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The Commanders Jazz Ensemble performs in the Inland Northwest
Senior Airman Meg Hokaj performs the song “L-O-V-E,” by Nat King Cole, in the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox Theater in downtown Spokane, Wash., Jan. 20, 2013. The 18-member musical group is from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and performs variations of big band jazz including traditional, cool, bop, swing, as well as Broadway, and patriotic favorites. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Taylor Curry)
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The Commanders Jazz Ensemble warms up the northwest

Posted 1/29/2013   Updated 1/29/2013 Email story   Print story


by Master Sgt Jon Linker
Band of the Golden West, Travis AFB

1/29/2013 - 25 Jan 2013 -- The weather outside was a bit frightful, but The Commanders Jazz Ensemble were heating things up while traveling through Washington and Idaho last week.
Leaving sunny California for the cold and snow of the Inland Northwest, The Commanders performed for packed houses in Spokane, Pullman and Yakima, Washington, and Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. They also spent a day working with Middle School and High School students in Cheney Washington. While the temperature outside was well below freezing, inside the swinging sounds of big band jazz warmed audiences of all ages.
"Nothing cold about Spokane while you were playing, thank you," said Mr. Gary Smith, one of 1600 in attendance for the opening concert at the Fox's Martin Woldson Theater in downtown Spokane.
Also at that concert was the Commander of the 92 Air Refueling Wing at nearby Fairchild Air Force Base, Colonel Brian Newberry, who was grateful for the opportunity to connect with the local community. "This great free event is our way of giving something back to you and thanking you for your fantastic support of Fairchild Air Force Base for the past seven decades," Newberry said.
The concerts featured a diverse program with classics like the West Side Story Suite from the Buddy Rich Big Band to new charts such as Uba Blues, composed specifically for The Commanders by Bay Area musician Mike Rinta. The sweet vocal stylings of Senior Airman Meg Hokaj charmed the crowd every night, and charts by the famous Glenn Miller closed the show with audiences on their feet.
Following Spokane, the tour continued with two "sold out" shows at the new Kroc Community Center in Coeur D'Alene, then on to Pullman for a concert at Washington State University featuring the WSU Jazz Ensemble. The next day, The Commanders had the opportunity to work with about 75 dedicated middle school and high school band students from Cheney Washington. Band members conducted sectionals, led an improvisation clinic, and coached the Cheney High School jazz band. Afterward they performed an abbreviated show for 500 Cheney students.
Before heading home, the band had one final concert at the beautiful Capitol Theater in Yakima to an incredibly enthusiastic crowd of 1400.
"You all are worth big bucks to see and hear, " said audience member Pam King Lakman, "and the fact that you entertain your fellow Americans at no charge is truly humbling and awesome."
The Commanders will next head to the studio to record a long-awaited CD featuring much of the music performed on the recent tour.

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