Remembering Vince Wedge, Young Sounds of Arizona director
By Patricia Myers
Musicians and students are remembering the valuable guidance gained from trombonist-educator Vincent “Vince” Wedge, director of Young Sounds of Arizona, who passed away on Sept. 24 after a courageous battle against cancer.
A trombonist and longtime educator, Wedge was the band director at Red Mountain High School in Mesa for 13 years, in charge of two concert bands and a marching jazz band, also the classical and jazz combos. A professional trombonist, he played in the Extreme Decibel Big Band and TAD-produced show bands. He performed with star-level musicians including Henry Mancini, Carol Channing, Steve Allen, Dennis Rowland, Bobby Caldwell and Jerry Riopelle, as well as the Flagstaff Symphony and the Flagstaff Festival of the Arts Orchestra.
A longtime mentor, teacher, adjudicator and clinician, Wedge was elected president of the Arizona Association for Jazz Education and served as governor for the North Central Region. He also was vice president for jazz activities for the Arizona Band and Orchestra Association (ABODA). He is survived by his wife, Shirley, and daughters Erika and Betsy, and son Andy, all of whom played in their father’s school bands.
As a student, Wedge was a member of the Young Sounds of Arizona high-school honor band in 1976-77 when led by Barry Black, and also played in bands at Coronado High School in Scottsdale. He also played in Mesa Community College bands directed by Grant Wolf and Donald Bothwell, and at Northern Arizona University with directors Dr. Donald Wolf, Pat Curry and Ralston Pitts.
In an interview for MusicSceneAZ.com in 2014, Wedge recalled, “I attended Coronado High School where jazz band was a sideline, and not taken as seriously as marching band or classical music. For me back then, Young Sounds was an opportunity to play with other young musicians from all over the Valley who were really into jazz. Those of us in Young Sounds looked at it as an awesome opportunity to blow with some great guys like I did with Dennis Monce, Jim Henry and James Kass (trumpeters) and Dick Weller (drums). “When I went to college, there were two music degrees, performance or education. I knew I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a positive force,” Wedge told MusicSceneAZ. “I went on to get my master’s degree in music education and, after 30 years, I still get a kick out of the kids.
“As Young Sounds director, I want to give the students as well-rounded jazz experience as possible, through all the different periods of jazz, from post-Dixieland to post-modern, including early Ellington and Basie charts,” Wedge said. “The goal is to prepare them to be commercially viable musicians, whether they’re going to be jazzers or in agency bands.
“We want to nurture young musicians who have a desire to excel in commercial music, and to be good people. For performances, they don’t have uniforms, but I specify a suit and colored shirt with a tie so they have the appearance of a group. They have to be on time at rehearsals, and I teach them to respect people and to be nice, shaping them to be good citizens.
“We’re working toward performances, but I try to incorporate jazz history into rehearsals, and encourage them to listen to recordings. We have a Facebook page where students share recordings, and we just acquired a large library of CDs from someone, and anyone can donate those to us.”
Young Sounds in the 21st century continues the concept that began in 1971 as a non-profit organization, sponsored from its inception by Phoenix Local 586 of the American Federation of Musicians. Starting with founding director Warren “Jeff” Jeffries, a Valley high school music educator, Young Sounds originated with one big band but later expanded to two. The union annually provides $10,000 in scholarships for outstanding student musicians to help pay for jazz camps and/or private lessons.
Acclaimed as “The best young talent in the Valley,” its notable alumni include Joey Sellers, Matt Rollings, Lewis Nash, Sonya Jason, Phillip Strange, Jeff Dellisanti, Dick Weller, Rachel Eckroth, Eric Felten, Lucas Pino and Alex Han.
Wedge and assistant director Andrew Gross worked with a 10-piece band (7 O’Clock Band) and a small jazz combo (5 O’Clock Band) that rehearse at 5 and 7 p.m. every Monday at the Musicians Union hall, 1202 E. Oak St., Phoenix (south of Thomas); those rehearsals are open to the public.
Gross expressed his admiration for Wedge in this Facebook post: “I personally considered him a friend and a mentor. I learned much about music and life from him. I came to understand how deeply he cared about teaching and inspiring young musicians, especially here at Young sounds. While he has left some big shoes to fill, I will do my best to carry on the wonderful legacy he has left us. We will miss you, Vince.”