• John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor

Jazz Ambassadors return to St. Leo Dec. 15


The Bluegrass Area Jazz Ambassadors (BAJA), featuring three Woodford County residents, will return to St. Leo Catholic Church Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3 p.m. for their third annual free Christmas concert. Among the local musicians are bass player Carol Skricki, trombonist Bryan Brown and drummer Gary Burkett. For Burkett, who attends St. Leo, it’s a chance to play the music he loves and surprise a few of his fellow parishioners. “It’s nice, because everybody knows me as a pilot … and they go, ‘Oh – I didn’t know you played drums.’ … So I’m able to get back to the (musical) roots I started with when I was growing up,” he said. Burkett said he began playing music in grade school and got his first set of drums in 1965, when he was in high school. He was a music major in college, where he played with jazz bands, then took his skills to the U.S. Army jazz band, where he was stationed in San Francisco and Oklahoma. He left the Army to become a UPS pilot (he said he used drums to help learn how to fly airplanes) but never put down the sticks for long. When Burkett moved to Central Kentucky, he went to see the Jazz Ambassadors and, six years ago, successfully auditioned for a group, which includes doctors, lawyers, graduate students and others – none of whom are paid for their efforts. He said he likes both traditional Christmas music and the jazzy versions of holiday classics, both type of which the Jazz Ambassadors will play during their 75-minute-or-so St. Leo show. “All the great jazz entertainers put out Christmas albums, so there’s just a plethora of music … everything from a jazz version of “The Little Drummer Boy” to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Burkett said. “You can hear Bing Crosby singing it, or you can hear somebody singing it today, so it’s kind of timeless music, and it seems like every enjoys it,” Burkett said. For the musicians, there’s a certain excitement to playing with an 18-piece band – and hearing the sounds that a dozen-and-a-half people can produce, he said. BAJA performs and practices at a wide variety of places, from clinics at local high schools to shows with the UK Jazz Ensemble and well-known artists such as Grammy Award winning trombone player Gordon Wycliffe. Three days after the St. Leo concert, they’ll perform at UK’s Singletary Center. While the St. Leo show is free (and open to everybody), Burkett said donations will be accepted, which BAJA will use to pay expenses for future clinics and concerts. “You come, you enjoy the music, if you’d like to donate, we’ll definitely accept it, if you don’t, we’re so glad that you’re here,” Burkett said.

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