Friday, July 11, 2014

High School All-Star Alumni Interview: Billy Buss

July's spotlight falls on trumpeter Billy Buss, a now bi-coastal professional musician and educator. Billy's SFJAZZ High School All-Star tenure spanned from 2002 to 2006, at which which point he headed to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. Since completing his graduate work at the Thelonious Monk Institute, Billy has been performing all over the United States, as well as cultivating his own curriculum for teaching the next generation of jazz performers. Read on to hear about some of the incredible experiences this young giant has already had and to learn about his July performances in the Bay Area.

What did you think of the High School All-Stars program when you began?

"Firstly, let me say that my 4-year involvement with the SFJAZZ organization as a student is on a short list of experiences in my teenage years that really solidified my career path as a performer, composer, and educator. As a freshman in high school, the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars program was an incredible opportunity for me to join like-minded and more advanced, older peers in a musical crusade which took us from the rehearsal rooms of SF State to local venues such as the local Yerba Buena Gardens, the Fillmore, and Yoshi’s all the way to Lincoln Center in NYC. Together, we formed a close-knit community that was fostered by cutting edge professional musicians, clinicians, and administrators alike."

What elements of the program drove you to improve the most?

"Seeing and hearing the abundant musical talent all around me really drove me to improve on every possible level as a musician. Looking back now, it's no wonder that I was inspired by these peers; lead trumpeter Sean Erick now tours internationally with Justin Timberlake, Fantasia, and others, then trombonist Jeff Yen is now a chart-topping pop star in Taiwan, pianist Julian Pollack backs pop, rock, and country superstars, is regularly commissioned to compose classical works for a variety of instrumentations, produces Hip Hop artists throughout NYC, and leads his own trio project worldwide.

In addition, I was greatly inspired by my interaction with the SFJAZZ Collective, specifically master classes, clinics, private lessons, and performances I had with Joshua Redman, Nicholas Payton, and Gil Goldstein. In addition, our rehearsals were often supplemented with visits from legends such as Yusef Lateef, Ravi Coltrane, Jay McShaan, and Terence Blanchard (who I went on to study with privately in Grad School at the Thelonious Monk Institute)."

Tell us about your musical experience in college.

"I attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (class of ‘09) where I studied Professional Music. As far as music schools go, I cannot speak highly enough of Berklee. It's a place where 4000+ students study with the music industry's most prominent voices, learn music theory, classical counterpoint and harmony, music history from Jazz to Hip Hop, and network with each other to form lifelong bonds that bring the music to another level."

What was it that made you place so much of your focus on education and pedagogy?

"For me, teaching really reinforces much of the knowledge that is needed to maintain musicianship. Teaching allows me to get back to basics while simultaneously helping young, aspiring musicians to better themselves. I've been designing elementary through college-level curriculum in improvisation, composition and general musicianship since my stint at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, and I have experience teaching students of all ages (I currently lead a choral/general music program for Pre-K through 8th Grade at a Pilot School in Boston, MA). I have been fortunate enough to have had some amazing educators in my life shape my musical path - it only seems right to pass this on to the next generation."

What are the projects you're most excited about now?

"I'm involved as a sideman in a few great projects that cover the entire spectrum of musical genre. I've been fortunate to have performed alongside some great acts, from Jazz legend Thelonious Monk Jr.'s Sextet, to R&B sensation Alice Tan Ridley's horn section, to Hip Hop supergroup Deltron3030's orchestra (led by musical director and Bay Area native Jeanne Geiger). I'm also honored to work with some amazing up and coming Jazz artists on a regular basis in NYC and throughout the country: Godwin Louis (recent 3rd place award winner at the International Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition), Jesse Fischer (Award-Winning Soul/R&B producer, Pianist, and Bandleader with "Soul Cycle"), and bassist Michael Feinberg's "Humblebrag" project which just released a new album "Live at 800 East.""

 Is your interest piqued? Don't miss your chance to hear Billy perform as he tours the Bay Area this month:

July 19, 8:00pm - Mendocino Music Festival (
July 20, 4:30pm - California Jazz Conservatory Rising Stars Summer Concert Series (

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