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    Washington Marine Musician: Sgt. Justin Daniel

    Washington Marine Musician: Sgt. Justin Daniel

    Photo By Sgt. Travis Gershaneck | Sgt. Justin Daniel, a saxophone instrumentalist with the 1st Marine Division Band and...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Travis Gershaneck 

    Marine Corps Recruiting Station Seattle

    SEATTLE, Wash. - The parade was supposed to start in 10 minutes, but we hadn’t moved an inch from the staging area. All around me danced a spectacular amalgamation of exotic colors, wobbling headdresses, foreign outfits, gigantic flags, banging drums: the sensory overload that is the annual Seafair Festival Torchlight Parade waiting to be unleashed upon roughly 200,000 spectators lining Seattle’s 4th Avenue.

    In the shadow of the iconic Space Needle, snapping away with my camera, I found myself in familiar company. Reflective black shoes. Pressed blue trousers. Form fitting black coats, lined in scarlet, with gold buttons. The black-brimmed white hats adorned with the gold emblem of an eagle sitting on a globe with an anchor behind them. There were about 30 of them, each brandishing various marching band instruments. The bass drum sported a large blue diamond with a red “1” in the center.

    These were the Marines of the 1st Marine Division Band, from Camp Pendleton, California.

    I was quick to make conversation with one of the saxophone players, Sgt. Justin Daniel. Turns out, he’s a native of the Evergreen State.

    “I’m from Puyallup, a ways south of here,” said the 27 year-old Marine musician. “After I graduated from Graham-Kapowsin High School, I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and played with University of Texas for a bit.”

    Right out of high school, that seems like the dream setup for an aspiring professional musician, so I was compelled to ask him why he chose the Marines instead of sticking with school.

    “I was over paying for school. The Marines turned into a really good option at that point.”

    Daniel is on his 6th year in the Marines, and since making that decision to join through the Musician Enlistment Option Program (MEOP) in 2011, he has traveled to many parts of the world to play professionally.

    “I’ve been to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, France, Germany, Italy,” he said, brow furrowing as he tested his memory. “Oh, and 20 states here in the U.S.”

    That’s a lot of travel and a lot of stage time, but I was curious if he could recall a distinct performance that validated his decision personally.

    “For me, I think that one performance would be when I toured with the All Star Jazz Band and played at Lincoln Center in New York,” he said. “Playing at Lincoln Center is kind of a big deal in the jazz world.”

    The All Star Jazz Band is a handpicked cadre of about 20 Marine musicians from across the Marine Corps who come together to represent all that is musical excellence.

    Jazz holds a special place in Daniel’s heart for the same reasons why the genre is appreciated by many musicians and listeners alike.

    “When I discovered jazz, it was something completely foreign to play. It’s a unique form. It’s designed to where you can improvise and make something up as the music progresses,” he said. “It’s the ultimate form of self-expression for me on the sax.”

    While the saxophone has been used to express individuality to iconic effect in many ways (cue: George Michael, “Careless Whisper”), I wanted to boil things down to why he chose the instrument in the first place. His answer was unexpected.

    “I was always naturally good at music, but there was one thing that really got me to do it,” he said. “You know that song, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from the movie ‘Titanic’?”

    1997. Céline Dion. Jack, Rose, iceberg, ship sinks, got it.

    “I heard someone playing the Kenny G version of it on sax, and I was immediately like, ‘that’s what I want to do!’”

    Daniel has been playing the saxophone for 16 years since that fateful epiphany, and owes much of his current success to the Marines.

    “In the Marines, I’m a professional full-time musician,” he said. “I’m not spending more time and money looking for gigs or at school as a student, I’m regularly performing the trade I have dedicated over half my life to.”

    “By the same token,” he continued, “I like the dual emphasis of connecting with the public and also having that warrior spirit. I like that, in this institution, I am expected to put down the instrument, pick up my rifle and be proficient with it at a moment’s notice.”

    As if in reply to his statement, the drum major barked the command to form up. And so, the 1st Marine Division Band marched forward into the heart of the Emerald City.



    Date Taken: 07.29.2017
    Date Posted: 08.22.2017 14:30
    Story ID: 245616
    Location: SEATTLE, WA, US 
    Hometown: PUYALLUP, WA, US

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