album by also launching a new video component that can be readily enjoyed by millions around the globe!

Preparing for this year’s series involved tremendous planning, which included securing guest artists, rehearsing for the concerts and recording sessions, and finally editing, mixing, mastering, and distributing a high-quality video recording. 

The Jazz Heritage Series often features Grammy-award winning artists, and this year is no exception. The series will feature trumpeter Sean Jones, alto saxophonist and woodwind artist Ted Nash, and vocalist Dianne Schuur, who have won a total of nine Grammys collectively.

Master Sgt. Luke Brandon, the Airmen of Note’s Music Director, further illustrates the guest artist selection process, “The Airmen of Note endeavors to have a variety of instruments represented, ensuring that the same instruments are not featured in consecutive years.”

Another component of the preparation process, which can be arduous, is securing the sheet music. Sgt. Brandon explains, “Musical arrangements may come from many different sources, including the guest artist’s own library of music, members of our flight creating new arrangements, and sometimes commissioning arrangements from some of the best big band arrangers in the world.” A few of this year’s selections will include “Alright, Okay, You Win”, “We’ll Be Together Again”, “Tones for Joan’s Bones”, and “Besamo Mucho.”

Once the music for the project is secured, an intense week of rehearsals begin for the Airmen of Note, followed by a rehearsal with the guest artist and a recorded live performance. Safety protocols during rehearsals are firmly in place, which include social distancing, masks and frequent breaks for air circulation. 

Sgt. Brandon adds, “Once the concert is recorded, we edit, mix, and master the recording and video product, and release it to approximately 800 radio stations all over the country.”

Although live concerts will not be a part of this year’s JHS, there is still much to look forward to! In addition to recording a selection with each guest artist, the recording will also feature the Airmen of Note exclusively on one selection, and another selection that will feature all three guest artists. This will be the first time the Airmen of Note have collaborated with three jazz legends on a single work! It will prove to be a unique and exciting addition to the series.

The Airmen of Note will also be creating full-length videos for each of the five selections from the album. Sgt. Brandon further explains, “These videos will be released on social media, and will highlight the creative way we were able to adapt and execute this series in a pandemic environment. Additionally, these products will retain most of the live interaction and spontaneity you would expect from a live concert!”

Created in 1990, the Jazz Heritage Series’ focus was to encourage interest in jazz as a unique American art form. The quarterly Jazz Heritage concert series was unveiled, first at the Smithsonian and later at other venues in the Washington area. In 1996, the series began to be broadcast throughout the nation.

Today, the JHS reaches three million listeners every year. From its infancy, the series has transformed from a concert focus to a recording and broadcast focus. It celebrates the past, present, and future of America's original art form, jazz. This series has featured the highest echelon of professional jazz musicians throughout the decades and continues to feature the living legends and contemporary masters of jazz.

Chief Master Sgt. Brian MacDonald, Flight Chief and Lead Trumpeter of the Airmen of Note, is positive about the quality and the longevity of the series. He states, “We are certainly fortunate to play with such esteemed guest artists each year. The band always rises to the occasion when graced with such amazing talent and musicianship by some of our nation’s most notable jazz artists.”

These recordings will be available to view on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube beginning July 2021.