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Parade puts UNT alumni on national stage

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding / Features Editor
By Lucinda Breeding / Features Editor

College of Music grads among premier groups playing at inauguration

When Senior Master Sgt. Joe Jackson passes the viewing platform Monday, it will be the University of North Texas alumnus’ sixth inaugural parade.

Jackson has played the trombone in the prestigious U.S. Air Force Ceremonial Brass band in the parade leading into the inauguration of two terms of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama.

For each of the previous parades, Jackson said he’s experienced a feeling of awe as he marched the 2.5 miles of the route.

“During the inaugural parade, the eyes of the world are on that parade through media,” Jackson said. “That is a direct projection of power for the United States of America. We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, and when you see the absolute crispness, and all these people in amazing physical condition, that sends a message that is more powerful than any words you could ever find.”

Jackson is the son of a professional trombone player father and a mother who played clarinet.

“When it came time for me to pick up music, there really wasn’t a choice,” Jackson said.

The trombone was placed in his hands in middle school, and he continued to play in high school. In 1984, Jackson entered what was then North Texas State University. He studied under faculty trombone player Vern Kagarice and ended up in the One O’clock Lab Band, the top jazz band in the university’s College of Music. He played for then-director Neil Slater.

In 1990, Jackson left the university. He accepted an offer with a road band, where he played until the Airmen of Note offered him an audition.

“The Airmen of Note are the best big jazz band in the country,” Jackson said. “I did that for 20 years. I guess you could say I was very happy to have been with the Airmen of Note. The last seven years I was in the band, I was the director.”

Jackson isn’t alone in representing UNT’s wind program in the inaugural parade. Clarinet player Meaghan Walsh Kawaller and euphonium player Mark Jenkins are members of the prestigious “President’s Own” Marine Band. The “President’s Own” will don their bright red coats and play on the viewing platform with Obama during the parade.

The UNT College of Music reported that out of the military bands, 10 are considered premier ensembles. Anywhere from 60 to 90 musicians will audition for open positions in those bands. Unlike other service bands, premier bands don’t deploy overseas. Most members live in Washington, D.C. They serve the highest offices of the U.S. government and military.

College officials reported that UNT alumni dominate the euphonium sections of U.S. military bands and have a strong presence in the premier jazz bands. Alumni are also performing in nearly every section of U.S. military concert bands and many are working in leadership positions as staff arrangers, music directors and section or unit leaders.

Alan Blaylock is staff arranger with the Air Force Band and chief arranger for the Airmen of Note. James Kazik is staff arranger for the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Scott Arcangel, who is music director of the Jazz Knights, and Luis Hernandez, who is music director of the Commodores, are UNT jazz alumni. Four UNT alumni are unit leaders of their ensemble, including Col. Timothy J. Holtan, commander of the U.S. Army Field Band. Twelve alumni serve as section leaders within premier military ensembles.

UNT alumni also are vocal soloists with the bands: Dustin J. Lucas is a tenor soloist with the U.S. Navy Band, and Sara Dell’Omo is a mezzo-soprano soloist with the “President’s Own” — the first featured female vocal soloist in Marine Band history.

Jackson said his time at UNT gave him an invaluable education in both the basics and in professionalism.

“When I was at North Texas, there were two parts of my education — the studio and the ensembles,” he said. “As far as the lab band experience, it’s so amazing because the level of playing is so high.”

Jackson said the lab band rehearsal “trained your ears” to catch the nuance and skill behind top-notch musicianship.

“A lot of what Kagarice taught me was some real basic trombone stuff. When I was at UNT, I felt like I was a pretty high-level player, but really, fundamentally, I wasn’t,” Jackson said. “That accountability of preparing repertoire, well, he really holds your feet to the fire according to those pedagogical requirements that you learn through taking lessons.”

Being in the Air Force military band world, Jackson said he’s kept up the disciplines of playing — with some additional work to boot. The premier Air Force ensembles have to meet physical fitness requirements, and are expected to exemplify the values of the corps.

The Ceremonial Brass most often serves as part of the procession in military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The band performs in other ceremonies, too. But paying tribute to fallen American soldiers is a particular honor and duty, Jackson said.

On Monday, Jackson said he would join the marching musicians in formation on the National Mall hours before the parade begins. The National Weather Service was forecasting a 40 percent chance of snow and a high of 41 degrees.

“Fingers are fingers, and they’re going to be cold,” Jackson said. “We’re used to that. But yeah, as far as intonation, the slide [on the trombone] starts to freeze and the valves start to get a little tricky, but we like a challenge.”

Jackson said all the inaugural parades he’s marched in have been memorable.

“These kinds of ceremonies are the apogee of what we do,” he said. “Each ceremony is treated with equal commitment and intensity, but there is something special about this ceremony, this parade.

“Every four years in this country, we get to watch as there is a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. When you think about democracy, the peaceful transfer of power is really one of the highest points of being a democratic society.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is



University of North Texas alumni recently won positions in top military bands:

* Marty Bishop, trumpet student of UNT professor Keith Johnson, U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own”

* euphonium player Toby Furr, “Pershing’s Own”

* bass trombone player Ben Polk, U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note