MONTICELLO, AR — Claude Askew had never heard of jazz legend Stan Kenton when a friend asked him if he wanted to see the Stan Kenton Orchestra in concert at Louisiana Tech University.
Askew was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, fresh out of high school. It was October 1971, the Vietnam War was still raging, and Askew had enlisted in the Air Force after his draft lottery number came up first. He had planned to enroll at Henderson State University as a music major but decided enlistment was better than being drafted.
Askew went to the concert, sat in the balcony and in his words, “was blown away. I was ready to jump out of the balcony to get closer to the band,” he says. “I realized at that moment that I wanted to do that.”
Fast-forward 43 years. Askew is a world-renowned drummer and jazz musician in his own right and part of the music faculty at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Mike Vax, the long-time conductor and lead trumpet player for the Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra, contacts Askew. The band’s regular drummer, Gary Hobbs, can’t complete the band’s spring 2015 tour. Would Askew help them out?
“I went to Mark Spencer, our dean, to ask him if it was alright for me to be away from campus,” recalls Askew. “He said you gotta do this!”
Askew joined the Kenton Orchestra and completed the tour, which took the band through 16 cities in 17 days covering Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Each performance was recorded live and made into an album called “Storming Through The South.” That album has been nominated for a Grammy.
Askew performs on eight of the album’s 13 tracks, providing the beat to “Roy’s Blues Revisited,” “Summer Violets,” “Lefty Leaps In,” “Virna,” “Come Out Swingin,’!” “Shell Game,” “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and “You Turned The Tables On Me.”
Performing with jazz legends is nothing new to Askew. He spent 22 years traveling the world as drummer and for six years conductor of the Airmen of Note, the premier jazz band of the U.S. Air Force, playing with the likes of Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan.
Askew holds a degree in music from Henderson State and has been part of the UAM music faculty since 2011.
“I spent 22 years playing with great musicians and world class guest artists,” says Askew. “The opportunities I’ve had are a real blessing.”
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