Niagara Gazette

August 26, 2013

Jazz saxophonist Bobby Militello talks music education, connecting with a crowd

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Bobby Militello has enjoyed a career as a jazz musician for decades now.

The Buffalo native, who served as a headlining act at this past weekend’s Lewiston Jazz Festival, credits much of his success to his early days at School 77 and LaFayette High School where he first learned to hone his craft.

He remembers former teachers like John Sedola and Paul Chekula who devoted much of their time, including many hours after school, to help him learn the finer points of being a fine musician.

Which is why when he’s not busy playing at the jazz festival or other venues with his new quartet, Militello does what he can to support the continued presence of music and art in public schools, including those in Buffalo. After all, he said, very often school is the first place young people, and more importantly young people in music classes, receive their introduction to the truly American art form known as jazz.

“There’s always a younger base to jazz because of the school system,” he said. “The kids get exposed to jazz and they say ‘hey, wait a minute, this is kind of cool. I like this.’ It’s always been that way.”

In recent years, however, priorities inside many local school districts have changed amid funding constraints and budget cuts. Militello has been an advocate for maintaining arts and music programs in area schools. He’s also been a “one-man-band” so to speak in helping to connect aspiring young musicians with instruments to play. His Italian restaurant, Bob and Lisa’s Citta di Militello in Buffalo as a drop-off site for gently used instruments that can be distributed to needy school children.

“The heart of it is that you are taking the soul of your children,” Militello said, referring to cuts in funding for arts and music programs in schools. “They should dance and they should sing and they should play. Some of these people will become phenomenally good artists we need them.”

And in Militello’s opinion, people young and old need to experience jazz.

“Jazz is a unique art form,” said Militello. “Why would you let it die? Why would you work at making it harder for people to experience it and see it?”

Many jazz fans have experienced plenty of Militello. The alto saxophonist toured in the early 1970s with the Maynard Ferguson Band, has worked as a member of the touring group featuring “The Tonight Show’s” Doc Sererinson and toured with the Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1982 until Brubeck’s death in December.

Speaking last week before his Friday performance, Militello said after having recently come off the road, he was looking forward to the jazz fest as an opportunity to play with some fine musicians and “challenge” himself to push himself as an artist.

“That’s what the fun of this is going to be,” he said.

Militello said a show plays out often depends on a “judgment call” by the musicians involved, both in terms of how they feel and the feedback they’re getting from the audience on any given evening.

“Sometimes, I just get a feeling to do something and I just go ahead and do it,” Militello said. Sometimes it’s just a feeling you get from the crowd. You have to be ready to go with the flow with what comes natural.”

“I can honestly tell you that there is a non-verbal communication with the audience. I close my eyes when I play, but I can feel my audience. It’s something you can’t completely describe, but it’s one of the reasons we do what we do.”

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.