John has performed as a professional musician since he was fifteen years old. His talents as a saxophonist, woodwind doubler, composer, and arranger have led him to a diversity of musical experiences. John has performed, toured and/or recorded with artists such as Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Donna Summer, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, Nick Brignola, the New England Jazz Ensemble, and many others! Currently, he is the Director of Bands and K-12 Music Supervisor for the Canton Public Schools, an adjunct jazz faculty member at the University of Connecticut, and the founder and music director of the Young Artists Summer Jazz Workshop. In December 2002, John was named by SBO Magazine as one of 50 directors in the United States that “make a difference,” and in March 2004, John was chosen by the Connecticut Music Educators Association (CMEA) as the Secondary School Teacher of the Year. In 2010, he was honored by Starthmore’s Who’s Who as an individual who has demonstrated leadership and achievement in his profession. John was chosen as the 2013-14 West Hartford Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and he was a quarter finalist for a 2014 Music Educator GRAMMY Award. Most recently, John is the 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year!
- John, did you always know that you wanted to serve others and help today’s youth?
Yes! From as early as I can remember, I’ve always known that I wanted to be a teacher and professional musician. I had such amazing teachers that had such a profound impact on my life! The indelible imprint they have left on my soul resonates with me throughout each day, and it continues to ignite the passion in me to make a difference in the lives of young people!
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
I was recruited to go to the University of Bridgeport by one of mentors and dear friends, Neil Slater. UB had an incredible music program, and I thrived as a music education major and jazz studies major. I was afforded multiple opportunities to hone my teaching craft and to play professionally. Neil, and the legendary guitarist Sal Salvador gave me my first opportunities to play with great musicians and bands in New York, and needless to say, I was hooked for life! Upon graduation from college, I was hired by my mentor and high school band director, Joe Marzulli to be the band director at Central High School in Bridgeport. That’s where I went to high school, so imagine being the band director four years after I graduated from there!!!
- How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
My entire career has been blessed beyond words! I have always had amazing students, colleagues and friends. I continue to play music with stellar musicians and dear friends, and I look at each day as another opportunity to grow! Even during the very few bumps in the road that I have had, it remains very simple for me…it’s all about the kids! They keep me smiling every day.
- I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute your success to.
I never associate success with winning awards, accolades, competitions, or by how many plaques are on my wall. I view success as waking up in the morning excited, and going home fulfilled. It’s a great saying that I’ve learned in my travels that I live by each day. On a more practical note, I tell my students that if you’re on time, a good person, and you do your gig to the best of your ability, you will be successful and fulfilled.
- What do teens need today more than anything else?
Teens need to know that life is not instant gratification! In this fast paced technological world that we live in, the world is at our fingertips in a heartbeat. Teens need to understand that life is a journey, and not a simple click on an iPad. Excellence is something that is pursued and cultivated on a consistent basis…there are no short cuts, and it does not happen overnight. Be passionate, work hard, and live your dreams. You’re in it for the long haul!
- John, what would you tell a teen who was struggling?
Stay the course, be true to yourself, and remember that tough times don’t last, tough people do! Without risk, there is no gain, and struggles often breed great achievements. It’s perfectly fine to fail! Michael Jordan was never afraid to take the game-winning shot, even though he missed more than he made!
- What else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
I am often asked, “What are you going to do when you retire?” My response is always, “I’m doing it!” I want to continue to nourish the lives of young people, and to play music at the highest possible level. I look at each day as an opportunity to grow, and I live by the mantra that artistry has no finite ending. I never try to be better than anyone else, just better than I was yesterday! I have taken on a new challenge this year by accepting a position as the K-12 Music Supervisor for the Canton Public Schools and Director of Bands at Canton High School. I am thrilled about this opportunity and excited about this next chapter of my growth.
- Can you please share with all of us something else that I should have asked you?
Remember that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life! Experience and appreciate the joy of lifelong learning. It’s the most wonderful gift!
- How can people get in touch with you if they have additional questions?
Thanks for your time John and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!
Author and Speaker of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series.
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