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Big band lesson

Students at the Pasco Schools Center for the Arts are treated to a concert by the Dan McMillion orchestra. A lucky few even join the group on stage.

By MICHELLE MILLER
Published March 28, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - Early concerts aren't the norm for Dan McMillion, who just came off the weekend playing trumpet in Lake Wales.

"It's too early in the morning for this," he said after finishing last-minute preparations with 13 members of his jazz orchestra, who were likely sneaking out for a few sips of caffeine before the 11:30 a.m. show.

March has been busy for the Grammy-nominated band that opened the Sarasota Jazz Festival in place of Maynard Ferguson, who died last summer. There was a recent gig at the Paladium and then an upcoming Tuesday night date on the outdoor stage at Sims Park in New Port Richey for Chasco Fiesta.

Still, McMillion, whose playlist - MacArthur Park, Groove, Love For Sale, Spirit of St. Frederick -is played in tribute to his old friend Ferguson, said he was glad to be back at the Pasco Schools Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel, even if he did have to rub the sleep from his eyes.

"We enjoy it. I think all the guys in the band get a kick out of it," he said.

McMillion and his orchestra have been at the center before - for its grand opening and also for a student workshop-concert.

Last week, the orchestra came to play for Pasco students - four of them joined him on the stage - at the invitation of McMillion's friend and fellow trumpeter, Patrick McDermott, who also happens to run the place.

Typically McDermott schedules drama events at the center with a leaning toward learning. But as a trumpet player and former school band director, he has a soft spot for music, especially jazz, which has seen an emergence in some Pasco County schools.

"This kind of event where we bring the kids in to play with professional artists is one of the most important and significant things we can do to enhance their education," McDermott said. "Many students will never have the chance to see a professional big band. This is very special."

"I think it's great," said Zephyrhills High band director Russell Schmidt, who brought his music students out for the $4 a head concert. "Big band is very similar to the jazz band we have at Zephyrhills," he said. "Just seeing live musicians is so cool. There's no electronics, no computers. It's just people."

McMillion, like many in last week's audience, once played in a high school band. "I never did like the marching band," he said. "When I was in high school the band director was into a lot of marches. He hated jazz."

Fortunately for McMillion, his dad was a trumpet player. Then there was that saxophone and bass he had lying around the house.

"I more or less learned (jazz) by the seat of my pants," he said. "For these students to be exposed to big band, something like this, I think it's great."

So did Megan Russo, a sophomore and percussionist at Wesley Chapel High. After the concert she came on stage to get a glimpse of McMillion drummer Glen Bush and listen as Zephyrhills High students Ryan Pillivant, 17, and Michael Schmidt, 16, picked Bush's brain after the two played his drums during the tune Stay Loose With Bruce.

"It was amazing. I love this kind of music," said Russo, 16, who was especially impressed with the drum solo Bush played in Love for Sale. "I wanted to see the (drum) set. Wanted to see him. He did an amazing job."

Fast Facts:

Jazz concert

Want to see what Pasco students are doing these days when it comes to jazz? Then you'll want to attend the all county jazz band concert at 4 p.m. April 14 at the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel, 30651 Wells Road. Admission is free. For information, call (813) 794-8772.

For information on the Dan McMillion orchestra or to book the band for an educational performance and workshop, call (813) 831-1616.