Monday, February 14, 2011

Jazz took me to Taiwan and back

by Amy Calhoun

Jazz was not always part of my life.
I didn’t grow up with parents who listened to jazz.
I didn’t know there were radio stations dedicated to the genre.
I was a trumpet player, but the jazz band at my school had been cut before I even entered high school. Then I went away to college.

I attended Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, IA. I participated in the marching band and concert band for the first two years, but really had no interest in being part of the jazz band. I didn’t know how to improvise and I really wasn’t familiar with the music. However, a group of my closest friends were in the band and in my junior year they really encouraged me to be a part of the jazz band.

I did not want to add another rehearsal to my academic schedule. With theatre rehearsals, two choirs and band, I was booked. However, my friends knew something I didn’t – during J-term, the jazz band was going on tour to Taiwan and they wanted me to go too!

That trip sold me. I had never been overseas and the idea of visiting Asia sounded fantastic.

After Christmas break, we rehearsed everyday for two-weeks. I had never in my life practiced my trumpet so much! During that time, I was introduced to jazz artists like Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. We worked hard during those rehearsals and became a fairly tight college jazz band.

We trekked to the other side of the world in mid-January and became quasi-celebrities for 10 days. Playing at schools, city plazas, on television and for the opening ceremonies of a major sporting event, we came face-to-face with a new culture and language, and we communicated through music.

We played tunes like “String of Pearls,” “Take the A Train,” “Birdland,” and “Hay Burner.” Our vocalists added their talents to favorites like “Fever” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” We nearly always concluded our performances with the theme from the Flintstones, and the audience would go wild.

Kids would swarm us after concerts asking for our autographs, others were like groupies and would hang-out at our hotels. Some of the youngest students had never seen westerners before and they would rub our pale skin or want to touch our hair. We were American musicians and in their eyes that equated to being famous.

As 19 and 20 year olds kids we enjoyed our Taiwanese fame. It probably went to our heads. We had two security guards, a tour guide and a translator. We were treated to gifts, fancy dinners, and nice hotels. Some of the notoriety freaked us out a bit, but ultimately we soaked it all in.

At the end of that crazy, tiring tour we boarded a plan and made the 18-hour trip back across the Pacific. Greeted by the snow and winds of the Midwest, our systems were shocked back to reality. We were just regular students again who had just had a musical experience of a lifetime.

It has been fourteen years since that trip, but every time I hear a great jazz tune I am transported back to amazing memories of being in a jazz band.