WVWC celebrates Jazz Ensemble’s founding 50 years ago


BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Wesleyan College hosted a Jazz Band Ensemble reunion this weekend to commemorate its founding 50 years ago. The event started on Friday with a jam session at the Buckhannon Opera House and lasted until Saturday night in the Performing Arts Center, where it ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd. 

Alumni James Watson took initiative by discussing the idea for this event with the Alumni Office on Wesleyan’s campus. Watson explained how the event came together.

“This concert, by accident, came about us on the 50th year. At first, we were just going to honor Dr. Milburn, his wife who passed away in 2017, and several other members of the band alumni group,” Watson said.

Dr. David Milburn founded the Jazz Ensemble and the members reunited every few years to play. But after Dr. Milburn’s passing in 2013, the Jazz Ensemble fell out of touch. The last reunion was in 2010.

“In the fall of 1969, then professor Milburn, got together several jazz enthusiasts and convinced them to form a band with five or six saxophones, five trumpets, four trombones, and a full rhythm section. A few of those former students are going to be with us for this weekend.” Watson said.

The two groups that performed included alumni who played under Milburn and those with the more recent guidance of James Moore. The music covered a range of 50 years of playing and was a selection of tunes by artists and arrangers such as Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Count Basie and more. Dr. Milburn’s daughters, Dana and Debra, joined in on vocals for a song by Chuck Mangione entitled “Children of Sanchez”.

Audience members happily tapped their feet and danced to the music in their seats.

“We hope to perform at a level that, at least, we can be proud of, since many alums have not touched their horns for a while and some have been playing sparingly since leaving Wesleyan,” Watson said.

Watson hopes to continue these reunions in the future, in order to carry on Milburn’s legacy. 

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