North Central College - Naperville, IL

Mitch Paliga: bringing cool jazz into a hot war zone

Mitch Paliga: bringing cool jazz into a hot war zone

Thanksgiving 2009 was a memorable occasion for Mitch Paliga, jazz saxophone instructor and a member of North Central’s jazz studies faculty. A professional saxophonist in the Lt. Dan Band—founded by actor Gary Sinise of CSI: New York fame and music director Kimo Williams to entertain military troops—Paliga spent his Thanksgiving vacation performing at three military bases in Afghanistan: Bagram Airfield, Camp Leatherneck and Kandahar Airfield. At Camp Leatherneck, a Marine base, the musicians played on flatbed trucks in a dust storm. In mountainous Kandahar, the temperature dropped into the 30s during the outdoor concert. The band was delayed from arriving there due to an earlier rocket attack in the area, Paliga explained.

Named for Sinise’s character in the movie Forrest Gump, the Lt. Dan Band plays up to 30 USO concerts a year at military bases and hospitals in the United States and around the globe. “Gary is a busy guy. He schedules all our dates around his filming of CSI: New York,” says Paliga. “He doesn’t make any money on the band but just believes in what we’re doing.”

A member of the band since 2007, Paliga balances his world travels with teaching jazz history and his saxophone students at North Central. “I’m always happy to share my experiences as a professional musician with my students,” he says.