AHS, HMS and U.S. Navy Join Forces for Jazz Band Concert

April 18, 2014

by Marc Ayotte

It was simply as good a night of musical entertainment as you could listen to anywhere – and it was free!  On Tuesday, April 8, the Alvirne Jazz Band, along with the Hudson Memorial Jazz Band, assumed the roles of opening acts for the Navy Band Northeast Rhode Island Sound, based out of Newport, R.I.  The eight-member band performs regionally to bring about public awareness, according to Lieutenant Chris French, head of Navy recruiting in New Hampshire and Vermont.  “Our objective is to present a different side of the Navy – it’s a chance to do something nice for the community.”

According to Lt. French, conversations with District Music Director Gerry Bastien and Principal Steven Beals eventually led to the splendid evening of music.  As Bastien indicated, “the last time (an event such as this occurred at the high school) was an Army Rock Band, about 15 years ago.”  So, after Principal Beals approached him with ‘what do you think?’ the enthusiastic Bastien replied with an emphatic “yeah, let’s do it.”

“The parent support group for the music department, Alvirne High School Friends of Music, added a food drive to keep with the community service theme of the event,” said the organization’s president, Chris McNally.  With much success in that endeavor as well, McNally noted that the effort resulted in “over $300 and 1,800 pounds of food to benefit the St Vincent de Paul Food Pantry located at St John the Evangelist Parish in Hudson.”

The evening began with a three-song set from the HMS Jazz Band under the direction of Mike Seckla who was filling in for Rob Scagnelli who was with his wife, celebrating the birth of their son.  In its 10 minutes under the spotlight, with a large crowd in attendance in the Steckevicz Gymnasium, the talented seventh and eighth grade musicians (one sixth grader as well) who were invited by Beals and Bastien to participate in the concert, played “Groovin’ Hard,” “Minnie the Moocher” and “Corner Pocket” – of Count Basie Orchestra fame.

After a short pause in the program, the AHS band became the focal point of the entertainment under the direction of Bastien, the long-time Alvirne music teacher.  The band proceeded to play a three-song set of its own starting with “Dancing Men” followed by “Nutville” and concluding with a phenomenal, brass-filled rendition of “Make Me Smile” – a 1970 top-ten hit recorded by the iconic sounds of the rock band, Chicago.

After a short break, the main event took center stage.  The Navy Rock Band is comprised of active duty sailors whose specific job in the Navy is to perform musically.  And so, the ensemble of musicians which included MU 3rd Class Stuart Anello (guitar), MU 1st Class Chris Sams (sax, vocals), MU 2nd Class Trevor Shifflett (guitar, vocals), MU 2nd Class Lauran Carey (vocals), MU 1st Class David Ward (drums), MU 3rd Class John Paris (bass), MU 3rd Class Gene Register (keyboards) and MU 2nd Class Josh Hamilton (sound) proceeded to delight the crowd with a wide array of popular tunes.  Showcasing their talents via a lively musical medley, the band performed such hits as Earth Wind & Fire’s “September;” Bruno Mars’ “Treasure;” “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson; the Eagles’ “Desperado;” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey.

But one of two highlights on the evening came when the band’s female vocalist, MU 2nd Class Laura Carey invited 3 Alvirne musicians to join them on the stage.  It was their time to shine as Steve Caporale (tenor sax), Gurbir Kalsi (trumpet) and Aaron Gzrzewski (trombone) joined their Navy counterparts as each student was individually featured during a riveting jazz interlude of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

“These guys are pros,” noted Bastien of the Navy Band, adding “and our kids like to have fun.”  And so it was after his command of “take us home,” Bastien’s Band and the Rhode Island Sound combined for the evening’s exhilarating grand finale:  “Sweet Home Chicago” – a tune brought to fame in part by Jake & Elwood, a.k.a.  The Blues Brothers.  Featured in this final display of talented high school and armed services musicians was an engaging and brilliant “battle of the saxes” between Alvirne’s Steve Caporale and MU 1st Class Chris Sams.  “You can never repeat this again,” exclaimed Bastien of the collective live musical performance.  Specifically, Bastien sang the praises of Caporale, saying; “Steve is a very talented young man whose feet are firmly attached to the ground.  He’s a superstar at Alvirne.”

After the highly successful evening, Principal Beals addressed the significance of hosting such an event; “I think it’s important for our students to celebrate music and to have fun.”  In addressing the cross section of those in attendance, which ranged from AHS students to the French exchange student section to parents to the senior citizen population, who all came out to celebrate music, Principal Beals added; “it’s wonderful, what more could we ask for?”

After the show, MU 1st Class, David Ward, while acknowledging that music is a valuable recruiting tool, expressed his disappointment in recent funding cutbacks that have limited the band’s ability to perform in such venues.  “This was a great opportunity to play with the (Alvirne) students,” offered Ward, whose band will continue its community performances when they play during Fleet Week in New York during the third week in May.