The altitude and all the high notes agree with Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Hammiel.
The publicist and one of four trumpeters for the U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires said last week by phone from their home base at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado that he sees jazz as a “truly American art form.”
The Falconaires will give two free performances next week, both at 7 p.m.: the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Veterans Celebration Concert” Monday at Myrtle Beach High School, and Coastal Carolina University in Conway will host the ensemble Tuesday in Wheelwright Auditorium.
Hammiel said this jazz band, begun in the 1950s, boasts an age range “with a little bit of everything, from mid-20s to the 50s, and a wide range of musicians.”
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Having played in the Glenn Miller Orchestra for two years before joining the Air Force and spending about a decade with its Heartland of America Band, Hammiel said he knew long ago that the trumpet sounded his lifetime calling.
“Some people stay for a career,” the 39-year-old said, happy to see the years pile up. “Some people do four and get out.”
In his second year with the Falconaires, Hammiel said he likes being part of a band for “an incredible experience” to represent the Air Force Academy.
The Falconaires’ weeklong tour across South Carolina begins Sunday in Sumter, and after two nights in Horry County will continue Wednesday in Newberry, Thursday in Cheraw, Friday in North Charleston and Saturday at Winthop University in Rock Hill.
Hammiel said the 18-member ensemble will “do a lot of Glenn Miller songs” and American type music, an ideal agenda for such veterans’ celebration events as in Myrtle Beach on Monday.
“We’re a very versatile group,” he said. “There’s not much we can’t play.”
He saluted the music director for staying “really good about picking a wide variety.”
Rehearsals for about 2 1/2 hours a day began a few weeks ago, said Hammiel, who likes to practice on his own two to three hours daily.
In his 11 years in Air Force bands, Hammiel said he hasn’t toured outside the country, but he’s gotten to crisscross the land from the Pacific Northwest to Connecticut to Louisiana, and play for President Barack Obama.
Marching cadets to lunch
His day job among the Falconaires includes marching band ceremonies at the Air Force Academy, such as “marching 4,400 cadets to lunch.”
“We can get that group in formation to chow in about 10 minutes or so,” Hammiel said. “We do quite a bit of it.”
Doubling as the Falconaires’ tour director, “I get the band from one place to the next,” Hammiel said, “and get them in the hotels.”
Performing with the group on tour, city after city, Hammiel sees each stop as a relaxing prize, because “all you have to do is play.”
“It’s nice when you get to the concert,” he said, “and you just get to play, then I’m back into tour director mode.”
Seeing the appreciation from audiences, whether the public or fellow service personnel, brings another reward for the Falconaires, Hammiel said.
Hearing from friends in military bands who entertain for deployed armed forces, Hammiel said, “You put a smile on one troop’s face, you’ve accomplished your mission,” giving them a break from long days to forget about their hard work “for two hours.”
Hammiel doesn’t remember any one factor that landed a trumpet in his hands as a child but that a presentation about musical instruments in fifth grade in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, piqued his eyes and ears.
Growing up, the music and craftsmanship with the trumpet by such players as Doc Severinsen and the late Maynard Ferguson resonated with Hammiel. He also recalled another defining moment, from junior high, when “my mom took me to see Wynton Marsalis in Dayton.”
“It was great to be exposed to that what I was kid,” Hammiel said.
He hopes youth today and future generations also receive introduction to jazz and families catching a concert provide one tool.
“Just getting kids out there and listening to it,” he said, “they may not like, but at least appreciate it.”
Hammiel said to just “coming to a military band concert once” might make a connection with a child, and “they see the uniforms and reach out.”
An avid golfer, Hammiel said he loves Myrtle Beach, especially since a spring break trip in the early 1990s while as student at Wright State University in Dayton.