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West Memphis Jazz Band jams with Grammy-winning trumpet player


Mike Williams, AWM student musicians play concert at FUMC


Any time you get the opportunity to play with a highly-regarded musician like trumpet player Mike Williams, you do it.

At least that was the attitude of Ryan Ashley, the Academies of West Memphis Jazz Band instructor, as he invited Williams to town to work with the Jazz Band last week and then perform with him at a free concert at West Memphis First United Methodist Church last Saturday night. “It’s a good venue for jazz,” said West Memphis band director Brice Evans. “I’ve played here with Jubilation Jazz and it always sounds nice.”

While jazz music in a church setting might seem a little odd, there was nothing odd about the way Williams, a three-time Grammy Award winner as lead trumpet player with the Count Basey Orchestra, and the student musicians worked their way through their set.

“I’m a north Louisiana boy but I always love getting up to Arkansas,” Williams told the crowd.

Williams has toured the world with acts such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billy Eckstein. He has also been Adjunct Professor of Trumpet at the University of Arkansas at Montecello and a professor in their Master of Music in Jazz Studies.

Saturday’s set list included an eclectic mix of tunes including Sammy Nestico’s “Splanky,” “Maria” by Don Sebesky from Westside Story, a jazzy rendition of “Take On Me,” the ’80s hit by A-Ha, “What a Wonderful World,” by Ray Reach, “Backrow Politics” by Peter Blair, a touching take on “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” from The Wizard of Oz, and a _nale of “Gonna Fly Now” from the movie Rocky that brought down the house.

Evans and Ashley thanked the crowd and Williams, and tipped their hats to the West Memphis School Board for supporting the arts programs throughout the district.

Trumpet master Mike Williams performs with the Academies of West Memphis Jazz Band and their guest musicians.

Photo by Ralph Hardin

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