Top Marine musicians assemble “All Star” band for Florida’s Lakeside Jazz Festival

19 May 2009 | Lance Cpl. Russell Midori

For the first time in the history of the Marine Corps Music Program, the Corps’ most talented Jazz musicians came together last week for a series of special performances.

An audition-based selection process determined which members of the Marine Corps’ 12 field bands would make the cut to be a part of the “All-Star Jazz Ensemble.” The 18 Marines selected for the gig assembled at Parris Island on Easter and boarded a tour bus that took them to performances in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, culminating at the Lakeside Jazz Festival in Daytona, Fla.

“All the musicians in the Marine Corps are professionals, but these guys have really set themselves apart,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Farquhar, the bandmaster of the ensemble. “This band is like the Major Leagues of Marine Corps Musicians.”

Farquhar said the idea to gather the most talented of Marine musicians for a one-of-a-kind tour has been a goal of the Marine Corps Music Program for at least 25 years, but it has only been made possible because of recent changes to the program’s funding.

“Marine Music has recently moved under Public Affairs, and with that there’s a national band strategy that allows greater funding for projects like this,” he said.  He described the project as a test run, and said its success would determine if the All-Star Jazz Ensemble would ever reunite.

The band reached out to the public, playing for communities all over the southern portion of the Eastern Recruiting Region. 

“If you look at what we’re doing here, we’re tied into recruiting, playing for large public audiences and for the Educators Workshop,” said Farquhar, of Woodstock, Ga. “But we’re also connecting our performances back to the Marines who have gone before us by playing the VFW.”

The All-Star Ensemble made sure to stop at the Port Orange Veterans of Foreign Wars hall during their trip to Daytona, Fla., and perform both as a big band, and in smaller Jazz combos for several hours, April 16. 

“Playing for the Veterans of Foreign Wars was an honor and a privilege,” said Sgt. Alex Panos, a bass trombone player for the All-Star Jazz Ensemble. “Using our talents to entertain these warriors from our nation’s history is a better way to pay tribute to them than anything we could say or do.”

During the tour, the band took the time to stop at several college and high school music departments to provide instruction and inspiration to musicians of tomorrow. 

“Having them play here was such a great experience for the students,” said Dave Springfield, the director of Jazz studies at Valdosta State University in Georgia. A group of music students from the college saw an exclusive performance from the All-Stars, and had the opportunity to play alongside them for several songs.

“Musically, the band sounded incredible,” said Springfield, of Valdosta, Ga. “It’s amazing they’ve only been together a few days.

“Putting together an ensemble like this is a fantastic idea. I hope the Marine Corps keeps doing it,” Springfield said of the Jazz experiment.

The musicians especially enjoyed teaching the students at both the high school and college levels in the towns they visited. 

“The most rewarding part of the whole tour was being able to pass our knowledge on to the next generation of up-and-coming musicians,” said Panos, of San Diego, Ca. 

“I met a 17-year-old bass trombone player from Spruce Creek High School who is planning to enlist as soon as he graduates,” Panos said. “I’m glad I was there to answer his questions, both about music and about the Marine Corps.” 

The ultimate performance of the tour, the Lakeside Jazz Festival, likewise benefited students, as proceeds from concession sales funded scholarships for local high schoolers to attend summer music camps.

The All-Star Ensemble headlined the festival, drawing more than 2,000 audience members to the Kenneth W. Parker Amphitheater, April 17.

Though the outdoor concert kicked off with a surprising Florida downpour, the amphitheater still had standing room only for the entire performance of 12 stunning musical compositions.

One audience member, Sean Green, of Port Orange, Fla., said nothing could have kept him from the performance.

“These guys influenced me tonight,” said Green, a young musician who plays for his high-school band.

Green, who now aspires to become a Marine, was thankful both for the ensemble’s performance, and their visit to Spruce Creek High School in Florida. 

“It meant a lot for me to see them play,” he said. “It was by far, a life-tuning experience.” 

Marine Corps News

Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps