Notable players such as Grover Washington Jr. and Sam Noto are names that come to mind when you think of jazz in Buffalo. But what about the teachers who spurred their passion when they were students?
For many young players in Buffalo, the late Floyd Fried was that teacher, and his influence can still be felt today. Ariana Jones is a bass player in the Buffalo Public Schools All City Jazz Ensemble, a band Fried put together decades ago. Jones was recently awarded the Floyd Fried Memorial Scholarship after a performance at the Sportsmen’s Tavern. It is $1,000 that she is going to use to purchase a string bass before attending Buffalo State College this fall for music education.
“It was very shocking. I was expecting to go to one of the (other students) versus me,” said Jones. “It made me very happy because I know that I will have a bass to play in college which I don’t have now.”
The scholarship started this year under the guidance of Mark Filsinger, Jazz Collective artistic director and leader of the Buffalo Public Schools All City Jazz Ensemble. He credits Fried - who passed away in 2010 after teaching music for 33 years in Buffalo Public Schools - for being an integral part of his jazz education growing up in Buffalo.
“He was so passionate and he was just so dedicated to his students and giving them every opportunity that he possibly could give them,” said Filsinger. “I think he just earned everyone’s respect. He just had one of those infectious personalities where he inspired you to want to be great.”
Another one of those former students is Phil Aguglia. He is the band director at Kenmore East High School and Board Chairman for Music Is Art. Entering his sophomore year in high school, he said he was running with the wrong crowd.
“I was in a street fight and I had a nose broken by three guys,” said Aguglia. “So I had a broken nose and I had an eyeball out to here. Floyd pulled me aside and he said, 'I think it’s time maybe you start to think about what direction you want your life to go in.'”
Aguglia said Fried went above and beyond to support him.
“Floyd dialed the phone number for Phil Christner, who is in the BPO. He gave me the phone and he said make an appointment. We made the appointment,” said Aguglia. “He drove me to my first couple of lessons. Paid for them. My repayment was to help the kids in the band room. So I became a teacher at a young age. He would pick me up and take me out to his house in Orchard Park once a week to give his daughter a lesson and that would help me pay for my trumpet lessons.”
Aguglia said he would be working in another field if not for Fried.
“If Floyd had not been that person in my life at that time, there’s no way I would have been able to make it in music,” said Aguglia. “In music, especially instrumental, you have to come from a fairly well to do family. They have to be able to afford instruments, they have to be able to afford lessons, they have to be able to afford the time to take you to all these different events that are going on.”
Fried put an emphasis on listening to professional players, often driving kids to concerts, including Flisinger, who knows the talent that’s come through Buffalo.
“Any major jazz artist that you can think of, you can find a connection with Buffalo musicians,” said Filsinger. “Part of the idea here is that…if we can connect the students directly with some of those people, they have a direct connection to that history.”
Aguglia remembers getting in touch with several local legends.
“He would bring in guest artists all the time,” said Aguglia. “I remember Phil Sims and Dave Schiavone…the list just goes on and on of the people Floyd would expose us to.”
Grammy award-winning pianist and University at Buffalo instructor George Caldwell is connecting with those students today. He took the stage after Jones received the scholarship, giving many students a chance to see and hear a jazz legend.
“Go hear people play. Go hear live jazz music getting played because that’s the essence of it,” said Caldwell. “There’s a moment that happens in music…when there is the separation people and what they are hearing disappears and they are experiencing it on an immediate level. That’s something that music has that no other art form has. There is an immediacy about it. Then when you stop playing it’s gone. Music is magic.”
Caldwell laughed about how easy it is to access great jazz.
“There’s a lot of YouTube videos now where you can listen to the masters that I didn’t have growing up. That’s a good tool,” he said.
Both Caldwell and Filsinger believe the best thing young musicians can do besides listening is playing with each other. That is part of the ideology Fried had when putting together the Buffalo Public Schools All City Jazz Ensemble years ago.
“The students will learn just as much if not more from each other,” said Filsinger. “If they get together and they play together…all of a sudden one student on trumpet hears the saxophone player playing something and they think, ‘Oh! If he can do that, I can do it.’ If you see one of your peers doing something or taking an interest in something that can create its own culture. Learning happens a lot more that way.”
Filsinger collaborated with teachers from several Buffalo schools to make the ensemble a reality. It is something that had been missing for a long time.
“Creating this opportunity for students that show an extra interest in jazz and students that are willing to, on a Friday after school instead of going out and doing whatever else they want to do. They are willing to come to a rehearsal,” said Filsinger. “Just the fact they are interested enough in learning to do that, this provides an outlet for them where they can get together with other musicians from around the city that share their interests and that passion for learning jazz.”
Many of the kids playing in the current Buffalo Public Schools All City Jazz Ensemble started in high school. Aguglia said that was a staple of Fried’s ensembles.
“Most of the kids in our high school program started as high school beginners,” said Aguglia. "We’re talking about 70 to 80 percent of the kids never played an instrument before they got to the building. So freshman year you’re all level one beginners. He looked at the jazz band as a wind ensemble equivalent because that’s where your kids really could read and play and got to go and express themselves.”
“Jazz to me is a form of self-expression,” said Jones. “With other genres of music like classical or concert or any other genre you don’t get to express yourself as freely as with jazz. With jazz you can really speak to your audience with improvisation. You feel what you are playing. You feel the notes, you feel the rhythm. It just really speaks to the audience.”
Floyd Fried has a tree in Buffalo’s jazz scene. From Filsinger to Aguglia, to one day potentially Jones, he is an example of the everyday heroes we see in the Buffalo Public Schools. It is easy to see his influence still making an impact to this day.
“Hutch Tech kids and Performing Arts kids,” said Jones, “Because we travel to different places amongst the city and perform in those places, it really spreads the jazz culture and really gets jazz out there to a different place to where it hasn’t been.”