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Full circle return for Nelson Saxophonist as Air Force Band heads south

Leading Aircraftman Eilish Wilson knows first-hand what sort of impact she can have on the next generation of Kiwi musicians.

27 February, 2024

As an aspiring saxophonist at Nelson College for Girls, she got to experience the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Jazz Band up close when they visited her school – an encounter which inspired her current role with the Air Force.

“The first time I saw the RNZAF Jazz Band play was at my college during a visit, and I was so nervous to talk to saxophonist Sergeant Andre Paris after the show,” Leading Aircraftman Wilson said. 

“I went up to him and said something like Hey, you play saxophone eh? after watching him play saxophone for about two hours!

“He was so kind and encouraging to me. It's crazy to get to sit next to someone of his skill level in the band now, and I am always grateful for his ongoing mentorship.” 

Under the guidance of her first saxophone teacher Tim Parker, Leading Aircraftman Wilson was encouraged to join her high school’s jazz band. She also attended the Southern Jam Youth Jazz Festival for five years, where she crossed paths with the RNZAF Jazz band who would often run workshops and mentor students.

After college, Leading Aircraftman Wilson completed a Bachelor of Music degree with Honours at the New Zealand School of Music, and has since completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts.

She is one of the RNZAF Band’s newest members, and is loving the new gig.

“It's been a fun few months, with so many brilliant performances,” she said. 

“A lot of musicians who I admire have been through the band, and some of them are still members to this day. People like Sergeant Alistair Isdale, who runs the jazz band and takes care of so much in the way of organising the band. He’s a general all-round legend.”

Some of her highlights so far have included watching the RNZAF Drumline perform during the Air Force in Concert shows last year, and playing lunchtime brass band sets on Wellington’s Cuba Street.

“It was a sunny day in Wellington, and I love playing that music so much as it's steeped in such deep history.” 

Just a few months in with the band, Leading Aircraftman Wilson highly recommends aspiring musicians, and others, consider a career with the Defence Force.

“Go for it! It's brilliant to be part of this community, and being able to spend time doing something you love with talented, passionate people is just the best.” 

Now she’ll have a chance to perform in front of South Island crowds for the first time with the band, as they take their four-stop programme from Blenheim to Ashburton.

“I can't wait to play for - and meet - the kids and communities during our time down south,” she said.

Playing in front of friends and family in particular will be special, when she returns to Blenheim this week.

“It means everything. I really grew up surrounded by music during those trips to Southern Jam, and I couldn't be where I am today without the love and support of my family and friends.

“It makes me really proud to play for them, and it makes the music sound better when there's so much love there.” 

Tickets for the RNZAF Band’s upcoming concerts are available here.

Concert venues and dates:

  • 28 February, 7pm - ASB Theatre Marlborough, Blenheim
  • 1 March, 7pm - Ashburton Events Centre
  • 2 March, 7pm - Mountainview High School, Timaru
  • 3 March, 1:30pm - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch