John Fiorentino, 16, of Andover practices playing the drums in a garage studio at home. Fiorentino plays in the jazz band at Andover High School.

Jazz may have found its groove in places like Chicago and New Orleans, but Andover has proved a hospitable environment to the uniquely American art form. There are four jazz bands in the public school system | two at the middle school level and two at the high school level. Although schools in area communities have jazz bands, usually there's only one at the high school level, and far fewer students are involved than the 80 in Andover.

"It's probably on the high end in terms of the number of kids involved," said Joe Wright, who heads Andover High's music program as band and chorus director. "I know a lot of kids in Andover listen to jazz because their parents do."

While the jazz program has a long history in town, teachers Jeff Buckridge and Garret Savluk, both members of one of the best-known jazz bands on the North Shore, the Boston Horns, are credited with the success it's seen in Andover recently.

Just like athletic teams, Andover's jazz bands compete locally and nationally. Buckridge brought his musical teams to Berklee College of Music as well as competitions for the International Association of Jazz Educators. Usually Andover bands find themselves at the top of the rankings at such places, said Buckridge.

However, he's most proud of the students playing at Ryles Jazz club in Cambridge this summer. There was a banquet at the famous club for all four bands, who played for parents and friends.

"They got to play in a real nightclub, basically, and they really like that," he said.

"A teacher like Jeff Buckridge, who has got such a background in it, is such a pied piper," said Wright.

Savluk, who lives in Wilmington, said having teachers they know are in a professional band helps bring students into the program.

"Some of the kids are inspired by that," said Savluk, adding that his students and parents come out to see the Boston Horns play.

Buckridge counts many successes sprouting from the jazz program, including Grimis, a quartet of four Andover High grads who started playing together in middle school. While pursuing degrees at separate colleges, the four have built a local fan base that keeps them touring with their music most summers and breaks.

There are enough Andover High alumni pursing careers in jazz music that Wright is afraid to list them all for fear he'll leave out people.

"It's great to see what they are doing," he said.

While Buckridge doesn't know precisely why jazz is so popular in Andover, he does have some theories.

"[Jazz] may be closer in style, a sibling to the music they're listening to," he said. "It has a more direct connection to rock music. I will attract a drummer, a guitar player or bass player who are not interested in performing in marching band."

Brendan O'Donnell and John Fiorentino of Andover seem to agree.

"I don't do marching band," said the 15-year-old bass player, who started playing three years ago.

Friend and fellow jazz musician, 16-year-old John Fiorentino also doesn't feel like other school bands are for him.

"I'm not really tuned to marching band," said the drummer of more than five years.

Brendan is also a classical musician, he also plays violin. Playing bass in jazz bands allows him to explore another side of music he likes | playing jazz in all its forms, from swing to funk.

"We play anything but smooth jazz," he said. "I don't think any of us are into smooth jazz. It's elevator music."

Savluk says students come up to him the first day of school, asking: When is jazz band going to start? The program doesn't get into full swing until December.

"I am looking to expand that next year, maybe with a master class," said Savluk, who teaches trumpet. "It's going to expand one way or another; I am just not sure how."

When asked if Andover schools are a hotbed for jazz, Savluk was quick to answer, "It is now that I am here."

Buckridge was a little more cautious.

"I do think we do have a crop of talent," said Buckridge, who teaches music at the Doherty Middle School and is the overall jazz program director. "I don't think we have some odd concentration of talented jazz musicians here. The things that can contribute to a good jazz program, including parents supporting it, are here."

When Buckridge, who lives in Woburn, arrived in the school system nearly a decade ago, there was one band at the high school. He formed two bands, one at the high school and one at the middle school of 20 members each. As the program grew, he decided to add additional bands, making sure each school had something like a varsity and junior varsity form of the band.

"At the time I came in, there was a lull, because there was a change in band directors at the high school level," said Buckridge. "Before I came, there was a jazz band, but in the first few years, it seemed to be missing. I am a jazz musician and I always wanted to make that part of what I teach. That is something I am enthusiastic about."

Currently, Andover has at least five high school jazz students attending Saturday classes at the New England Conservatory to further their musical education, according to Savluk.

"Where there is so much interest from students, I am happy to see it expanding even more," he said, adding that when he was in high school, he led his own jazz ensemble, one of five at his Connecticut school.

While the jazz bands do well and attract students, Buckridge thinks the bands would flourish more if jazz band practice was part of the school day, like chorus and concert band are now. Jazz band practice wouldn't have to compete with after-school sports.

"Towns like Lexington have that," said John Fiorentino, the drummer. "It would be good to have more concerts around town that showcased jazz, rather than rock."

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