August 2015 Convention
Washington, D.C.

Jazz Flute: Here to Stay at NFA!

Although it may come as no surprise that the NFA Jazz Flute Big Band performance topped my list of highlights, I dare say I was not alone! The Cabaret once again drew an SRO crowd during its 90-minute program on Saturday evening. The 26 winners of the Jazz Flute Big Band Competition, along with three guest soloists and backed by a top D.C.-area rhythm section (Wade Beach, piano; Amy Shook, bass; Frank Russo, drums), brought audience members to their feet.

Billy Kerr conducting the Jazz Flute Big Band

photo by Cathi De Meo Marro

The new Jazz Flute Big Band musical director, Billy Kerr, was at the heart of it all. This year marked Kerr’s spectacular debut as both the band’s musical director and competition coordinator. Having performed with and arranged for the Jazz Flute Big Band since 2009, Kerr was the obvious choice to take over the reigns when my term ended in 2014. He not only took over the reigns, he brought the Jazz Flute Big Band to new heights!

As in past years, the program featured many exciting new jazz arrangements written expressly for the ensemble, which consists of flutes ranging from piccolo to contrabass flute, plus rhythm section. Arrangers included Glenn Morrissette, Kris Keith, Russell Scarbrough, Billy Kerr, Bruce Eskovitz, and myself.

An impressive array of sensational soloists, all chosen from within the ensemble, were showcased throughout the evening, a testament to the growing number of talented jazz players the NFA has attracted in recent years. In addition to the band soloists, three special guests were featured: Greg Pattillo, Lisa Jelle, and myself. Pattillo brought the house down with his beatbox feature on Bruce Eskovitz’ arrangement of “Comin’ Home Baby” (a Ben Tucker tune originally recorded by Herbie Mann). Jelle and I were featured together on a piece composed by Lisa’s late husband, pianist/composer Mark Flugge, a beautiful work I subsequently arranged for the Jazz Flute Big Band. It was an absolute thrill sharing the stage with Jelle, Pattillo, Kerr, the Jazz Flute Big Band, and my favorite D.C.-area rhythm section.

Looking back to 2007, when I first brought the Jazz Flute Big Band to NFA in Albuquerque, I can honestly say, “we’ve come a long way, baby!” Jazz flute is here to stay at NFA!
—Ali Ryerson

Note: Ali Ryerson founded the NFA Jazz Flute Big Band and was the first NFA Jazz Flute Big Band Competition Coordinator.