He arrives in the classroom dreary-eyed after driving straight from O’Hare Airport following an overnight flight and three days of concerts with a celebrity actor.
A well-connected student groupie who’s just been on tour with his favorite band?
“We’ve played shows in front of 30,000 people,” Paliga describes. “And, traveling with a band is something I’ve always wanted to do. But, it’s not quite a rock-and-roll bus.”
It’s much more serious than that.
The cover band raises money and awareness for several organizations that support current U.S. soldiers and their families. With the band, Paliga has traveled to military bases around the globe, including Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and many U.S. states.
Watch the band, including a solo by Paliga, play “Message in a Bottle” at Kandahar Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
Paliga, who has several family members who are veterans, describes the personal impact following their 2009 Thanksgiving trip to Afghanistan: “It really makes you think about our soldiers over there. You feel empathy for them. They’re over there for 16 months, 2 years. And, we’re there for a few days and get to come home.”
The band typically plays 30 to 40 concerts a year, which can lead to a slightly hectic travel schedule. On more than one occasion, Paliga has returned from a tour on an early-morning flight just in time to teach his History of Jazz course on Monday afternoons.
The band has two shows in May in Chicago: On May 7, they are playing at Joe’s Bar as a fundraiser for Kimo Williams’ Vietnam Art Program. The following day, May 8, they play at the annual gala at the Steppenwolf Theater, which Sinise helped to establish.
Playing with the band has also helped Paliga’s students. In a recent lesson focusing on drummer Joe Morello, the famous percussionist from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Paliga can talk about what it’s like to play with of Morello’s mentees: Danny Gottlieb, one of the most popular drummers in jazz and contemporary music.
“[Playing with the band] allows me to bring experience and knowledge to my classes,” Paliga adds.
He’s also one of five college or university professors who play with the group, allowing for collaboration and networking with colleagues in higher education.
Paliga has two recordings under his own name, Blithe Moments and his latest Fall Night which is on the Origin label. He also has recorded over 30 original compositions and arrangements with a variety of artists. Paliga endorses Cannonball Saxophones, Rico reeds and AMT Microphones.
“Relatively few jazz musicians take up soprano sax compared to the rest of the reed family, but Mitch Paliga is one who has mastered his instrument,” wrote Ken Dryden in “All Music Guide,” a Billboard.com review.