In early March of 2020, Staples High School’s Jazz Ensemble placed first at Darien High School’s festival.
The young musicians were excited. So was Phil Giampietro. It was his first year as director; he’d taken over just 6 months earlier, from longtime leader Nick Mariconda.
Less than a week later, COVID struck. School was closed. Stuck at home, students rehearsed virtually. It was a dark, sad time.
When Staples reopened in the fall, nearly every aspect of education changed. But Giampietro kept his Jazz Ensemble together.
The group — 20 or so young musicians, out of the many dozen in the band program — rehearsed every Thursday.
Sure, they were spaced 12 feet apart in the (fortunately) large band room. They wore masks, and put bell covers on their instruments. But being together, playing jazz, was a highlight for every member, in those long, lonesome days.
They were good. This year, they got even better. Giampietro submitted a recording to the National Jazz Festival. A Staples combo placed first.
That led to an invitation to the Connecticut Music Educators Association conference April 1 — their first in-person meeting in 2 years. Staples shares the stage with Hall-West Hartford, one of the most revered jazz programs in the country.
The Staples students are excited. Four do double duty, having also been selected for All-State honors.
The Jazz Ensemble will play a range of music, from the likes of Duke Ellington, Thad Jones and Craig Skeffington. Influences include swing, Latin, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.
“This group has taken their music very, very seriously,” Giampietro says. “They’re doing it their way, and they’re really, really enjoying it.”
Educators from around the state will be impressed by the Staples musicians. You can see them too. On April 7 (7 p.m., Westport Library, in-person and Zoom), they’ll join Bedford Middle School, Ridgefield High and saxophonist/University of Connecticut assistant professor of jazz studies John Mastroianni at the town’s first Night of Jazz. Click here to register for the in-person show. (free!). If you can’t be at the Trefz Forum, click here for the livestream.
But you don’t have to wait. For a taste of what Staples’ jazz musicians can do, click below.