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Musical Alumni Will Return to West Hartford To Perform at ‘Gifts of Music’ Benefit

Student performers, alumni, and special guests will perform at the Gifts of Music concert on Oct. 21.


Alexa Tarantino and Friends, showcasing Tap Dancer Leo Manzari, will perform as special guests at the 13th annual Celebrating Gifts of Music Benefit Concert on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m., at the Ellen Jeanne Goldfarb Memorial Auditorium at the Intensive Education Academy, 840 North Main St., West Hartford. Alexa and drummer Jimmy Macbride are graduates of the West Hartford Public Schools.

Presented by the West Hartford Public Schools’ Department of Fine and Performing Arts, the concert will feature more than 60 student performers. These include the Jazz All Stars (musicians from Conard and Hall high schools), I Giovani Solisti (a chamber orchestra of string musicians from Conard and Hall), and Suzuki music students from West Hartford Public Schools. The benefit concert supports current Gifts of Music students studying both classical and jazz music.

Alexa Tarantino, talented saxophonist, will be back on the Gifts of Music stage and joined by Emiliano Lasansky on bass, Steven Feifke on piano and Jimmy Macbride on drums. Performing with them will be award winning tap dancer, Leo Manzari.

Gifts of Music is a public/private initiative, founded in 2002 to encourage and support students in the pursuit of music, providing access to private music lessons when students otherwise would not have the resources to pursue such instruction. Supported through a donor-advised fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Gifts of Music’s mission is to provide all students the opportunity to share in the joy and benefits that come from the study of instrumental music.

Professional musicians from the Community Division of the Hartt School of Music are an important part of Gifts of Music, as is generous and ongoing support from the Ellen Jeanne Goldfarb Memorial Charitable Trust.

For more information or to order tickets to the concert ($25 each), visit www.giftsofmusic.us. For more information, contact Deb Berman, Gifts of Music Advisory Committee Member, at [email protected] or (860) 424-7560.

The annual benefit concert is produced by Scott Porter, Conard High School Director of Bands and Jazz Bands; Jim Antonucci, Hall High School Director of Bands and Jazz Bands; Emmett Drake, Director of Orchestras at Conard and Hall High Schools and Director of I Giovani Solisti; Andrew Mayo, Supervisor of Fine and Performing Arts for West Hartford Public Schools; and Haig Shahverdian, former Supervisor of Fine and Performing Arts for West Hartford Public Schools.

About the Guest Performers:

Alexa Tarantino is an award-winning, vibrant, young jazz saxophonist, woodwind doubler, composer, and educator. She is passionate about developing and expressing her voice as an improviser, and inspiring others to do the same through jazz education.

Tarantino’s performance highlights include prestigious venues such as the Umbria Jazz Festival (with Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project), the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the Hollywood Bowl (with Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra), the Rockport Jazz Festival (Alexa Tarantino Quintet), Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Charlotte Jazz Festival (with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra), and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (with LSAT, Earth, Wind & Fire and others). She performs regularly as a leader and sideman in a wide variety of ensembles and genres including Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, LSAT, and the Alexa Tarantino Quartet/Quintet.

Tarantino’s recent projects include her new quintet that she co-leads with baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian called “LSAT”. The two award-winning saxophonists have fused with a dynamic rhythm section that propels their music to new heights. LSAT presents original compositions highlighting the unique combination of baritone and alto saxophone, as well as their own interpretations of favorites from the jazz repertoire. Tarantino is also currently composing a big band arrangement of one of her original compositions for Sherrie Maricle & The DIVA Jazz Orchestra’s 25th Anniversary Recording presented through ArtistShare (www.artistshare.com).

In addition, Alexa has enjoyed opportunities as an instrumentalist in musical theater, such as performing in The New Group’s Off-Broadway Production of SWEET CHARITY starring Sutton Foster and directed by Leigh Silverman. Prior to SWEET CHARITY, she spent a year with Maurice Hines and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra as part of Hines’ production “Tappin’ Thru Life” for the show’s runs in Delaware, Off-Broadway in New York City, and Philadelphia.

