Band to bring back good old high school days

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 1, 2008

My love of Jazz music started when I was in the sixth grade.

I wanted to play the drums so badly in junior high school that I dreamt of nothing else before the week of band tryouts.

An annual tradition of my school, the sixth grade class would get their first taste of the world outside elementary school by traveling over to the high school band room.

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I remember the day like it was yesterday.

It was like walking into a candy store. The band director had instruments of every shape and size spread out on a series of tables for the class to see.

Back in the corner of the room was the percussion section — filled with bass drums, snare drums, xylophones and any other instrument that made noise when struck with a stick.

That was the area of the band to which I was drawn. And so it was for most of the boys and one girl, Suzanne B, in my class.

As high school band members demonstrated the other instruments, I tightly gripped a pair of drumsticks as if the band’s newest drummer was a foregone conclusion.

After all the demonstrations were complete, the moment of decision arrived. Unfortunately it was announced there were only two drum spots open.

It would be the luck of the order that would determine who would play drums and who would play some nerdy instrument like the clarinet.

With fingers crossed, I waited as the band director went down the class roster asking students what they wanted to play.

It wasn’t long before one of the boys chose the drum as his instrument. As the director went down the line, I tried to predict if I had a chance at getting that last pick.

It looked as if that one girl, Suzanne, stood in between my high school career as a drummer and having to settle with some other girly instrument.

As the teacher pointed to Suzanne I glared at her with intimidation.

Then I heard the word, “drum,” ring in my head as my hopes for snare drum stardom were dashed.

“Ben, I think you would make an excellent clarinetist,” she said as I sat stunned and depressed.

Six-months later and still disappointed in my new instrument, the band director took me aside one day and gave me a record album with music from the Benny Goodman Orchestra.

Listening to the album, I had no idea the lengths to which the clarinet could be played. It was the first time I heard a professional musician outside of pop music on the radio. Hearing the swing rhythms and melodic tones from that album not only inspired me as a clarinetist, it fostered a love for Jazz music that I have to this day.

That is why I was excited to find out that the Dimensions in Blue Jazz Ensemble for the United States Air Force will be giving a free concert at 3 p.m. on Aug. 10 at the Natchez City Auditorium.

Dimensions in Blue performs an average of 100 performances each year, entertaining over 500,000 people, including most recently a concert at the Texas Jazz Festival.

The group performs a wide variety of music including classics made famous by Duke Ellington, Count Bassie and Woody Herman.

They have been known to recreate the look and sound of the 1940 Glenn Miller Army Air Corps Jazz Band — even dressing in authentic “Pinks and Greens” uniforms.

The great thing about this concert is that it is free. Tickets are available by coming by The Natchez Democrat office at 503 N. Canal Street between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Seating is limited, so come by to get your tickets as soon as possible.

This concert promises to transport the audience to a time when big band shows were the rage.

Who knows they might play a little Benny Goodman and bring back the good old days from my high school.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at