Photos by Bill Morgan Media
Kathy Neri - Band Leader/Alto Saxophonist
Kathy was born in Chicago, IL and then moved to Connecticut at age 14. She studied piano since she was six, cello and clarinet since she was 9, and tenor saxophone since she was 11. She is a graduate from South Windsor High School and was a member of the Connecticut Valley Youth Wind Ensemble. She received a B.S. in Music Education and a B. F. A. , as well as a Masters of Music, from the University of Connecticut. Go Huskies! Performances have included performing with the Statue of Liberty Marching Band in 1986 and for President Reagan's Inauguration in 1985. She has studied saxophone with Lee Jones, Phil DeLibero, and Lou Soloway. Kathy also studied jazz under the direction of Ellen Rowe. She has been employed for over 30 years with the East Hartford School District and is currently the Director of Instrumental Studies at Sunset Ridge School. She is a 2016 Fellows Teacher.
Since her college days, Kathy has been a member of the Solid Oak Jazz Band, and the Dick Santi Orchestra.
Currently, Kathy is performing with Classifed, Motown and then Some group from West Hartford, the Sax Summit in Manchester, The Flamingos, and has performed with the Glenn Hansen Orchestra and the Little Big Band. She has been with the Al Fenton Big Band since its inception as lead alto. "I am honored to be the director of this great band!"
Gary Neff - Alto Saxophonist
A graduate of Central Connecticut State University, Gary has played in concert, marching, swing, and polka bands as well as small groups and combos. Currently he is performing with the Eastern Connecticut University/Community Band, The Little Big Band, The East Woodstock Cornet Band, and during the summer months plays with the Windham Concert Band. Performing on both alto and tenor sax, Gary has been making music for over fifty years. Some role model sax players of Gary are Stan Getz, Phil Woods, and Jeff Taylor.
Being new to the Al Fenton Big Band, he is looking forward to MANY new and stimulating musical experiences!
Bruce Giannini - Tenor Saxophone
Bruce started playing clarinet when he was11 yrs old, switching to tenor sax in 8th grade. His first music teacher was George Ventrelli of Plainville. Teachers include Mr. Ventrelli, and Dominic Talotta. He also studied "jazz improvisation" at the Hartford Conservatory of Music for 5 years with Walter Gwardyak and Dave Santoro, and a brief summer with Joel Frahm. After a 20 year absence, he retuned by playing with the Plainville Y Band, Solid Oak, Sebby Papa, Dick Santi, City Lights, Bristol Reunion Jazz, Bristol Brass and
Al Fenton Big Band.
Raymond McKay - Tenor Saxophonist
Ray began playing clarinet in 2nd grade. By the time he reached high school he turned to saxophone noting it would offer more varied playing opportunities. After joining the Army in 1962, he transferred from an Airborne Unit to the 79th Army Band. This unit toured all over Central and South America, along with a number of Caribbean Islands. Upon release from the military, he freelanced with a number of small groups playing parties, weddings and general gatherings. Ray started working night clubs for a period of nine years with an organ trio called Two Gals and a Guy. Subsequently, he worked for the Jarvis Music Agency for more than a decade. Upon retiring from his day job with the U.S. Postal Service, he continued my playing career with a number of Big Bands, both contemporary and in the Forties Tradition. He has continued in this vain playing in and running several large aggregations. Ray enjoys mentoring players willing to improve their skills, especially young students who have a passion for music.
Gene Hickey - Baritone Saxophonist
Over the years Gene has studied with a number of excellent teachers, most of whom soon moved to Florida or made a career change. His greatest pleasure in the band happens during performances when he explore tonal areas and rhythms not heard in western music. It leaves his bandmates speechless. Gene's idols are Sun Ra and Rahassan Roland Kirk.