Tarantino is currently on faculty for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Middle and High School Jazz Academies. Previously, she served as Jazz Saxophone Instructor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Tarantino continues to visit several colleges, high schools, and summer jazz programs across the globe as a guest clinician, including the Rockport Jazz Camp (MA), of which she is Founder and Director. Rockport Jazz Camp has expanded in just four years from a five-day program with 7 students to a two-week program with 120 students. She holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Jazz Saxophone Performance at The Juilliard School. Tarantino is a graduate of Hall High School’s award-winning music program in West Hartford, Connecticut and currently resides in New York City. www.alexatarantino.com


Emiliano Lasansky is a jazz musician, bassist and composer currently based in New York City. Originally from Iowa City, Iowa, Emiliano is the grandson of artist Mauricio Lasansky and was born into a family of visual artists. From an early age he spent much time in his families’ studios surrounded by their art. Emiliano began on violin and electric bass at a young age, but switched to upright bass as his interest in jazz grew. After graduating from Iowa City West High Emiliano attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York where he studied with professor Jeff Campbell. While at Eastman Emiliano was a member of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Bill Dobbins. After graduating from college Emiliano began freelancing in the upstate New York area for a time before relocating to New York City. In 2017 Emiliano attended the program Betty Carter Jazz Ahead under the direction of Jason Moran at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Steven Feifke, born June 21 1991, is a sought after performer, orchestrater, and educator based in New York. An avid composer and arranger, Feifke leads three regularly performing ensembles: a piano trio, a septet, and a full 17-piece big band, each of which plays music from Feifke’s own repertoire. When not composing for his own bands, Feifke can often be found working as a composer, arranger and orchestrater in a wide variety of settings ranging from stage to screen. In addition to writing for musicians like Michael Dease, Ulysses Owens, Chris Norton, and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, some select TV appearances of Feifke’s music include Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars” with President Obama, and the hit show “Impractical Jokers” on True TV. As a pianist, Feifke maintains an active performance schedule both in and out of New York City at venues like The Blue Note, Smalls Jazz Club, and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center. Feifke currently resides in Manhattan, and holds a bachelor’s degree in music and a minor in economics from New York University.

Originally from Washington DC, Leo Manzari is a Lucille Lortel award nominated tap dancer. As part of the duo act called The Manzari Brothers, Leo headlined in the touring and Off-Broadway productions of Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life, featured as a Guest Artist on So You Think You Can Dance, The Mo’nique Show, PBS News Hour, Jerry Lewis Telethon, and ABC’s “The View.” Other credentials include a recurring role in Showtime’s television show “Homeland,” and lead lyricist and vocalist in the AllBe band.

Jimmy Macbride, 26, is a drummer/composer based in New York City. He has performed with a wide variety of artists including Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Jimmy Greene, and Adam Rogers. Coming from an artistic family (his father is a composer and mother is a visual artist), Jimmy began playing drums at age 3 and gravitated toward jazz music at an equally young age. Jimmy is a recent graduate of The Juilliard School, where he studied privately with Carl Allen, Billy Drummond and Kenny Washington. He is a regular performer throughout New York City, performing at such venues as Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smalls, The Jazz Gallery, and The Blue Note. His musical talents have also taken him worldwide, touring across Europe, Asia, and North America. Jimmy has also appeared at some of the world’s most famous venues, including the Monterey Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, and Newport Jazz Festival, among others. He performs regularly with different groups including Nir Felder, Samora Pinderhughes’ Transformations Suite, Lucas Pino’s Nonet, and the Roxy Coss Quintet. In addition, he can be seen playing with many of New York’s most creative and forward-thinking artists, including Lage Lund, Ben Street, Kevin Hays, Fabian Almazan, Melissa Aldana, Matt Brewer, Michael Rodriguez, and Dayna Stephens, among many others. He is also an active recording artist, appearing on over 20 albums to date.

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