By Pamela Sandoval
Imagine that you travel through time; you are going to Pensacola State College (PSC) in the late 1960s. Everything is in black and white, just like an old movie.
You find yourself in the Ashmore Auditorium in Building 8; it’s hot and there is dim lighting. You hear people talking far in the distance. Then, you hear the powerful swinging sound of a trumpet beginning its song, followed by smooth saxophones keeping it company. These instruments fuse together with piano, trombones, guitar, bass and drums. There is rhythm flowing through your body. One question goes through your mind: “What kind of music am I hearing?” The answer: jazz.
The jazz band has been active at PSC since the late 1960s. Jim Etherton, who graduated from University of Kentucky, was the founder of PSC’s first jazz band. The band has been active for almost 60 years.
Head of the PSC Department of Performing Arts, Don Snowden, said, “[Etherton] liked playing jazz, and we didn’t have a jazz band, so he started one.”
When Snowden came to PSC in 1987, he took over the jazz band. Snowden helps the band by making sure they have enough funds to run the band properly. He also recruits students for the band in area counties. The band itself has survived challenges and obstacles to become the PSC jazz band that exists today.
“We had activities budget cut,” Snowden said, “because we didn’t have as much enrollment last year, but it is looking good this year. We’re cooking right along.”
Snowden looks forward to continued success for the PSC jazz band; they are “just continuing what they’re doing, continuing to get better. In a group that small you are only as good as the worst player. Everybody encourages everybody.”
Shaun Langley, who majors in Music Education, is in his fifth semester in the band as the lead alto saxophone.
“My goal, especially as a music education major, is to leave it a stronger program than it was, even at the individual player level setting a higher standard.”
Every student’s experience in the band is different.
“I love the feeling of performance anxiety,” Langley said with a little grin. “I am very thankful for the level of faculty that we have here. You don’t find such strong faculty members [everywhere].”
“I wanted to teach, you know… jazz; that was my main thing,” jazz band director Roger Villines said. “They like to play, that’s the bigger motivator.”
The same thing that makes jazz unique is the thing that makes it difficult.
“Improvising is the hardest thing about jazz,” said Katlynn Buchanan, a current pianist in the jazz band. “Music doesn’t have to be serious and [it] is about having fun, like an escape from everything, not always competitive. The people in the band make it special. I love the experience here.”
Ethan Millet, recruited by Snowden, plays the trumpet in the jazz band; this is his first semester in the band.
“[I want to leave a] good band with a good sound that is well prepared, overall a band that people remember and want to hear.”