Playin’ Around With Playbook : LAUSD’s All City Marching Band and Jazz Band Director Tony White

At the peak of the pandemic and virtual school, many educators lost their drive. One educator stayed as inspired and inspiring as ever. Our friend and mentor, artist and educator Tony White. When it comes to his approach he says, “the most important thing in teaching is engaging the human experience and engaging human beings.” This can never be replaced and is at the forefront of the Playbook approach. 

This week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, Sammy and I sat down to talk with Tony about his experience teaching and fostering the human connection in his band room. Tony White has been honored with the prestigious Bravo Award Finalist and Fulfillment Fund for his work in music education. He has also received a UC Riverside Chancellor Award, a Humanitarian Award from the Omni Youth Music Awards and Outstanding Soloist Awards from The National Association of Jazz Educators. As director of the LAUSD All Marching Band, he has spent over 30 years uplifting generations of students. 

We are so glad to have Tony as a friend and source of wisdom here at Playbook! 

Below is an excerpt from our conversation on October 21st, 2021. Click here to watch the full interview. 


Trista Ford.


SAMMY MILLER: How do we as educators make a positive impact on students’ lives? 

TONY WHITE: I think the most important thing is engaging the human experience and engaging human beings. So, whenever I approach a situation, I wanna find out more about who I am working with, who I’m p[laying with, who I am teaching. That helps me gear up our time together, and I think that becomes very powerful. And especially with this year, year 2020, and everything else, it helped to reiterate to me on a more positive level about human connectivity. So again, let’s get together, let’s play, let’s figure this thing out and have fun. So I think about the key words, play, right. And it’s like a playbook, you know. You go outside and you play, you play music, and you perform. From there, you build out the things you wanna perform and do things with. 

TRISTA FORD:  What do you believe distinguishes a successful music culture in the bandroom? 

TW: It’s always gonna be about the interactivity between the teacher and the student. The teachers always have to go in open minded. Yeah, you go to school, and you learn a lot of pedagogy, you learn the latest and the greatest and the skills and the technology. You’re gonna have to go in and ask kids what they want. Look at their history, their cultural surroundings and backgrounds, you wanna figure out how to integrate that into what you’re doing. That’s ultimately how you’re going to create the buy in. 

SM: Can I ask now, because Trista’s there too, where she’s on track to become a music educator. What made you want to get involved with music education? You’re a great saxophonist…. There are so many people that are like I’m a musician, I don’t teach.

TW: I gotta tell you, a lot of those cats now are saying that I gotta teach and play. It was actually the combination of being a player, but you know I realized, I’m still doing what I’ve been doing for a long time. In high school, I was in this band, and I was just smitten about playing in this band at the Rose Parade. So I knew that was a big part of my life, and obviously, when I went to college, It was about playing. Being the first one in my family to go to college, I realized I needed to do both. I can’t just do one or do the other and that’s what I really advocate with everybody nowadays. I don’t think you could really survive just doing one or the other. This goes back to the adage about why we should do both, because we need to inspire each other. 

TW: I don’t think it’s just one or the other. I think that more of our teachers need to not be afraid to play for our young kids. 

TF: in terms of the modern classroom and technology, what do you think is so valuable about PLAYBOOK? 

TW: Well, in terms of modern technology, knowing that a student can take the material and work on it on his or her own time. And they can explore more. I think that’s very important. I mean obviously when I was growing up we had those things called records. Actually, even cassette tapes that we could rewind.  I think having the technology and having things that you can work on, is more towards what you’re doing at a particular time and being able to ask questions. I think that’s very important. 


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