The Air Force recruits more than pilots.
This will be apparent for the Honeywell Center audience when they hear a talented crew of musicians, the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America Shades of Blue Jazz Ensemble.
The ensemble has been delighting audiences around the country for years. Featuring both instrumental and vocal performances, the band members also boast significant talent in both songwriting and arranging in addition to their performance abilities.
Touring with a jazz legend
For the last year or so, Tech. Sgt. Robert Hyatt III has been serving as musical director, but he has served with the band and the Air Force for 11 years now, steadily working his way up from trombonist to setting the direction of the group. The chance to work professionally as a musician fulfills his goals, first hatched as the son of a high school band director and trombonist.
“I just naturally leaned in the same direction,” said Hyatt, himself a trombonist. “And I was always just drawn to jazz.”
Having earned his undergraduate degree in music performance at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater and his graduate degree in jazz performance at DePaul in Chicago, Hyatt played with jazz great Maynard Ferguson for a tour in 2002.
He applauded Ferguson’s ability to keep up the pace of a touring musician right up until his death. But Hyatt felt that wasn’t the life for him.
“I toured with him for two-and-a-half months after I completed my master’s degree,” Hyatt said. “It was great, but living on a bus seemed like the job and the lifestyle of a younger generation.”
Instead Hyatt decided to pursue his dreams of a musical career in an altogether different way.
“Military bands are one way to do that, and the Air Force just felt like the most ideal way for me,” he said. “The level of musicianship and operational pace really suited me. And of course there are a lot of military benefits and a retirement plan if you stick with it for 20 years.”
From Miller to Modern
For those who have never seen Shades of Blue up close and personal, Hyatt promises a night of jazz from every era.
“You can expect a wide range of jazz styles,” he said. “We cover the whole range of jazz from Glenn Miller in World War II to current, more modern jazz music.”
There are currently 20 members to the band, and they generally tour one week or so per month, providing a much less hectic lifestyle than Hyatt knew touring with Ferguson. There are also other duties for the members to tackle aside from the touring schedule.
“Like everything else, you progress up the ranks,” Hyatt said. “I came in at the performing level to being musical director, and every band member has an administrative job to do.”
Hyatt revels in sharing his love of jazz with audiences, making the travel they do rewarding.
“I really enjoy the people I work with and seeing the impact we have on audiences,” he said. “They have an appreciation for us and the music we perform.”
Hyatt also likes seeing other places around the country. Primarily traveling the Midwest, Shades of Blue also ventures out to perform for the troops as well as audiences in venues like the Honeywell.
“The best part of the travel is seeing different communities,” Hyatt said. “I enjoy seeing different people. And as I said, I enjoy seeing the impact we have on different demographics. It’s really eye opening.”
The Significance of Jazz
Hyatt also enjoys being able to use his still relatively new role as music director when it comes time to choose the music for performance. That’s why it’s easy for him to choose his favorite songs performed by Shades of Blue.
“I like them all,” he said. “I’m the music director so I’m the one programming all of the music. If I didn’t like it, I would nix it.”
Hyatt’s lifelong love of jazz is apparent in not only his devotion to his craft, but also his role in the Air Force Shades of Blue Jazz Ensemble and his enthusiasm for the music they play. It largely stems from the significance he knows jazz has in the history of this country.
“It’s important to remember that jazz is one of America’s true original art forms.”
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