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Take Five with Saxophonist Nick Stefanacci

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Meet Nick Stefanacci

Pop/jazz saxophonist, music educator and philanthropist Nick Stefanacci has been a lover of music and performance his entire life. Having started playing saxophone at age 10, he began performing at 16 with the then-rising southern rock guitarist, Derek Trucks. Stefanacci has since worked with some of the industry elite, including, Latin Grammy Award-winning rock group, Diamante Electrico, hip-hop legends Ja Rule and DMC (RunDMC), Cindy Bradley, Dog Eat Dog, Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, and The Four Tops to name a few. Stefanacci was also the featured saxophonist in the series finale of NBC's smash hit, Lipstick Jungle, starring Brooke Shields. As a prolific composer, Nick has released seven solo albums to date (four full-length and three EPs), with his fourth EP, Secrets, unveiling in May 2024.

Instruments:

Alto and soprano saxophone, flute, piano.

Teachers and/or influences?

Frank Elmo (sax) and Chuck Sastré (bass) were my two biggest music teacher influences. Both were incredibly successful as professional musicians and I am blessed to have performed with both of them. In fact, Mr. Elmo still plays in my band when he is available, it's truly surreal. Other musical influences include Maceo Parker, David Sanborn, Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson, to name a few.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

My first gig as a 16-year-old punk, with no clue or any idea about what music really was. I thought I knew, but I was only fooling myself. I had the incredible opportunity to sit in with the rising southern rockstar, Derek Trucks, in a great, intimate club in Teaneck, NJ. My parents drove me and the line was around the corner. I walked up to the bouncer and said that I was playing and he let me right in. It was that moment that I knew this was my destiny. Thank God this was before social media and cell phones, because I was probably terrible. We didn't rehearse, I did not know any of the original music that Derek was absolutely shredding on. Probably making a complete fool out of myself, but I learned a lot from that gig and I am thankful that night will go down as folklore and not have a billion negative comments on YouTube, ha!

Your sound and approach to music.

I pride myself on my ability to use sound as colors and paint canvases for my fans. I take all of my experiences and exposure to all music to create, and for that reason, every album is truly a time capsule into my soul at that particular moment in time when I am writing. It has taken me years to finally be able to accurately describe my sound and that would be Maceo Parker meets Quincy Jones. So a funky, soulful saxophone timbre supported by beautiful musical landscapes that almost approach a film noir soundtrack atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, we funky with that James Brown sound, too!

Your teaching approach

As a seasoned educator, I've been teaching privately since I was 15 and a NJ educator for almost 15 years now, I have developed my philosophy over much time and experience. It's pretty simple; most of my students will not go on to a career in music, so how do I effectively teach them about life using music as my vehicle? That's my approach and being able to always relate instances to the real world is huge in how I handle the trials and tribulations as an educator.

Your dream band

My dream band is an experience. How can I take my fans out of this world? Obviously, the band would be filled with insanely talented musicians (I have to say that my current band is really close to this idea), but more importantly they can put on a show. And those are the details that I learned from working with amazing musicians, and the stories they have about working with people like James Brown, or Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson. It's really about the approach and that is what comes through in a live show.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

Ha, of course! My first gig as the leader at the infamous Bitter End (NYC) and my trumpeter (who was already a sub) gets into a fight with the doorman (RIP Kenny), who at that time I was not close with, and he throws him out. So my band is in the green room and my tenor saxophonist, Mr. Elmo, comes running back and details this incident and I turn to the guys and say let's go! It was after that show my keyboardist (RIP Warren Helms) told me on the ride home that he knew I was meant for this career the way I handled that gig and that situation! And that still makes my heart weep when I recall that special moment with Warren ("Another Star in My Sky") written for Warren!!! Much love!!!

Favorite venue

BB King's in NYC! We had a monthly hit for almost a year, it was truly special. They were so gracious of my band and always soooooooo welcoming. Unfortunately, they closed their doors in 2018 and all of my contacts there are now gone.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I think my upcoming EP Secrets, which will be released on May 10th, is my favorite. I finally feel that my writing is where I want it to be. It took all of my other albums, singles, EPs to get here and I think that as a collection of songs, this is by far the most complete version of me! I am sooooo excited for this EP. All of the singles so far have done extremely well on radio and streaming, and I am pumped for all of it!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Honesty and pieces of my soul in every song. Why say something if it's not resonating with you?

Did you know...

That I'm not a real blonde, no... haahaa, just kidding. In all seriousness, that I had the incredible fortune to perform at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with the insanely talented Diamante Electrico from Bogota, Colombia. What a fun experience and I hope to get my band there one day soon!

The first jazz album I bought was:

"Au Privave" by Charlie Parker and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. I mean, how can you not...

Music you are listening to now:

Michael Jackson, Off the Wall (MJJ Productions)
Michael Brecker, Time is of the Essence (Verve)
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew Live (Sony Music)
Bill Withers, Menagerie (Columbia)
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience (RCA)

Desert Island picks:

Michael Jackson, Off the Wall (MJJ Productions)
Santana, Supernatural (RCA)
David Sanborn, Upfront (Elektra)
The Beatles, Abbey Road (Apple)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

It's exciting! Sooooooo many incredible young musicians who are absolutely slaying it! I love it, can't wait to hear what they all do!

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I think education and exposure. The more we can expose young kids to it, the better off it will be. How do we compete with Beyonce and Taylor Swift, if it's not in the media?

What is in the near future?

Secrets will be released in May and I'm already mixing the next EP, which will have a different feel to it, so I'm just always writing and trying to push my sound and creativity to the next frontier. And my band will be back in NJ at The Williams Center in Rutherford, on May 11th! A big EP release event, so get your tickets! (see link in comments section)

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

Ha, after having your trumpeter be kicked out on your first gig in a legendary NYC club, I really don't have any fears. We go out and let it rip!

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I think "Here Comes the Sun" would be perfect!

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

Whatever is stuck in my head at that moment!

By Day:

High School Band Director!

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Probably doing construction with my family!

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I would love to sit down with DaVinci... I mean soooooo much to talk about and not have any modern day distractions would be so ideal.

If I could go back in time and relive an experience, what would it be?

I'm not a nostalgic person, it's always about tomorrow. I already lived that, but what does tomorrow bring? If I had to choose, I think the last time I sat down and just talked with my dear friend Warren Helms, who I mentioned earlier. We were on his front porch just enjoying some much needed time together as he was recovering from his 2nd bout with cancer. That afternoon was priceless!!!

After music, how do I want my career to be remembered?

Someone who wasn't afraid to go after his dreams and someone who wasn't afraid to stand up for what's right and not be afraid of the consequences that may hold.

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