Ensembles include: Wind Ensemble, Al Fenton Big Band and Strictly Swing
Biggest influences: Stan Getz, Charles Parker, Zoot Sims, and Paul Desmond
Marty Semmel - Lead Trumpet
Marty “Doc” Semmel is life-long trumpet player. Although he loves playing all types of music, jazz is by far his love. He joined the UConn Jazz band in the 90’s under the direction of the great Ellen Rowe but moved on to his legit job soon after. After a significant hiatus, he joined his brother and fellow trumpet player as a charter member of the “Southington Brass”, a group created to foster and develop the love of playing trumpet in the youth of Southington. The group engaged in high-quality community service throughout Southington and the greater Hartford region culminating in three world record attempts for the greatest number of trumpet players in one concert. Marty is proud that he is raising three musicians of his own and regularly gives back as a member of the Southington High School Marching Band Pit and Prop crew. Marty has recently joined the Bristol Brass and Wind Ensemble and is proud to have reentered the world of jazz as the lead trumpet player for the Al Fenton Big Band.
Joe Keown - 2nd Trumpet
After subbing with the Al Fenton Big Band in 2018, Joe Keown joined the group in 2019 on trumpet and flugelhorn. A versatile musician with over 40 years of professional experience, Joe’s career highlights include performing at the Montreux International Jazz Festival with Clark Terry, at Disneyland, California with the “Kids of the Kingdom”, and he was formerly Principal Trumpet of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in Madison, Wisconsin.
Valerie Chisholm - 3rd Trumpet
Valerie grew up in Holden, Mass. (near Worcester, Mass.). She began playing trumpet at 8 years old and played in a local community orchestra at age 9 with several family members. In high school she played in youth orchestras in Worcester and Boston along with a local community band and a local community jazz band. Valerie attended Hartt College of Music at the University of Hartford where she earned a Bachelor of Music in Performance and Music Education and she studied trumpet with Robert Nagel. She was fortunate to play in the Hartt Jazz Band under the direction of Al Lepak, along with many other performing groups (orchestra, wind ensemble, and brass quintets).
After college Valerie played professionally with the Worcester Orchestra for about 15 years under the direction of Joseph Silverstein and Harry Ellis Dickson. She also began a career working in computer software engineering at Aetna in Hartford. Valerie is currently playing in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra which performs 6 or 7 local concerts each year. The FVSO had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall in 2006. She also plays in the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard Band in Hartford which performs numerous concerts and parades in addition to inaugural ceremonies for the governor. The Foot Guard Band has performed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. as well as throughout the state of Connecticut. Valerie used to play in the City Lights and Strictly Swing big bands. She currently plays with the Big Band Sound of the 40’s and the Flamingo all-female big band. She is very happy to be joining the fine musicians of the Al Fenton Big Band for more musical adventures.
Lee Sohl - 4th Trumpet
Lee Sohl fell for big band music, show tunes, and Frank Sinatra early on. Because of her love of Harry James’ playing, as a fourth grader she chose the trumpet for her instrument, although teachers attempted to talk her into a more “feminine” instrument. After playing in band, orchestra, and eventually stage band in her Chappaqua, NY elementary and middle schools, Lee moved onto other pursuits. 37 years later, she picked up her old student trumpet and joined the middle school jazz band at Kent Center School, where she is the reading intervention teacher. She loved it, and now plays as a community member in the private Kent School concert band, jazz band, Dixieland band, orchestra, and pit orchestra, as well as with the local Salisbury Band, and its offshoots the Hot Shots and Christmas Brass.
Lee is thrilled to join the Al Fenton Big Band and play the songs she has delighted in for so long. Her husband and children come to as many concerts as they can, and all three of her young granddaughters have toy trumpets!
David Kennedy - 5th Trumpet and original member
Played trumpet, flugelhorn & piccolo trumpet in Big Bands, Polka Bands, Jazz Combos and Concert Bands for 50+ years. Former Lead Trumpet for City Lights, John Taylor Super Big Band, Screamin’ Eagles, Soloist for Andy Nichols Big Band, Dick Santi Orchestra, and Al Fenton Big Band. David also plays in Bristol Brass & Wind Ensemble, and Vernon Senior Band. He volunteers with Bugles Across America to play Taps at Veteran’s Services.
