Air Force band entertains crowd at Jackson High School

Friday, February 12, 2010
Staff Sgt. Dwight Wiest performs solo alto saxophone with the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America "Shades of Blue" jazz ensemble Thursday night in the Event Center at Jackson High School. (Fred Lynch)

The walls of Jackson High School's new performance center rang with jazz Thursday as the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America's Shades of Blue jazz ensemble performed before several hundred people.

"We couldn't have been more pleased with the show," said David Ludwig, Americanism officer with American Legion Post 158 in Jackson. "People started filing in over an hour before the performance, and the seats quickly filled. We are very proud of the amount of support that our community showed for this outstanding performance."

Before the concert began, the American Legion recognized two World War II veterans, Edward Bender and Jim Nelson, and awarded Nelson with its American Legion Meritorious Service Award.

Nelson and Bender were both enlisted Air Force men who became B-25 bomber commanders. Bender was a prisoner of war during World War II. Nelson was selected during his service with the Air Force to teach a special cross-training program with Navy pilots, and earned flight wings from the Navy, Army and Air Force. He was also trained on dropping the atomic bomb. After the military, Nelson went on to become and educator and eventually the principal of Jackson High School.

Shades of Blue's performance featured a range of jazz songs, from World War II-era classics like "Come Rain or Come Shine" to more contemporary selections such as "Song for Bilbao" by Pat Matheny.

The band leader for Shades of Blue, Master Sgt. Rick Thorp, provided background information for the audience on some of the selections. Shades of Blue also featured a vocal soloist, Technical Sgt. Keisha Gwin-Goodin, who sang pieces like "Think" by Aretha Franklin and "L-O-V-E," a song made famous by Nat King Cole.

Gwin-Goodin also got the crowd involved, having everyone sing along to the "La, la, la, la" in "My Cherie Amour," a Stevie Wonder tune.

Because Mardi Gras is next week, Shades of Blue performed "Bourbon Street Parade" and featured Technical Sgt. Scott Sauer on trumpet. Keeping with Mardi Gras tradition, Sauer came to the microphone decked out in beads and a large, feathered sombrero. After his first solo, he proceeded to hand off his beads to some of the women in the audience.

"This was truly a wonderful opportunity for our community and our school," said Tom Broussard, band director at Jackson High School. "To have this resource in our area was great, and I was glad to see quite a few students in the crowd as well. A performance like this with this level of professionalism is a real treat for all of us."

The group closed the performance with a medley of the armed forces songs, with Gwin-Goodin leading the crowd as they sang along and recognizing veterans in the audience.

An encore of the big band standard "In The Mood" by Glen Miller capped the evening.

More information on the Air Force Shades of Blue Jazz Ensemble is available at www.bandofmidamerica.af.mil.

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