Washington DC --
The Marine Jazz Combo will make its third appearance in 10 years on May 15-18 at the Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival (JJ&C) in Alaska. The annual festival, which began in 1987, seeks to provide a variety of rich musical experiences and instructional seminars at different venues in Juneau and remote towns in southeast Alaska. It’s designed to inspire, enrich, and educate music lovers of all ages and economic backgrounds with a diversity of styles within jazz, classical, and blues genres.
So what did it take to get Marine Band musicians to one of the only two states it has yet to reach on tour? Only four degrees of separation. Saxophonist Gunnery Sgt. Gregory Ridlington’s mother’s best friend Patty Winegar taught kindergarten in Juneau for nearly 40 years. In 2007 she put Ridlington in touch with the JJ&C’s artistic director Linda Rosenthal and a musical partnership began. “After a long, dark winter, Juneau residents are ready to get out and hear some music,” Ridlington said. “The festival brings in a variety of jazz and classical musicians to Juneau over the course of two weeks.”
The combo is comprised of Ridlington, Alaska native pianist Gunnery Sgt. AnnaMaria Mottola, double bassist Gunnery Sgt. Eric Sabo, guitar player Master Sgt. Alan Prather, percussionist Staff Sgt. David Constantine, and trumpet player Gunnery Sgt. Brian Turnmire. The first performance at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, May 15 at the University of Alaska Southeast’s Egan Library features a classical first half and a jazz/pop second half. “For the classical half we will play a couple of jazz settings of classical melodies, one of Rachmaninoff and one of Tchaikovsky,” Ridlington said. “For the jazz/pop portion we will play a medley of Sting songs and a couple of selection from our Latin jazz repertoire, which we think people will really enjoy.”
At 2 p.m., and again at 5:30 p.m., Monday, May 16, at the Gold Town Nickelodeon, the combo will provide music at the showing of the 1926 silent film “Tell It To The Marines” starring Lon Chaney. “This will be an exciting, new experience for us all,” Ridlington said. “In choosing music to go with the movie our initial focus on Latin jazz shifted a bit, most notably with the Benny Golson tune Blues March, which was originally recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. It’s perfectly suited to the movie and is a great tune too, so we’ll include it on our other programs as well.” After the movie, the combo will take part in a free jazz jam session at the Lucky Lady Pub in Juneau.
The schedule continues the next evening, Tuesday, May 17 at 5 p.m., at Egan Library for a free jazz workshop and culminates with two performances on Wednesday, May 18. At noon at the State Office Building Atrium in Juneau, the combo will perform a free Brown Bag concert, and at 4:45 p.m. they will present a free Rush Hour concert at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. “We’ll be doing quite a bit of Latin jazz, which we hope the Alaskans will like,” Ridlington said. “I think there’s an energy and vitality to the music that will appeal.”
In addition to the JJ&C performances, the jazz combo will also present master classes and short programs for students in and around southeast Alaska. “The music program in the Juneau schools is thriving and we have always enjoyed very attentive audiences, whether playing for music students or general student assemblies,” Ridlington said. “We’ve all done a lot of ‘Music in the High School’ presentations with the Marine Band, so adapting our programs slightly comes pretty naturally to us all.”
While the performances have left a lasting impression on the musicians and audiences alike, Ridlington admitted that the combo’s red uniforms tend to make them significantly stand out from the crowd. In 2007 they were mistaken as members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Another time, Ridlington recalled, “We somehow managed to wedge in our schedule a hike on one of the glaciers. Someone came racing down the trail on a mountain bike and, as we jumped to the side, yelled ‘Nice show last night!’ as he continued down the trail.” This year’s performances will no doubt prove to be equally memorable.
The schedule is subject to change and each performance has different requirements for tickets and admission. Please click here for the most up-to-date information.