Education: BSEE, PMP, Certificate in Computer Design.
David Paff - 1st Trombone
David is a freelance musician in NJ and NY from 1998 to 2003. He played in various symphony Orchestras and Big Bands in the New York and New Jersey area. Joined navy as a navy musician August, 2003 until August 2017. He is also a featured euphonium and trombone soloist with navy band Northeast, Naval Forces Europe Band in Naples, Italy and Navy Band Great Lakes, IL. John Philip Sousa conducted the Great Lakes band in 1917!
David was stationed in Naples, Italy from March, 2008 to March, 2012. Toured 28 countries between Europe and Africa in various ensembles such as Rock Band, Brass Quintet, Ceremonial and Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band. Featured trombone soloist at the Jazz Festival of Yekaterinburg, Russia. Featured Euphonium soloist with Wind Ensemble in Italy.
Earned a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rutgers College of Engineering in 1992. Earned second degree BA in Music Studies from William Paterson, NJ in May, 2001. Earned Masters' degree in performance in May 2008 from University of Rhode Island. Started DMA in September 2017 at HARTT School of Music, University of Hartford.
Performed in musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof, Music Man, Guys and Dolls, Into the Woods, West Side Story, Damn Yankee, Where's Charlie, Frankenstein, Oliver, Pippin, A Chorus Line, Gypsy, Anything Goes, Bye Bye Birdie.
Currently teaches brass instruments and has about 15 years experience in teaching trombone, trumpet and euphonium. Currently he is a freelance musician and teacher and gigs throughout New England, NY and NJ.
Michael Bryenton - 2nd Trombone
I began playing trombone in grade school. I studied music at Central CT. State College, the Hartt School, and Capital Community College, where I graduated with an Associates Degree.
I have played with many groups such as the Plainville YMCA Band, the Dick Santi Orchestra, the Daytona Beach Concert Band, the Jimmy Dorsey Then and Now Orchestra, the Solid Oak Big Band, and the Glastonbury Town Band.
As one of the original members of the Al Fenton Big Band, I’m honored to be playing in this group with so many talented musicians.
Greg Schmidt - 3rd Trombone
Greg Schmidt began playing trombone in sixth grade. He
spent his early growing up years in New Jersey and moved
to Connecticut as a middle school student. Greg played
trombone throughout middle school in jazz and concert
bands performing for President Ford as well as many
parades and pit orchestras. After a hiatus during which he
pursued his career as a special education teacher and
raised his family, Greg reentered the performing world
playing hand bells in The Plantsville Church Hand bell Choir
and also playing trombone in the Bristol Brass and Wind
Ensemble. A life long lover of jazz, big band, swing and horn
music, Greg was thrilled to become a member of the Al
Fenton Big Band in 2016. Greg is also a proud parent of two
Southington High School Marching Band alumni and served
as a Bandbacker. His older son is Band Director at David
Wooster Middle School in Stratford, CT and woodwind
instructor for the Bunnell-Stratford High School Marching
Band and his younger son is a Junior music education major
at Western Connecticut State University. Greg is thrilled to
have passed his love of music to the next generation!
John Chin - Bass Trombone and Vocalist
John started playing trombone in 7th grade in the New York City public schools. Later, in high school, he played in concert bands, orchestras and Big Bands under the instruction of Max Watras. This gave him the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Take the N train to 57th St. (Ha! You thought I was going to say PRACTICE!. Well that helps.)
During this time he also played baritone bugle with various drum & bugle corps in the New York City area including the New York Skyliners.
After 16 years of not playing music (Known as "The Dark Times") he joined the Simsbury Community Band. That rekindled his passion for music. Shortly after that he joined the Solid Oak Big Band where he met Al Fenton, who was Solid Oak's lead trombone. Al also recruited him to play with the Dick Santi Orchestra and his own "Al Fenton Big Band".
One night, at Talcott Mountain Music Festival, where John volunteers annually, his co-volunteer overheard him singing along with a Beatles song (as a Beatles Tribute band was performing with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra), and she said, ‘John, you have a good voice, you should try singing.’
