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Big Band X-Press practice their Christmas selection during a recent Monday night practice. The Christmas Ball is slated for December 2nd at the Historic USO. / Laura Austin Photo

Ridgecrest will celebrate Christmas with Big Band X-Press

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–  You will have two wonderful family-friendly opportunities to celebrate Christmas with Big Band X-Press (BBX). Start off the holiday season on December 2nd at the Historic USO Building at the BBX Christmas Ball. Then join your friends and neighbors at the City of Ridgecrest Tree Lighting on Friday, December 8, at the City Center, 100 West California Avenue.

The Christmas Ball begins with a free dance lesson led by The Groove Ballroom at 6:30 pm and the band blasts off at 7:30 pm until 10 pm. Admission is $10; active military and students pay $5. The USO Building will have snacks for sale and a no-host bar. Proceeds are split between the Upper Mojave Historical Society and the BBX Music Camp Scholarship program.

City Center will be a hive of activity from 5 pm until 9 pm. The tree lighting is at 6 pm but the free family fun is ongoing. Look for hot cocoa and a fresh-baked cookie for each child, live reindeer, a kids’ craft station while supplies last, games, train rides, and face painting. DJ Paniiq will be spinning tunes for the Kids’ Dance Party Zone and, of course, Santa Claus will be there to provide photo ops.

BBX has a large catalog of songs to choose from and over 100 of them are Christmas songs. They are making sure to play some fan favorites, including I’m in the Mood for Love, It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing), Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, and Christmas Time is Here.

We spoke with two band members, Julia Mason, 4th Trumpet and Nathan Simon, Lead Alto. When asked their favorite tunes, Mason likes A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Smith favors Fly Me to the Moon. They are both looking forward to a new arrangement: You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch sung by Bill Knehans.

BBX is truly a community band. Although it has been around since the 1980s, the members keep changing as people retire or move away. All ages and all levels of experience are welcome. If you care to join, show up on a Monday night from 7 pm until 9 pm at the Burroughs High School (BHS) Band Room.

We have kids that are learning,” says Mason, “and we have these guys who are almost professional who went through college and played with bigger groups. So yeah, anybody’s welcome.” Playing with seasoned jazz musicians is quite a positive educational experience. Mason explains, “A lot of jazz is listening. They hear these pieces being played and played, they can replicate and they learn through listening.”  It is a jazz tradition to learn by “ear” rather than studying written music. This is called learning “aurally.”

Simon tells us, “Part of the recommended pedagogy for most musicians is to listen to other classic recordings or performers. There’s a whole list I’m going down finding new great saxophone players. But that’s not always enough. I mean, it’s a good start and you can imitate that. You can learn styles and intimations, but playing with a band in person, in time, it’s a whole different thing.” Right now, there are two BHS drummers in the band and two 12-year-old musicians, Riley Mason on trumpet and Aaron Aberer on alto sax.

Simon has been playing saxophone since he was in fourth grade. He says, “High school was awesome because we had a marching band, a pretty competitive, pretty good one. That soaked up a lot of time and was good for a little bit of physical fitness, so I didn’t miss out on not being in sports.”  The college was a small technical school. “We didn’t do marching band.” However, he was the lead alto in the jazz band.

Mason started playing music in fifth grade. “I never played jazz growing up,” says Mason. “I played clarinet in the high school band. I did the marching band, but I quit after high school.” Her son, Riley, began lessons at the age of seven. “We lived in Houston before we came here. And there was a professional trumpet player there that took my son because no one would give him lessons. He was too young. They didn’t think he should start trumpet until later. But he gave him trumpet lessons.” The Masons moved to Ridgecrest five years ago. During the pandemic, Julia started studying trumpet online with a professional.

BBX is planning to host three dances this year at the USO Building. They anticipate playing in the spring, fall, and winter. In October, they played at the Navy Ball, which was a big success all the way around.