Students Start Local Jazz Group

Bailey Valente, Staff Writer

In high school years, many students begin searching for their niche or passion.  Many turn to sports, others choose acting. However, for these five students,  it’s all that jazz.

Austin Alianiello ’12, tenor saxaphone player, Mike Ljungberg ’12, drummer,   Olivia Kapell ’14, bassist, Brian Hershey ’12, saxaphone player, and Danny Pravder ’12, pianist, aren’t only members of the Staples jazz band. Driven by their love of music, they came together to form their own small jazz group, “Chops,” in which they use each other’s talents to strengthen their own in a fun, leisurely way.

“Chops,” a slang term for the way you play an instrument, began sophomore year for Alianiello, the tenor saxophone player, Pravder, the pianist, Hershey, and Ljungberg. During band practice, when Mr. Mariconda gave breaks, these boys chose to spend their time playing songs together.

“We jammed and had good chemistry, so we decided to start a group,” said Pravder.

There’s no doubt that these musicians are completely infatuated with their instruments and the music they produce.

“I have always had this thing, I call it a condition, where I just can’t sit still with an instrument in my hands,” explains Alianiello.

The students came together and agreed that they wanted to play together more often, starting by meeting after school occasionally. They grew not only as musicians, but as close friends, as well. 

“We thought it would be a good way to build our ‘chops’ outside of jazz band so that we could try to make the jazz ensemble the best it could be,” said Alianiello.

As the group got more serious, there was a need for a bassist who would share the same focus and determination the rest of the boys. That’s where Kapell came in. Kapell is an extremely talented bass player who was accepted into the Staples jazz band as a freshman – a rare occurrence. Alianiello immediately noticed her love for music and motivation to improve, and asked her to join.

“When they asked me to play with them, it was a pretty casual offer, nothing I thought would be permanent,” Kapell said. “We had a great time, and they kept asking me to play. We became a close knit group, and Chops just formed.”

Chops has played together at various events, including school fundraisers, ECOfest, and live from the Staples Media Lab. Separately, they have done various gigs around theFairfieldCountyarea.

Unlike other styles of music where everything is planned and learned ahead of time, jazz performances are improvisational. Rehearsing only requires planning what pieces will be played and who is going to have a solo, explains Kapell.

“Performances are exciting because I never know what sick lick Austin or Danny is going to pull, or what fill Mike is going to put in,” she said, adding that each performance is even more fun than the last.

The players have high aspirations for the future of the group, including writing some original material and playing more gigs, suggests Pravder. However, Alianiell oenforces that enjoyment is everyone’s main goal for Chops.

All four boys are graduating seniors, and each of them has future aspirations that revolve around music. Kapell plans to continue her studies of music throughout her next two high school years and hopes to become more comfortable experimenting with her instrument.

“The guys in Chops are my favorite people in the world. I’m really going to miss them next year when they all graduate.”