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James Fico: Rising Star Among Top Jazz Talents Honored at MPAC

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MORRIS COUNTY — James Fico, from Whippany, was among the students from Parsippany, Mt. Olive, Whippany, Randolph, and Kinnelon, who were honored as Mayo Performing Arts Center’s March 2024 Music Students of the Month – Outstanding Jazz Musicians — before the Sunday, March 24 performance by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

Students were nominated by their teachers and were chosen by the Theatre’s Education Department based on their commitment to excellence in the performing arts. The students were honored on stage before the concert and had the opportunity to meet Wynton Marsalis and other band members. 

About the March Music Students of the Month 

James Fico – Grade 10, Whippany Park High School; Whippany; Nominated by Carl Sabatino

James has recently switched to Tenor Saxophone from Bass Clarinet and is working hard to improve his skills as a player and improviser.  He just started taking lessons and is a great lover of jazz music.  Having the opportunity to hear the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will undoubtedly be a highlight and a huge influence on him at this time.  He’s recently started to listen to move jazz and Victor Goines would be someone to model!

Gary Goodson – Grade 8, Brooklawn Middle School; Parsippany; Nominated by Joseph Stella

Gary is a talented baritone saxophonist in our 8th-grade band.  He is always very conscientious of learning his parts for the band and has improved a great deal in the past year.  This is the first year that Gary decided to audition for the school’s jazz band and he has been doing a wonderful job anchoring the saxophone section on the baritone sax.  He is absorbing the jazz concepts and style very quickly and is becoming a stand-out player in the ensemble.  Aside from his musical accomplishments, he is also always very polite and responsible.  Gary’s musicianship and demeanor make him an excellent choice for this month’s MSOM.

Matthew Mendoza – Grade 12, Parsippany High School; Parsippany; Nominated by Gregory Dalakian

Matthew Mendoza has been the guitarist for our Jazz Ensemble for the past 3 years and has done a solid job providing rhythm and substance to our ensemble. He has a true passion for playing jazz music and is always willing to solo whenever the opportunity arises. He spends a great deal of time practicing during his lunch period so he can improve his skills on electric and acoustic guitar, and even gigs professionally with his family. Matt has been a great addition to the rhythm section of our Jazz Ensemble and is worthy of this recognition.

Nathan Bautista – Grade 12, Kinnelon High School; Kinnelon; Nominated by Ryan Stroud

Nate has been one of the most surprising students I’ve ever taught. He came to KHS right out of the pandemic, and things were challenging that first year. We had so many restrictions. Nate was just a positive force in the classroom. He made the best out of a rough situation, and once things got back to normal, he started to shine. He’s been a French Horn player in our Wind Ensemble and Pit Orchestra, but little did I know he was holding out that he was a talented piano player, as well. I learned this when he came out for Jazz Band, and I was floored!  He’s very hardworking and disciplined. He’s been a fantastic addition to our student ensembles at KHS. He also keeps dropping little bits of craziness on me…like I only learned a few months ago that he has his pilot’s license and he’ll be attending college to further his interest to seek a career in flying. We’re going to miss him here at KHS, but wherever he “lands”, they’ll have a really great young man to work with. 

Ishaan Devanand – Grade 7, Randolph Middle School; Randolph; Nominated by Tom Davidson

Ishaan Devanand is a prodigious musician and dedicated scholar. Ishaan started his musical journey on the piano when he was four years old. Bringing seven years of piano experience to the table, Ishaan started playing the alto saxophone in 5th grade. As he became more experienced, Ishaan switched to the tenor saxophone in 6th grade and auditioned for the Randolph Middle School Jazz Ensemble and was accepted.  He quickly caught on to the harder levels of music and became a key player in the ensemble.  Ishaan also participated in the North Jersey School Music Association 6th Grade Honor Band while he was in 6th grade and the North Jersey Junior Area Band while in 7th grade, showing his musical skills outside of the Randolph band program. Outside of music, Ishaan plays tennis and cross-country running, making him a well-rounded student. He also enjoys mountain biking and motorcycle riding, and his hobbies include building things like RC planes and boats. He participates in 4-H, which covers archery and rifle shooting. Ishaan also maintains a garden, which includes a greenhouse. Overall, Ishaan is a great musical student and has high hopes for the future.  

Eli Kahn – Grade 10, Randolph High School; Randolph; Nominated by Nick Fantazzi

Eli is a fantastic piano player in our top Jazz Band.  He has been in the top Jazz Band since his freshman year.  He has a great ear and excels at improvising and making great musical choices.

Ansh Parikh – Grade 9, Mount Olive High School; Budd Lake; Nominated by Darrell Hendricks

Ansh is a fantastic bass player who listens to jazz ALL day!!  He is an outstanding citizen of our school and has a lot of respect for LCJO.

Aden Reckler – Grade 8, Pearl R Miller School; Kinnelon; Nominated by Brian Scanlon

Aden has been a member of our school’s Jazz-Rock Ensemble each of his three years in our Middle School. As a 6th-grade student Aden took on the challenge of Jazz guitar and has grown into a very solid and dependable player in our rhythm section. Aden is a very conscientious student who reports to rehearsals before school early and is always prepared with his assigned music. In the spirit of the Jazz style, Aden has grown into a confident improviser and those skills will be featured in our Spring performance. Aden is also a very strong member of our Grade 8 Band and our Advanced Band on Tenor Sax.

Evan Shapo – Grade 12, Randolph High School; Randolph; Nominated by James Scanlon

Evan has a deep theoretical and aural understanding of music and is an accomplished pianist and percussionist. It’s been a pleasure to listen to Evan put his knowledge of music into practice during jazz rehearsals every Wednesday night. Evan is a fearless and creative improviser, yet he is always open to constructive criticism. He does his best to improve his improvisations with the criticism given to him. It is clear to me that Evan comes prepared to each rehearsal having practiced his music and listened to the recordings assigned to the band for daily listening; Evan is truly trying to learn this highly complicated artform. I appreciate his dedication to the music.  Evan exhibits true leadership skills: arriving on time, moving equipment that is not his just to help out, volunteering to try new improvisation techniques when the band is unsure of the concept presented, modeling jazz piano techniques to the younger pianist in the group, and sitting in on drums when our percussionist is out sick. And most important to me, Evan is a kind and sensitive human being. This is why Evan Shapo deserves to be honored as an outstanding jazz musician.

The Theatre honors a group of students every month throughout the season and invites area teachers to nominate students for this honor.

The 2023-2024 Music Student of the Month program is supported by The Walter F. and Alice Gorham Foundation, Inc.

Mayo Performing Arts Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, presents a wide range of programs that entertain, enrich, and educate the diverse population of the region and enhance the economic vitality of Northern New Jersey. The 2023-2024 season is made possible, in part, by a grant the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as support received from the F.M. Kirby Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and numerous corporations, foundations and individuals. Mayo Performing Arts Center was named 2016 Outstanding Historic Theatre by the League of Historic American Theatres and is ranked in the top 50 mid-sized performing arts centers by Pollstar Magazine.

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Frank Cahill
Frank Cahillhttps://www.frankcahill.com
Publisher of Parsippany Focus since 1989 and Morris Focus since January 1, 2019, both covering a wide range of events. Mr. Cahill serves as the Executive Board Member of the Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Governor of Division 9 Kiwanis Club of NJ, and Chairman of the Parsippany-Troy Hills Economic Development Advisory Board. Owner of the Morris now app serving small business in Morris County.
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