Jazz bassist's musical tale

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
From Dec. 10 to Dec. 14, five of the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia's finest musicians traded their home station at Yokota Air Base, Japan, for the open road and a chance to perform at Misawa City, Japan. While on tour, these Airmen spread holiday joy to patriotic hearts and extended their musical reach to the local Japanese community.

Included in the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia jazz combo is Master Sgt. Jeremy Laukhuf, the group's bassist and the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia's Director of Operations. Like so many other U.S. Air Force bandsmen, Laukhuf discovered his love of music as a child. A young Eddie Van Halen fan, all Laukhuf ever wanted to do was play guitar. Unfortunately, his school only had the bass available. However, it wasn't long before he realized his passion for the bass.

"I found out that playing the bass was fun and challenging," said Laukhuf. "I haven't thought about playing guitar since."

After graduating from college with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, he worked as a professional bassist in a wide variety of settings, including a contract on American Hawaii Cruises. A few years later, he decided he needed more stability in his life, which is when playing for the military as a career choice crossed his mind.

"Doing those jobs made me realize that I worked best in a structured environment and preferred to play with my feet on land," said Laukhuf. "The Air Force provides me stability as a musician and the opportunity to support and serve my country."

Now almost 40 years old, with a wife and kids, Laukhuf is a man with a job that has him behind a desk most of the time. Although he spends most of his time overseeing day-to-day operations within the band, he still enjoys slapping the bass and performing for a crowd with some of the best musicians in the military.

"In this group, I'm just the bass player," Laukhuf modestly states.

Unlike in a civilian band, where they are prone to indecision and heated arguments, the band at times looks to Laukhuf to maintain their military professionalism. The band said it's not only because he is the highest ranking Airman, but because he has strong leadership skills and a calming personality.

"We often play a game called Paper, Scissor, Rank, in which case [Laukhuf] always wins," joked Staff Sgt. Steve Helfand, the group's NCO in charge, assistant resource advisor and drummer.

Ever the "chill and cosmic professional," Senior Airman Greg Pflugh, the band's saxophonist, music and website director, said Laukhuf's calming effect on the group really comes in handy when they get into situations, which would ruffle most musicians' feathers.

An example of such an event happened on Dec. 10, 2012, when the jazz combo went into Misawa Air Base's 35th Civil Engineer Squadron building under the impression there was to be a surprise performance. Unfortunately, it was a surprise planned so well that no one knew about it. After ten minutes of scrambling around for official approval to perform, the band had three minutes to plan out a significantly shortened performance.

"Tensions were high," said Pflugh. "We were completely winging it and didn't know whether we'd be welcomed or holding up very busy men and women."

According to Pflugh, with the exception of Laukhuf, the majority of the band was betting on the latter.

"I don't believe in stressing about something you can't control," said Laukhuf, who was certain at the time that everything would work out. "Whatever happens, happens."

Shortly after the band started to play, they found their anxiety was unnecessary. The audience loved them. As they quickly adjusted to the band's sudden appearance, the audience pulled out their phones and started snapping photos and recording their show.

"It was fantastic. Definitely a cool surprise," said 2nd Lt. Carly Reimer, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron facility energy manager, who was one floor above the band when she heard their music.

Lt. Col. Robert Grainger, 35th CES commander added, "It was absolutely the best ending to a staff meeting I've ever been to."

Taking service members from everyday life to boost morale is why the band was there in the first place, said Laukhuf. The band's first mission is to support service members and the Air Force mission during war and peace time. The Airmen-musicians' second mission is what requires them to grab a bus and hit the road.

"Music is a conversation that specializes in shifting moods and bringing people closer together," said Laukhuf. "We don't play for the pay check or the military benefits. We play because of the pride and sense of purpose we get when performing for service members."