News Column

She's coming home: Local musician returns for concert with Army jazz band

August 21, 2014

By Charity Apple, Times-News, Burlington, N.C.



Aug. 21--For Liesl Sagartz Whitaker, returning to Alamance County next Thursday as part of the United States Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors concert at Williams High School will be like coming home.

It will be one of the first times in several years that she's returned to her alma mater and a chance to reconnect with the teachers who inspired her to pursue music as a career.

Mark Payne, her former band director, and Laura Sam, former drama teacher, were a big part of Whitaker's life back then.

She would accompany groups, on piano, in rehearsals with Sam's students and she described Payne as "an incredible director."

"It was really neat to be part of a semi-professional experience while you're still in high school and that's what I got at Williams," she added.

Whitaker's family moved to Burlington when she was 14 years old. She graduated from Williams High School in 1987 and also performed with the Alamance Jazz Band before enlisting in the Army. She is lead trumpet player and Sergeant First Class.

Other than performing with the Army bands, including the U.S. Army Blues, Whitaker has performed in Broadway shows such as "Cats," "Guys and Dolls" and "Wizard Of Oz" at Madison Square Garden.

She began as a piano player. As one of six children (four boys and two girls), Whitaker said her father taught all of them how to play piano.

"His mother taught him and he got a lot of joy out of playing," she said. "I often say that it's the greatest gift my parents ever gave me -- teaching all of us how to play piano. Because it taught me a lot about music theory and when I went to college as a music major, I was glad I had that background."

When the family lived in Kansas for a time, Whitaker said her music teachers were impressed at her ability to sight-read music.

"It really was a wonderful gift they gave us all," she added.

When the band performs at 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 inside Williams High School's auditorium, Whitaker said to expect to hear an energetic show, complete with vocalist Marva Lewis of Texas.

"You're going to hear about 100 years worth of jazz in a 90-minute performance," she said. From Dixieland to patriotic tunes, Whitaker said there's something "raw, unprocessed about the live performances" she enjoys. "I think it's the human factor behind it, too. We, as musicians, feed off the energy of the audience."

Admission is free, but tickets are required and can be obtained by calling (336) 227-0131 or visiting the Times-News, 707 S. Main St., Burlington, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

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(c)2014 Times-News (Burlington, N.C.)

Visit Times-News (Burlington, N.C.) at www.thetimesnews.com

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Source: Times-News (Burlington, NC)


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