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Old school; Buff State jazz all-stars reunite for show

An all-star group takes the stage Sunday at Jazz at the Albright-Knox, the Buffalo News-sponsored free jazz festival taking place this summer on Shakespeare Hill. The band is a confederation of musicians who played jazz together for a halcyon time at Buffalo State College.

This is one heavy-hitting group, including Bobby Militello, Dave Schiavone, Phil Sims, Tom Kasperek, Dick Griffo, Jim Tudini and Rick Strauss. Brian Lewis, professor of jazz studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, is flying in for the occasion.

Leading the band is Frank Collura, a native of Buffalo's West Side who has distinguished himself in the jazz and classical music worlds. Collura is coming in from Pennsylvania, where he leads bands at Mercyhurst College.

And one proud trombonist will be State Supreme Court Justice Frederick Marshall.

A former member of the Erie County Legislature, Marshall grows nostalgic as he recalls the band's glory days. He remembers the Buff State group he played in as extraordinarily full of excitement and inspiration.

"We were attracting players not only from our college but other institutions," he says. "It was kind of a special time. Maybe we bent the rules a little bit.

"There's been a Buffalo State jazz ensemble all along. But the Buff State jazz ensemble I belong to, originally conducted by Bill Champion, then conducted by Collura -- was, we thought, a very special time in the band's history. It combined an awful lot of great musicians into one band."

Not all the musicians, he laughs, were Buffalo State College students and faculty.

"We wanted to make some great music. We didn't really care about the formalities of taking a course, being fully enrolled as a full-time student at the school," he admits.

The musicians' school connections may have been loose, but they were bonded by music and memorable experiences.

"We used to play concerts around the area, and also traveled to Michigan and Vermont," Marshall says. "Then we had a real whopper of a tour. We ended up doing a two-week tour of Sweden in 1974. That really, I think, set this band apart."

Why Sweden? Marshall launches into an amusing story about how it was arranged by a group of Swedish gymnasts who performed at Buff State and wanted to reciprocate. The musicians had to raise money for the trip, but it was worth it: Sweden, Marshall recalls, treated them like royalty.

"We just had a ball," he says.

His experience in the Buff State band helped prepare Marshall for other music jobs. One of those jobs was playing with Sammy Davis Jr.

"That was a wonderful experience," he says. "The man was so incredibly talented, but what impressed me the most was that he acknowledged the band. He understood and appreciated what we were doing."

Like most people, Marshall found for a while that his career kept him too busy for music. But he found he could not stay away.

"Back when I was in the county legislature, between politics and law practice, I actually gave up the horn between 1990 and 2001 -- about 11 years," he says. "And when I became a judge, I said, you know, now I have a little more time to devote to that type of thing."

He dusted off the horn. And he took it to Buffalo's historic Colored Musicians Club.

"There were a couple of bands around I heard about, Joe Baudo's band, Carol McLaughlin's band. So I joined those bands, worked my way in." Marshall still plays at the Musicians Club. "I enjoy it a lot."

It is a thrill for Marshall to put the band back together. The old energy and magic is still there.

"A lot of the guys stayed local -- Tom Kasperek, Bobby Militello, Dave Schiavone. I stayed in touch with them," he says.

"But then there were guys I hadn't stayed in touch with at all. I found they really haven't changed all that much. They're still the same old guys."

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

WHAT: Jazz at the Albright-Knox with the Buffalo State College Reunion Band    

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday    

WHERE: Shakespeare Hill, in Delaware Park behind the Rose Garden    

TICKETS: Free    

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