My absolutely favorite military music assignment from my entire career was at the US Army Element, School of Music as a member of the staff and faculty where I also performed with the Armed Forces School of Music Faculty Lab Band jazz ensemble under the direction of Maurice Williams, Jr.
This was the “tightest” jazz ensemble big band I have ever played with – still to date.
We rehearsed every day during noon hour, a tradition that I remembered during each of my times as a student attending one of the courses there.
I recall skipping lunch with friends and going to listen to the Faculty Lab Band rehearsals instead of eating lunch at the mess hall.
It was cool that I eventually became a member of that band.
And our director, Master Warrant Officer Maurice Williams, Jr. was the immediate former director of the Army Blues jazz ensemble in Washington DC.
He’s an historic figure and pioneer. I learned lots watching how he directed and programmed our outstanding band.
And the way he managed and led all of us as highly skilled artists was a master class each day. He always kept everything focused on the music.
We played great charts too – killing! I still model my own approach to directing large jazz ensembles after him in so many ways.
When I left the school assignment I asked Mr. Williams for a signed photo. He said certainly. I was expecting one of his official military photos.
Instead, he gave me this photo from one of his last performances leading the Army Blues. It’s their 1991 concert at the international jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland.
endings and beginnings
My professional military music career began as soon as I graduated high school when I passed the auditions for both the Army and Air Force music programs. I chose the Army because its program started new musicians at a higher rank and pay grade, not to mention the Army was larger and had more band assignments around the world to choose from.
I had great teachers during my developmental years and that is largely the reason I was able to pass the audition at such a young and inexperienced age. Thanks to instruction from my school band director, Mr. Jim Fuchs and to my private lessons teacher, Mr. Charlie Molina I was able to qualify and enlist.
Passing that audition resulted in my eventually staying with military music and going to the Army band in Germany where I ultimately met, fell in love with, and married Terri Anderson. We started our family together, raised two children into fine adults, and also finished a complete active duty military career as a family. Military families should be commended.
This Armed Forces School of Music assignment was literally the pinnacle of what is now objectively documented to be a stellar career for me in the Army serving as a professional musician. I was there on an unaccompanied tour. And it was a bittersweet situation where I was separated from Terri and our children. I have learned that is a typical rub in life. Good with bad.
Our Commandant (Tom Davis) and Command Sergeant Major (Charlie Heintz) wanted me to bring Terri and our children out to live in Virginia where the Armed Forces School of Music was located and I could have stayed assigned there indefinitely. But, Terri and I knew that living in the Tidewater Area would not have been a good fit for our family. It was huge geographically and population was in the millions.
My bosses also knew that I had made the decision to retire as soon as I could after serving 20 years so that I could go back home. One day they called me into the Commandant’s office and asked if I liked serving at the Armed Forces School of Music, and if so, what would make me stay in the military longer. Of course I actually loved the job. It was the best one to that point.
I simply told them our reasoning behind our family’s decision. And I didn’t expect any other consideration. I was a First Sergeant and senior soldier by then. There was a saying in my time, “if the Army wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one.”
But Colonel Davis looked me in the eye and said we just happen to need a new enlisted bandleader where you want to go. It would be a perfect fit for your skill set considering what needs to be established there at this time. And he said that I would be paired with a senior warrant officer bandmaster to do that work.
So when that opening came up for the top enlisted job at the Army band in Missouri, I took it so that I could go home to be with my family. I stayed in another three years to complete my career.
And as they say, “the rest is history.”
Christopher and Terri (Anderson) Burnett established their branch of The Burnett Family in March of 1979 at Copenhagen, Denmark. They are professional musicians based in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.
Visit BurnettMusic.biz for more information.