When big band legend Glenn Miller left fame behind in 1942 to join the Armed Forces, he was at the pinnacle of his career.
“It’s kind of interesting: When he joined he was at the height of his popularity, said Air Force SMSgt. Tyler Kuebler. “He was like the equivalent of, I don’t know, like a Justin Bieber or a Taylor Swift or something. I think it was calculated at one point that he took a million percent pay cut to enlist in the Air Force and serve his country.”
Right before Christmas in 1944, Major Glenn Miller’s planned disappeared over the English Channel. In 1950, the U.S. Air Force Band, made up of six musical ensembles, was created to carry on Miller’s legacy.
One of the ensembles, the Airmen of Note, will swing through Augusta on Thursday, May 25, on their way to play the Jacksonville Jazz Festival on Saturday, May 27. While here, they play a free concert at 7 p.m. at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School.
SMSgt. Kuebler, who serves as superintendent (second in command) of the Airmen of Note and plays lead alto sax, takes the band’s mission of remembering both Miller’s music and service to his country seriously.
“The band was created specifically to carry on the tradition that Major Glenn Miller started in the Air Force’s dance orchestra,” he explained. “Ever since then we pay tribute to his music at every single concert we do, so we have that lineage and heritage of his music, and then we also try to stay on the cutting edge of contemporary jazz and big band. So it’s a really wide range of music and styles that we present to the audience.”
SMSgt. Kuebler, like most members of the 18-piece ensemble, has an advanced music degree. He’s actually Dr. SMSgt. Kuebler, if you want to get technical about it. Similarly, most did not enlist in the Air Force until they had auditioned and obtained a spot in the band, a world-renowned one with an excellent reputation both within the military and in the civilian music community.
“The band has an international reputation for being one of the best big bands out there and I was aware of the band since I started music, boy, I guess in elementary school?” he explained. “I heard the band live when I was in high school when they headlined a jazz festival in California where I lived at the time and, after I’d finished my master’s degree, I was living in Los Angeles and freelancing, teaching, just living the professional musician lifestyle, and I had some friends in the band who gave me a call and said, ‘Hey the lead tenor spot has opened up. You should come and audition.’ So I sent a tape in and made the final and they invited out for the live audition and that was 1998.”
Members of the band go through basic training before joining the band at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.
“We don’t get moved around like most military members,” he said of the unusual military career path. “Once we’re in D.C. we stay her for our entire career, so it’s not unusual for someone to spend 23 years in the band. We do have other collateral duties inside our unit that are related to our musical mission, but this is our job in the Air Force and it’s a really unique job.”
SMSgt. Kuebler said the band’s year is divided into season, with summer spent in town performing at different landmarks: The U.S. Capitol steps, the Air Force Memorial and the Washington Monument, to name a few.
The spring is spent focusing on the Jazz Heritage Series.
“We bring in international jazz artists and record with them,” SMSgt. Kuebler said. “We put on a concert in the area and then we record it and release it as a CD that we send out as a free product across the country and Canada that they can play on Veterans Day or July Fourth.”
The Airmen used to tour in both the spring and fall and, with the exception of this outing, is now limited to the fall.
This short series, anchored around their appearance at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, is a way for them to fulfill their other mission, which is community outreach. The band has an education outreach program called Advancing Innovation Through Music (AIM), which allows them to work with students at clinics and master classes, and they often conduct these in conjunction with their concerts.
It is a way for the general public to interact with members of the military, which most have little chance of doing.
“I think the power of the band is that many people are never exposed to military personnel,” SMSgt. Kuebler said. “It’s not every day that you get to see what people in the military do, so it’s our job to go out into the communities and give them a taste of the excellence that all of our brothers and sisters in the Air Force are showing on a daily basis. We try to represent them so people in the communities have an idea of what’s going on in the Air Force. So it’s a great tool to spread that message.”
“I think it really boils down to our core mission statement: Being able to represent and honor not only the Air Force, but to honor the service of the veterans that have come before us,” he continued. “We have so many veterans who show up just to come and see a military group again. I can’t tell you the number of times people have broken down and cried, and you can see the pride and service they live by. To honor their service and to represent the current crop of active-duty, guard and reserve people, that’s a huge honor for us to do.”
The United States Air Force Airmen of Note
Davidson Fine Arts School Theatre
Thursday, May 25
Free, but tickets required
eventbrite.com (search for USAF Band)