By Jeff Miers
SAM Foundation executive director

At the SAM Foundation, our goal is to celebrate, support and enrich the Western New York music community, with an emphasis on providing music education initiatives in often-underserved parts of that community.

It makes perfect sense, then, that SAMF would team with Grammy-nominated music educator Phil Aguglia —  Band Director at Kenmore East High School —  and Robby Takac’s Music is Art not-for-profit to support and sponsor the 2023 October Jazz Fest.

Phil Aguglia

On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Aguglia’s brainchild will find regional middle school, high school and collegiate ensembles joined by the visiting MPG High School Band from Schorndorf, Germany, and the Ohio State Jazz Club, for a day of educational clinics, rehearsals and jam sessions culminating in a celebratory live concert, from 6-9 p.m., at Buffalo Hofbrahaus, in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District.

Participating Buffalo-area schools include St. Joe’s Jazz Lab Band, Tonawanda High School, York Central School District, Global Concepts Charter School, Kenmore West High School, Sacred Heart Academy, Lockport High School, and Kenmore East High School, all of whom will benefit from the festival’s collaborative opportunities throughout a day meant to celebrate one of the deepest and oldest strains of Americana music: jazz.

The SAM Foundation is excited to team with Aguglia and Music is Art and provide financial support for this educational endeavor.

I caught up with Aguglia recently to discuss the history of the Jazz Fest and the benefits it offers to both regional and international music students.

When did you launch the idea for the Jazz Fest? How many years has this been going on? 

I’ve been running jazz festivals for a long time. I was inspired as a teenager,  when our high school would participate in jazz festivals run by Ben Boyer at Buffalo Academy of Visual & Performing Arts and Jack Lis at Niagara Wheatfield High School. I think the first one I ran was in the early 2000s.

When I joined the Music is Art  Board, Robby Takac and I talked about things I could bring to the organization that would increase our reach  into the schools. It was a natural fit to rebrand what I was already doing, then expand it, using Music is Arts cachet. Since then, we have not only had annual Winter Youth Jazz Festivals, but on occasion offer a fall event like the October Jazz Fest, as well.

What’s the goal of the festival?

The goal of any music festival I produce is to provide schools an opportunity to learn, collaborate and perform.

During the October Jazz Fest, we have the Ohio State Jazz club, under the direction of  Dr. Robert Brooks, who will be providing clinics for many of the schools in WNY. The kids will have an opportunity to jam together, which creates an environment for them to learn from each other. There is so much to learn from just jamming together, in a structured environment.

Tell me a bit about the clinics being offered.

The Ohio Jazz Club will visit each of the Williamsville high schools in the morning, then go to Kenmore East, where several schools, including the MPG Big Band from Schorndorf, Germany, will share lunch together, then break into instrument-specific groups for some fundamental work. And then, they’ll all come together  for a structured jam session.

We’ll have clinics for the students throughout the day, and then the concert at the Buffalo Hofbrauhaus from 6 to 9 p.m.

The MPG Big Band

The MPG High School Big Band from Germany will also have a full day of activities on the 19th. The finale of their Buffalo tour will be a performance at KeyBank Center prior to the Buffalo Sabres vs. Calgary Flames game. I was able to coordinate a meet and greet with J.J. Peterka of the Sabres, who is from their hometown in Germany, at the end of the game. This is the third time the MPG Big Band has come to Buffalo for a Music Is Art jazz festival.

What’s the significance of Music is Art and the SAM Foundation teaming  up this way, in your view? 

Having the support of SAM Foundation is extremely important – without it, we would not have been able to bring in the Ohio State Band. The festival would have gone on, but it was extremely difficult to raise the money needed to cover everything.

I had anticipated the Ken-Ton schools contributing, but was surprised that, ultimately, they had no money to offer. So Williamsville offered to pay as much as we needed to fill in the gap, saying that it was the least they could do for me, since I do so much for the  kids of our music community. I was able to get support from Raymour & Flanigan furniture store, by having our music boosters meeting at their store. Music Is Art was able to provide the necessary insurance coverage for the clinic to take place at Kenmore East.

Tell me about the significance of regional high school ensembles being afforded the opportunity to mix, mingle with and listen to ensembles like the Ohio State Jazz Club and the MPG Big Band from Germany. How important is it to the education of these students to have the opportunity to collaborate in this way?

The collaboration is significant in many ways. There’s the reinforcement of what we are  teaching every day, the introduction of students with similar interests,

And the introduction of high school students to college students and professors.

By intermingling all these kids with similar interests in music, it also helps their self confidence. When they are among their non-music peers in school, it’s  not uncommon for the music kids to be made fun of and chided for their involvement  in band.

The jazz festivals are designed to help groups improve for future performances. Our festivals are not the whole end-goal – they are a part of the journey.

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