In 1975, jazz lover John Chandler had a dream. After attending a jazz clinic run by big-band leader Stan Kenton, the Fairfax resident thought he might form a top-notch big band of his own composed of Washington-area music teachers.
That dream came true--but somewhat differently than he had envisioned. "The educators found they couldn't make it--they were too busy--so they started to send their best students," he said.
By combing local schools in search of fresh jazz talent, Chandler organized the Jazz Masters, a 20-piece band made up mostly of top musicians from area high school and college bands. A few old-timers, such as "Easy" Smith (a sax player from Louisiana big bands), were recruited to make it showy.
Chandler, a job analyst for the Army who has played the drums for 35 years, has kept the band going ever since. During the school year, he roams through high school concerts and jazz festivals in search of replacements for band members who leave for college or careers.
Matt Nygren, a Langley High School graduate and trumpet player who joined the Jazz Masters when Chandler cornered him after a concert, called the leader a "hard-working, hustling, avid jazz hobbyist. It's not that he's that good a drummer, but he's terrific at organizing."
At performances, Chandler sits in the middle of the group, playing the drums with his head cocked to one side and bouncing up to the microphone to introduce the numbers. The band spends each winter working up its repertoire of 40 numbers, but members don't know from one concert to the next which they'll be called upon to play.
Chandler prides himself on variety, from '30s and '40s music to new pieces by Buddy Rich and Count Basie, from Latin beats to Dixieland, from rock 'n' roll to swing.
The youths in the band cheerfully acknowledge that they're the "cream of the crop" of jazz talent in this area, and the old-timers enjoy working with the younger musicians.
"The young people get to sit next to more experienced players, and we get to learn from them about rock 'n' roll playing," said Roy Burkhardt, an experienced trombone player Chandler pulls in occasionally.
Chandler seems to see the group as a transition between school and the professional music world. "Just because somebody's a first chair in his school band doesn't make him a first chair in this band," he said. "I treat 'em like professionals--I expect them to know everything in our book, and often throw something into the program on the spur of the moment. This band's style is spontaneity."
The band members may behave like professionals, but they're paid like amateurs. The group performs abouty a dozen free concerts each summer, using donations to pay for such necessities as music and stands. "It's good exposure," says Nygren. "John's a good hustler--he gets us lots of public gigs."
The Jazz Masters have performed at Wolf Trap and at President Reagan's inauguration, at RFK Stadium for Diplomats soccer games and at parks throughout Northern Virginia.
The Jazz Masters' last concert of the summer is set for 7:15 p.m. Monday, part of the free Waterfront Concert Series in Alexandria. For more information, call John Chandler at 971-9083.