John’s first public vocal performance was at Hartford, CT’s Wadsworth Atheneum Festival of Trees, singing a duet to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with the female vocalist from Solid Oak Big Band. Since then he has sung with these bands individually, or in duets with each band's main vocalist.
John has 2 children. A trombonist and a saxophonist.
Christine Apruzese - Keyboardist
My mother was an accomplished pianist, and I began playing piano at age 5. In the 4th grade I also took up the violin, played in the All State orchestra, and then started studying piano more seriously again in 10th grade. I then auditioned to be a piano major at Western CT State University. I was a Music Ed major and also took up the cello and played in the Wes Conn string orchestra.
I taught eighth grade general music for two years. I played with a top forty band for six year, and have played in many swing bands for over 20 years. I am classically trained, but enjoy pop, rock, jazz, and swing music as well.
Tony Saccavino - Guitarist
Tony has been playing guitar since 1967. His first guitar was
a 1965 Gretsch (Sunburst) which he brought from his cousin who
was his first guitar teacher. He would practice at least 8 hours
a day and in no time he was teaching guitar at a number of music
stores in the New Haven area. On Thursday nights you could often
find him playing at the Exit Coffee House in downtown New Haven.
After graduating from high school he enlisted in the navy where
he met other musicians and played in a number of rock groups and
jazz combos. After being discharged from the navy, he continued
to play and further his knowledge of the guitar by taking lessons
from various guitar teachers: Joe Tinari, a great classical and
jazz player from New Haven, Jim Hall, the guitarist from the
Merv Griffin show during the late 60's and later studied with
a 9 string guitar jazz great Michael Coppola where he learned
the concept of his 7 string guitar. Later he studied with
Johnny Knapp from Waterbury who started his playing in the Big Bands.
He has played in a number of venues including the Wolf Den at Mohegan
Sun Casino with the Glen Hansen Orchestra and the Warner Theater
in Torrington with the Governor's Fooguard Dance Band.
He is a current member in the following groups:
The Governor's Footguard Dance Band (New Haven),
The Glen Hansen Orchestra,
The Al Fenton Big Band
Tuxedo Junction Sounds of Swing
Classified(Motown And Then Some)
He has also been a member in the following groups:
Center Stage Jazz,
Dick Santi Orchestra
The Big Band of Essex
Les Bernstein - Bass
Les began classical double-bass instruction at the age of 13 and performed in several symphony orchestras, including the Florida All-State Orchestra, the Carmen Nappo Youth Symphony, and, ultimately, the Miami Beach Symphony. While in college, Les branched out into bluegrass, playing with “No Strings Attached,” the Emory University Theatre ensemble, and other big band and small-combo jazz groups in the Atlanta area. After a somewhat extended hiatus while he pursued his professional career, Les took up the bass once more, this time focusing on jazz and studying with jazz bassists Nat Reeves and Jeff Fuller. Les was a founding member of the Seizure Jazz Ensemble and he has performed with several other jazz combos throughout Connecticut.
Michael Lehouillier - Drum Set
Kat Volikas - Vocalist
Kat’s love of music began as a young girl exploring her parents’ record collection: Nat King Cole, The Ink Spots, Sarah Vaughn, Barbara Streisand, and Billie Holliday. Kat attended Hartt School of Music, but left to get married at age 19. She toured with her husband/guitarist, performing for the USO and creating demos for Patti Austin and Quincy Jones. She returned to Connecticut, completed her education and settled in Southbury. A gifted singer, songwriter and story teller, she is currently lending her talents to several musical projects, including “Classified”, “Al Fenton Big Band”, “The Chris Barba Blues Band”, and “The Swing Sisters”. Kat has played with top artists in New York City including the “Cunningham Brothers Band” and “The Summerwind Band” and in the tri-state area she has performed with “Satin Star”, “Sapphire”, “GrooveTime”, and “Sin Sisters.” For Kat, success means creating a musical conversation that is focused on personal and professional growth.