Chris Ziemba

Pianist, Composer, Educator

Resettling in Washington, D.C.!

In February of 2017, to my disbelief, I was notified that I'd won the audition for the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force, the Airmen of Note. At the time, I was firmly entrenched in the New York music scene, making a fairly successful living as a bandleader, sideman, educator, and copyist-for-hire. Without ever thinking I would actually be put in the position of having to make a choice, I had just such a rare, life-altering, context-changing decision thrust into my lap. The Note has had a long and rich history dating back to its inception in 1950, only three years after the Air Force gained its independence as a branch of the military from the Army. It was formed to continue the tradition of Major Glenn Miller's Army Air Forces dance band, and serves not only to help foster community relations with people all over the world, but to honor and inspire American servicemen and women far from home. The Note has attracted some of the finest musicians from across the country, and when I received the phone call I was of course astounded that I was being offered the piano chair.

After much discussion with Lauren, the most supportive and encouraging wife a guy could ask for, we made the decision that I should accept the offer. The factors that influenced this are complex and varied, related to life goals and awareness of a larger context. Suffice to say, it was The Most Difficult Choice I've ever had to make. Before deciding, I talked with several members of the ensemble and discovered that no two people had quite the same reasons for joining. I was gladdened that many of my friends and colleagues in the NYC scene were supportive of whatever outcome I fell upon. I felt comfortable and encouraged to begin writing a new chapter.

Often people make a big deal about firsts. Understandably then, it's a little funny how from the time I accepted the job until I moved out of NYC, I began to see things as a series of lasts. My last time playing at such and such a venue. My last time teaching this student. My last time going to this beer garden. I specifically remember my last time riding the wretched and unreliable subway, and how anticlimactic it felt. Of course, many of these "lasts" weren't true lasts, as today I still continue to visit and work in NYC and hit many of the same spots as I used to. I enjoy a little morbid humor from time to time, that's all.

Onboarding into the U.S. armed forces is a heck of a process. I could probably write a book filled with details, frustrations, stories, etc. Members of the USAF Band are full-time, active duty enlisted members of the United States Air Force. My first steps involved getting in touch with the local recruiting office (in Harlem) and scheduling a barrage of aptitude tests and medical exams to make sure I met the requisite standards for enlistment. There was a mountain of paperwork along the way. On June 27, 2017, I shipped out to Air Force Basic Military Training, held at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. Boot camp stories would probably compose at least 75% of the hypothetical book, but for now I'll just say that it was 8.5 weeks long, very hot, and overall not nearly as terrible as an adult freelance jazz musician might otherwise assume it to be.

At the beginning of September, I moved into a nice apartment in a beautiful part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It's been nine months since then, and by now I feel fully settled into things. We present a mixture of classic big band repertoire (i.e. Glenn Miller, Basie, etc.) and contemporary arrangements in national tours, local performances in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and in deployments across the globe. We play jazz festivals and record an album annually. We are encouraged to compose and arrange for our own ensemble, so there are plenty of opportunities for artistic outlet within this new system. All in all, I am loving the new job and performing frequently, both in and out of the band, around D.C. and across the States. I have big plans to continue developing as a solo artist, including further recordings, so please stay tuned for updates!

Here I am trying out humor again after too many weeks without. This was somewhere out on "town pass" in the final week or so of BMT, when I was allowed free time in San Antonio with visiting family!

Here I am trying out humor again after too many weeks without. This was somewhere out on "town pass" in the final week or so of BMT, when I was allowed free time in San Antonio with visiting family!