Like their civilian colleagues, the 40-50 musicians that make up the Lackland AFB-based U.S. Air Force Band of the West have been performing their duties "off base," literally. Since Monday, March 16, the members have been sequestered at home, awaiting their next duty call as a live ensemble. That doesn't mean they've been resting on their laurels, though. The band members are still very much on active duty, assisting with other needs in the military, and making music while alone, together. I caught up with Staff Sergeant Jaime Parker by phone to learn more about how the band is fulfilling its mission even while stationed at home.
Nathan: What day did y'all all get the order that you were gonna be not coming back to base? Or, have you been coming into base for any particular reason at all?
Jaime: Well, it's a date that I've been hearing a lot for a long time, actually. Friday the 13th. It was Friday, March 13th that we kind of started getting word that things were not going to be business as usual. And the next Monday, we had our last in-person meeting on base where we kind of tried to figure out a way forward and made it clear that we would be teleworking during this time.
For the Band of the West, what does teleworking mean? What kind of tasks are you doing, and plans are you making? What does that look like?
Well, we're doing several different things. One of the things we've been doing is helping out our mission partners with Joint Base San Antonio, doing a little bit of answering of telephones to kind of take some of the pressure off of the medical support personnel that were having to answer those calls before. And we did that for about three weeks when this first started. And now we're kind of moving into our primary mission. You know, it's a tough time for musicians. Our number one job as musicians is to connect with people. And in the Air Force band, we do that, and we honor our nation's rich military heritage, and we tell the Air Force story. The way we do that is by playing concerts... normally. And that's not really possible right now. So we've had to get creative, and one of the ways we've been doing that is by making music videos that we're releasing online. I like to think we've been getting pretty good at that. For the last six weeks, we've released a music video almost every single day. And the messages behind those videos can vary... everything from something lighthearted and kind of just fun or silly, to videos that have a deeper message. I would encourage everybody to look us up. We're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. Just search for a Band of the West and you'll find us, and check out what we've been up to.
Is this about the most video production in the shortest amount of time that you've been doing?
Yes, it's been a very steep learning curve for all of us! We're working on ways continually to improve the quality of what we're doing from home. But, yeah, we have really picked up our pace in the video productions department. And that just happens to be my job for the band, is productions. So I've been kind of funneling a lot of that and facilitating other people, you know, to produce this kind of stuff.
As the state of Texas starts to open up a little bit, are y'all looking at your own timeline of what could happen with returning to base with the band and things like that?
Well, right now, Joint Base San Antonio is still in what they call health con protection C, or Charlie. And that basically means that they are still operating with essential personnel only. And as you can imagine, as band members we're not grouped into that category. So for the time being, we are still teleworking, but we are, yes, looking at plans for the future of how we are going to safely go back to work. We know there will come a time. But as you know, everything is day to day right now. And we're just kind of trying to plan as best we can, and move forward and be ready when it is time to go back.
Jaime, you're also involved in the private sector, so to speak. I know you not only from the Band oo the West, but also as a member of Doc Watkins' Orchestra at Jazz, TX. And I've been down there to visit one on one with him a couple of times. And I know that Doc's been trying to stay in touch with musicians in town. Have you been in contact with him and any of your colleagues from the jazz scene in town?
Yes, I've talked with Doc several times during this, and it's always nice to connect with him on the phone and kind of hear what he's up to and what he's thinking about Jazz, TX, and the club and everything. He's been doing livestream broadcasts of solo piano, just him in there playing. And I think he's got another one of those coming up pretty soon. And he asked me the other day if I would just pop in on a phone call during that live broadcast and and make a little guest appearance. I joke with him that I'm the "house trombonist" at Jazz, TX! That's a thing that doesn't really exist in the real world, but we have fun with it. And I do play there every Friday and Saturday with--well, I DID play there before all this happened--but every Friday and Saturday with a Pierre Poree and friends on Friday nights and then on on Saturday nights, I was in the Doc Watkins Orchestra. And so we're really looking forward to the day when Jazz, TX can have a huge reopening party when it's safe for that to happen.
Yeah, absolutely. All of us, man. Well, personally, how have things been for you at home?
Really great, actually. It's funny. This a really tough time for a lot of people. But but but there are some silver linings. You know, there's time and there's time with family. My wife, Anastasia and I are here at home with our two cats, Charlie and Barney, and we're hunkered down. She is also a musician. She's a member of the San Antonio Symphony, she's a violinist. And she's also a member of Camerata String Quartet. And so she's also been working on some of some projects of her own with those organizations that have been released online. And, you know, they're basically doing the same thing as us, trying to find a way to connect with people, with their audience during this time.
Well, Jaime, I want to wish you best of luck and I can't wait to see you in person again.
Well, same to you, and like I said, I'm looking forward to the day where we can have a big fun concert and, you know, enjoy being together or playing music safely.