Airmen of Note bring swing to Lee Hall

Airmen of Note and Guest Vocalist Ms. Lena Seikaly. Photo by Shadell Bromell

The Airmen of Note kicked off its fall 2019 tour and pre-70th anniversary at Florida A&M University by continuing an ensemble tradition started in 1950.

In the midst of honoring FAMU alumnus and Tuskegee Airman LT. James R. Polkinghorne, Jr., the university also was a tour site for the United States Air Force Band on the day of the Polkinghorne Village renaming.

“In 1943 James Polkinghorne left FAMU his senior year to join the Tuskegee Airmen,” FAMU President Larry Robinson said.  “A few years later at FAMU we built what we called Polkinghorne Village.”

The Airmen of Note presented its own brand of big jazz as well as contemporary forms of jazz on Friday night at Lee Hall.

The ensemble included saxophone, trumpet, trombone and rhythm. Guest vocalist Lena Seikaly also made an appearance with tributes to legendary artists such as Elle Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Other tributes were dedicated to John Coltrane, Camaron de la Isla, Nancy Wilson and Steps Ahead.

The Airmen of Note honors those who have served, inspires American citizens to heightened patriotism and service, and positively connects the global community on behalf of the U.S. Air Force and the United States.

“We’re demonstrating Air Force excellence and precision, while trying to inspire people through music,” Technical Sgt. Chris Ziemba said. A native of Buffalo, New York, he also serves as the pianist with the Airmen Note. “And that’s one of the things we’re very lucky to do,” he added.

Ziemba believes the tour gives the community an opportunity to interact with the Air Force. The pianist is one of the newer service members in the jazz ensemble; he has been a member of the service since 2017. The ensemble consisted of up to a month of preparations, with three to four two-hour rehearsals a week.

“We hope that we can demonstrate our love for service, and be able to give back to the community in some way,” he said.

Their commitment to musical excellence has earned the respect of the foremost jazz artists from around the globe.

“It is important for our troops to perform in ensembles like these because it shows the history and importance of the band in itself,” Kimoye Kotne, a senior health science student from Jamaica, said.  “They’ve been around for 70 years, hopefully they can continue playing because they sound good.”

The senior student says she appreciates the event because she is also a musician. Kimoye played trumpet in high school, and says she respects the band for keeping the audience engaged and interactive the entire night. She also believes the band brought the audience together through their music.

“Connecting with the music and hearing the history behind it makes it more interesting,” she said.