Frizzante Jazz Spaghetti Concert Is Back

Lily Fleming, Copy Editor

On Tuesday March 7 at 5pm, middle and high school jazz bands brought back the Frizzante Jazz Spaghetti Concert. After the success of this fundraising event last year, the Johnston Band Parents Association organized its return for 2023; with special thanks to band parents Essie Mally and Dave Quartell. For $15 for adults and $10 for children, families and community members are invited to enjoy a tableside spaghetti dinner while listening to the various jazz bands. All profits go to Johnston bands, specifically expenses for new instruments. 

Promotion of the event took place within band newsletters as well as on the Johnston Bands social media. The informational flier indicated required table reservations to close on February 28. For the second year in a row, the event was a success and likely foreshadows a 2024 comeback.

Of the five separate bands that performed, jazz students ranged in age from 8th -12th grade. To account for each band in a timely fashion the event had two concerts/dinners, the first taking place at 5pm and the second at 7pm. Jazz Combos, Jazz Nexus and Jazz Syndicate played both shows, with the 8th grade jazz band opening for them at the 5 pm show and the 9th grade jazz band starting off the 7 pm show.

The 8th grade jazz band under the direction of Patrick Kearney was the first band to play, kicking off the dinner concert at 5pm. They performed four compositions: “Flight of Foo Bird” by Neil Heft and arranged by Peter Blair, “Blue Monk” by Thelonius Monk and arranged by Michael Sweeney, “Crystal Cove” by Patti Darling, and “A Song for September” by Ryan Garmoe. 

Before playing through the final piece, Kearney explained the background of “A Song for September,” which students were playing the world premiere of. Tearing up, he described how the composition was a tribute to a former Johnston band student, September, who “was a great student and chaperone.” The piece was a fun, funk rock tune in order to best encapsulate who September was, and in the audience her husband, Brian was presented with the original score. 

On top of the unique backstory and funky vibe, the piece is enjoyable to play for students too. Grace Samo ‘27 states,

“Probably my favorite (tune) is “A Song for September.” I like that one because it’s a harder rock tune and that’s kind of the stuff I listen to. … It’s really fun for me.” 

After their performance Kearney expressed the value of the event bringing the bands together, 

“It’s a great chance for the middle school bands to hear the high school bands … It’s all about getting them to stick with it.”

The first high school performance came from Jazz Combos directed by Steve Kellar, a band of 10th-12th graders, with a greeting, introduction and jokes from Ben Hansen ‘23. Throughout the course of the night Combos played six songs. 

“Bags’ Groove” by Milt Jackson was the first piece. It featured several students including: Hailey TeKippe ‘23, Mikel Braddy ‘24, Anita Dinakar ‘23, Hailey Akinsola ‘23, Finn Coons ‘23 and Ian Brown ‘25.

The second show by Combos at 7:40pm opened with “Doxy” by Sonny Rollins, a tune with several more individual solos and a prerecorded background track of drums. After each solo students supported each other by encouraging the audience to give up a bigger round of applause. 

To conclude Combos’s show time, the final tune Hansen introduced as “Groove Merchant” with solos from– “Finn, Mikel, Herby, Hailey and other Hailey.” To which Kellar nonchalantly said, “Heh, that’s hilarious,” And Hansen replied loudly into the mic, “Thank you.” 

Following the performances by Jazz Combos, in both dinners Jazz Nexus under direction of Jason Heeren played next. To open they played Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” then Heeren acknowledged the last night of jazz for seniors: Emily Magalski ‘23, Ryan Nussbaum ‘23, Connor Dial ‘23 and Elijah Caliger ‘23. 

For Caliger, jazz band first became a part of life in 9th grade. Sophomore and junior year he took a break, then gave it another shot this year as a senior. He elaborates on his experience in jazz band over the years, 

“I enjoy the soloing and I also enjoy the people around me because you just get to hang out with a bunch of friends, mess around and have fun,” Caliger said. Post graduation he believes the music genre will continue to appear in certain aspects of his life, 

“I don’t know about the participation, but I know there’s some songs out there that I like … I really like Michael Buble, so there’s gonna be some songs, and you know, you might hear some jazz alongside the street, who knows, but maybe.”

Nexus’s second piece “Cherry Point” by Neil Hefti alternates between Siddarth Rajkumar ‘24 on the piano, brass and the rest of the band. Then the third tune “Sin Palabras” by Rich Iacona starts with a mysterious, capturing piano melody from Rajkumar then invites the rest of the band. With funky percussion, distorted trumpets and a beachy feel, it is a tune listeners almost have to dance to. 

In the course of the night Nexus played a total of ten compositions and both concerts were wrapped up with “Thing’s Ain’t What They Used To Be” by Duke Ellington. 

Up next, Jazz Syndicate under Kellar’s direction played 11 tunes throughout the event, or ten different songs performed once through and one song (“Bojangles” by Duke Ellington) played at both dinners. 

The band of 11th and 12th graders, with lots of seniors to acknowledge, opened with “an oldie but a goodie,” as Kellar put it: “Time After Time” by Kahn and Styne and arranged by Don Schamber. The composition is a tune that gets big as it progresses, with a grand finale feeling for the ending and features from all the saxes in the front row where they sat. 

The second tune was Ellington’s “Pyramid,” something the group had been working on all year long, 

“So it should be perfect,” Kellar said. Which was returned with uneasy, sarcastic giggles from the band. Turning back to the group Kellar said, “Did I set you up?  … Good luck.” 

Following “Pyramid,” Syndicate performed: “Critic’s Choice” by Oliver Nelson, “Bojangles” by Ellington, a funky version of Ellington’s “Caravan” and “Spud” by Robert Skiles. In the second dinner of which Jazz Syndicate was the closing band, the group performed: “Roll ‘Em” by Mary Lou Williams, “Portrait of Mahalia Jackson” by Ellington, “Miss Missouri” by Benny Carter, “Bojangles” again and “Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla. 

The second spaghetti dinner took place at roughly 7pm, opened by the 9th grade jazz band under Justin Wells’s direction. Right away they kicked off the show with “St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy. 

“Cerulean Blue” by Gregory Yasinitsky was the next tune; a slow, enchanting piece that was picked up with a trombone solo by James Foo ‘26, who accompanied the rest of the song. Foo’s demeanor as he performed was visibly engrossed in the music. He pinched his eyes shut, paced in front of the mic, rocked back and forth on his tip toes, and blew out his lips in between playing. 

The closing pieces from the 9th grade jazz band were “Moten Swing” by Buster and Benny Moten and “Birdland” by Josef Zawinul that jazz groups have rearranged and made their own. 

In each tune by each band, student features were a prominent piece of this music genre showcase. Samo ‘27 describes what soloing and doing improv is like on stage,

“It’s definitely like this huge adrenaline rush, and then after like your first few notes and you get started, I just kind of get lost and you just kind of know what to do.

This year the Jazz Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser marked a successful close to the jazz season for many of the bands. While underclassmen who continue to participate in jazz band will look forward to more of these solos, adrenaline rushes, and opportunities to hang out with friends and enjoy the music genre, among graduating seniors the event was one last moment to savor both a spaghetti dinner and jazz performance spotlight.