SAXOPHONIST/VOCALIST, BANDLEADER, EDUCATOR
A native of Syracuse, New York, John Spillett is an accomplished professional saxophonist, vocalist, bandleader, and SAMMY award-winning music educator.
John is active in the Central New York music scene with a long history of professional performing experience playing all styles of music including straight-ahead jazz, swing, smooth jazz, pop, R&B, rock, Latin, blues, funk, reggae, ethnic, sacred, and classical. A versatile saxophonist and vocalist, he has performed nearly 4000 professional engagements including jazz festivals, winery and restaurant engagements, private parties, corporate functions, wedding ceremonies, cocktail hours and receptions, dance events, parks concerts, church and funeral services, Broadway shows, and concerts at the Turning Stone Casino and the New York State Fair.
John has developed an extensive performing resume playing saxophone with many of Central New York’s finest professional groups, including The Central New York Jazz Orchestra, Salt City Jazz Collective, Mario DeSantis Orchestra, Stan Colella Orchestra, Jack Kreischer Orchestra, Syracuse New Music Society, Syracuse Concert Band, Odyessey, Dunes and the Del-Tunes, Four on the Floor, Bobby Hamilton Quartet, Larry Campanelli Quartet, Bob Cooper Band, Sunday Night Road Band, Midnite Mood, New Day, Alibi, The Don Martin Duo, Diana Jacobs Band, Todd Hobin, Ronnie Leigh, the Ripcords, Bad Husbands Club, Midlife Crisis, The Destination and many others. John has also performed with nationally and regionally known jazz and contemporary music artists including The Temptations, Bobby Rydell, Rick Montalbano, Dino Losito, and Joe Riposo. He is a life member of Local 78 of the American Federation of Musicians.
As a bandleader, John formed his own successful jazz combo, dance band, and Christian duo. John’s jazz combo has performed at nearly 1500 professional engagements throughout Central New York including winery and restaurant engagements, cocktail hours, wine tastings, fundraisers, jazz festivals, jazz concerts, private events, and corporate functions. His dance band has performed at more than 1500 professional engagements including wedding receptions, private parties, and corporate functions. John’s band client list includes some of the most prestigious companies and organizations in Central New York.
John is the former Director of Bands and Music Department Chair for the Solvay School District in Solvay, New York. Under his direction the Solvay High School Concert Band and Jazz Combo received numerous local, state, and regional awards for musical excellence, consistently achieving Gold and Gold with Distinction ratings at performance evaluation festivals held in New York State, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and Virginia Beach. Under his leadership, Solvay’s student ensembles performed at numerous community events in the Village of Solvay, Town of Geddes, and Syracuse area serving approximately 40 school and community organizations. One of John’s most notable accomplishments at Solvay was to successfully develop and implement a unique and innovative, credit bearing college level Jazz Combo course scheduled daily during normal school hours to teach jazz improvisation and nurture creativity. John was an advocate helping many students attain full and partial college music scholarships. Working closely with architects, John designed the new Solvay High School instrumental music suite, built in 2003, which has been described as “one of the finest school music facilities in the Northeastern United States.” He also mentored more than thirty student teachers from Syracuse University, Ithaca College, and SUNY Potsdam.
At Le Moyne College, John served as an adjunct music instructor for 9 years where he directed the Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Combo, and Flute Ensemble, and also taught a Jazz Improvisation course and private saxophone lessons. He also played an active role in the development of the music minor, music courses, student recruitment, and program promotion.
As a studio saxophone instructor, John has a long history of successful private teaching and preparing students for professional careers in music. He taught at the Metropoloitan School for the Arts and DeSantis Music Schoolhouse prior to opening his own studio. John’s private saxophone students have consistently achieved gold ratings for outstanding solo performance from the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) as well as acceptance to county and state honors ensembles. Many have been accepted as saxophone music majors receiving music scholarships at prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States and many have attained full-time and part-time careers in music performance and music education.
John has been honored with distinguished recognition for his teaching and for outstanding student achievement in music. He has received awards and commendations from the Solvay School District Board of Education, Oneida Jazz Festival, Cultural Resources Council, American Bandmasters Association, Onondaga County Legislature, New York State Assembly, and the New York State Senate. In 2002 he received Honorable Mention for Teen Ink magazine’s Educator of the Year. In 2009 he was named the New York State Music Educator Honoree for School Band and Orchestra magazine’s “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” report. In 2010 he received the Syracuse Symphony Musicians’ Outstanding Music Educator Award in the instrumental band category for making a significant impact on music education in Central New York. On March 6, 2014 he was selected to receive the 2014 SAMMY (Syracuse Area Music Award) Hall Of Fame Music Educator of the Year Award. That same day John was the recipient of a State of New York Legislative Resolution by Senator John DeFrancisco and Assemblyman William Magnarelli for providing a significant impact on the arts and culture of New York State as a musician and music educator. Most recently on July 31st, 2022 John was blessed to be inducted into the 2022 Bishop Ludden High School Sports Hall of Fame.
John received a Master of Music degree in saxophone performance from Northwestern University, where he studied saxophone with world renown saxophone professor Dr. Frederick Hemke and conducting with master band conductor John Paynter. He received a Bachelor of Music degree in music education with performance honors from Syracuse University where he studied saxophone with Norbert Buskey and Dr. Robert Fought. John attended Syracuse University on a full four year Division 1 football scholarship where he was a starting offensive tackle for legendary SU football coach Ben Schwartzwalder. He has pursued postgraduate work in jazz studies at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied jazz saxophone with acclaimed Professor Emeritus Dr. Ramon Ricker and jazz improvisation with internationally noted jazz educator Fred Sturm. John's continuing education activities have included workshops with Jamey Aebersold, David Baker, Jerry Coker, Edward Lisk and Larry Teal as well as private study with Deborah Coble, Rick Montalbano and Joe Riposo. Prior to his music career John was a semi-professional and professional actor playing lead and supporting roles in local Central New York theatre performances with The Pompeian Players, The St. Cecilia Players, Playhouse 30 and The Talent Company. Some of his more memorable performances were in roles as Harold Hill in Music Man, Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie, Jigger Craigin in Carousel and Danny Zuko in Grease.
John remains active as a bandleader, freelance saxophonist, private saxophone instructor, and adjudicator. He holds membership in several professional music organizations. John is forever grateful to his beloved mother Rosina Valerie (Iauco, Santoro) Spillett for all her love and support, to his musical father and first music employer Mario DeSantis, to former Solvay principal Bob O'Donnell, to all his former students and student teachers, to all his teachers, coaches and mentors especially Norm Buskey, Joe Riposo, Ed Lisk, Nick Colaneri, coach Dave Didio and to God for his many blessings.