‘Best of the best’: Naples Jazz Orchestra organizing elite youth jazz band

Bob Stone knows talent when he hears it. The acclaimed jazz percussionist has performed with more than 80 headliners in his day, including Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and Lionel Hampton, just to name a few. He also headlined his own band, “The Bob Stone Big Band,” from 1976 to 1989 in Chicago.

So when Stone heard Barron Collier High School senior Morgan Block play a trumpet solo, he sensed the passion behind the music.

“Morgan just blew me away with his solo on this tune,” said Stone, who immediately asked Block and fellow student drummer Christian Ostolaza to perform “Blue” with the Naples Jazz Orchestra (NJO) during its Feb. 21 concert at Cambier Park.

The invitation was a big deal, since the NJO doesn’t even hold auditions for its own members. It’s a by-invitation-only, professional-grade ensemble, which was awarded the Naples Daily News Southwest Florida “Choice Star Award” for “Best Musical Entertainment” after its first season last year.

“We know who we want,” Stone said of the 18-member jazz band he hand-selected. Stone also knows who he wants for the next band he’s forming: the most passionate and talented youth in Southwest Florida.

The NJO has created enough buzz for itself that now it is ready to birth a junior version, the NYJO (Naples Youth Jazz Orchestra).

“I’m after the kids in Collier and south Lee County who have a passion for this,” Stone said. “We’re going to take the best of the best.”

Stone invited the two high school musicians to play with the NJO at its most recent concert as a way of announcing the NYJO’s formation. After Block and Ostolaza’s moving performance, Stone trumpeted, “Imagine 20 of them up here!”

“It’s been our vision to form this band since we formed the NJO,” explained trombonist Lex Tsaggaris, who handles publicity for the band. He passed out about 40 sponsorship forms during intermission at the Monday night concert, with dozens of additional patrons asking how they could get involved.

Members of the new NYJO will pay an annual tuition of $350, but the rest of the operating costs will need to come from donations, Tsaggaris said. The goal is to create an NYJO endowment fund to supplement tuition and fund the program, he added.

John and Carolyn Carr have already invested in the future youth ensemble. While other local bands often pass the bucket for music scholarships, the Carrs were impressed with Stone’s vision to actively participate in the development of talented young musicians.

“It’s a dedicated mission,” Carolyn Carr said, adding she was even more convinced of the cause’s worth after Block and Ostolaza performed. “When you see it in the flesh, I was very impressed. They were very mature.”

Although the two high school seniors will be off to college before the NYJO starts rehearsing this fall, Block said he is glad to help promote the new organization.

“It will be a really great experience to help keep jazz alive, especially in the young people,” Block said. “To get better, you need guidance from people who understand this music, and that’s these people.”

The people Block refers to are the top NJO musicians, who will make up the NYJO teaching staff. Scottish pianist and composer David Pringle is one of the most successful British TV composers, with numerous songs on BBC television.

“The man taught at the Royal Academy in Scotland,” noted Stone. The teaching staff also will include renowned musicians Craig Christman, saxophone; Adren Hance, trombone; George Mancini, trombone; Mark Petty, trumpet; Don Rynard, saxophone; Michael Santiago, trumpet; and Aurora Wells, bass.

“Seven people in our band just came off the road with Barry Manilow,” Stone noted.

Although their careers keep them busy (which is why the NJO plays on Monday nights), these musicians give their time to NJO because they believe in its twofold mission: To provide quality big band jazz to the Naples area and to be the parent organization for an elite youth jazz band.

“We’re trying to not only preserve the music, but pass it on to the kids,” Tsaggaris said.

Applications are now being accepted for the NYJO and may be downloaded at www.thenyjo.com. Auditions for the 2011-12 season will be held this summer, and the season will run from September through April.

“Hopefully, they’ll play the opening set for us in January,” Stone said.

He envisions not only keeping big band alive but starting something in Naples with lasting value. “The idea is to keep both of these bands going when we’re long gone. I want this thing to go on forever.”

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