Playin’ Around With Playbook: Todd Stoll

Hey everyone! This week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, Sammy and I spoke with trumpet player and educator Todd Stoll. 

“An experienced performer, Duke Ellington expert, and jazz advocate, Mr. Stoll founded the Columbus Jazz Youth Orchestra (CJYO) in 1991 to give young people the chance to cultivate a love of jazz through performance. He served as the director until 2011. Under his direction, the CJYO released six CDs, participated in the prestigious Essentially Ellington competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and toured Europe and South America. His students have achieved successes that have taken them to The Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall, and The New

York Philharmonic.

In 2011, Mr. Stoll became the Vice President of Education at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) in New York City, which continues to allow him to bring jazz education programs to thousands of people of all ages and socioeconomic levels. Since he joined the organization, JALC has produced more than 10,000 education events in the US and around the world. The innovative Essentially Ellington high school jazz band program has expanded during his tenure, providing nearly 200,000 free scores to 4,000 high schools in all 50 states and 46 countries, reaching more than 500,000 students.”

Below are some snippets from our conversation on February 10th, 2022. Click here to view the full interview. Click here to listen to the interview on Spotify.  




TRISTA FORD: What have you been listening to lately?

TODD STOLL: Audition videos, recruitment, that’s what I’ve been listening to. So I’m listening to the nearly 100 Essentially, Ellington tapes that were due. And I listened to a little bit of Deja cat. I don’t know if you’re down with the dojo. 

SAMMY MILLER: I’m definitely down with the Doja.

TF: I know that you founded the Columbus Jazz Youth Orchestra in 1991. Can you tell me about your inspiration behind this and how you went about it?

TS: I was in a city where they had lots of all-star groups for kids in orchestra and wind ensemble. I just thought, you know, we should have jazz something, and so It kind of filled a niche that was missing. It was free for kids and it was taking suburban students and city kids together, which is a kind of an integration of both race and socioeconomics. 

TF: What is the Columbus Jazz Orchestra up to today? Are you still a part of the structuring?

TS: I have a very, very close colleague of mine named Mark Donovan,  who runs it now. It’s part of the jazz arts group of Columbus. Columbus is the oldest jazz nonprofit in the country. They’re getting ready to celebrate their 50th anniversary. 

SM: What kind of advice would you give yourself? What stressed you out then that you’re like you shouldn’t have been stressed about this?  What advice would you have given a young Todd Stoll when you were starting out as a mere eight-year-old teaching?

TS: Don’t worry about how well your band plays. This is the weight of teaching for music teachers. So the reason why you go into music is that you opened up a saxophone case and you fell in love. Or you sang a particular song, and you fell in love with the idea of performing right? No one fell in love with teaching when they were 15 years old. But what happens is that when you become an educator, you kind of set your performance ego aside. And then that your kids become your performance ego. And then you get really personally involved in what they sound like as opposed to what you’re teaching them. So what I always tell people is: don’t worry about what they sound like, worry about what it feels like, worry about what those kids are going to take with them, because it’s going to last for the rest of their life. And don’t worry about the competitions and the festivals and the being judged. What is most important is those kids connect to something greater than themselves. Because that’s just all we all worry about. You’ve got to make those connections to people, that make them become passionate about it for the rest of their lives.

TF: Was there ever a connection for you with a specific educator or with a specific performer that inspired you to pursue music?

TS: I was really quite blessed to have amazing music teachers. My orchestra conductor was the principal violinist, and the concertmaster in the local symphony in Springfield, Ohio, and my band director was a local trumpet player that played all the shows. My junior high band director was the local woodwind doubler for every musical and had his own jazz group and a cool goatee that I liked. And my jazz band director was Tom Dilling, who I still play with to this day, who had toured with a bunch of the big bands. They were all professional musicians, locally, and they were heroes of mine. 

SM: What about the education that happens at Jazz Lincoln Center? Why does Duke Ellington come up again, and again, as you talked about magic? What about him?

TS: I was trying to explain this to somebody at lunch today. Duke Ellington, wrote and composed a wide array of styles and sounds, and colors that represent life in America more than any other composer. I mean, look, you could take a piece by Duke, a piece by Benny Carter, a piece by Mary Lou Williams, a piece by Frank Foster, and all four of them would be equally as great. But the other three combined didn’t write nearly a fraction of what Duke did. When I say a fraction, I mean, a fraction. So if you wrote 1000 pieces, which I think Wynton is up to almost 1000. Now, that’s like a third of what Duke did. When you listen to an Ellington composition that you’ve never heard before, you have to realize it is an act of resistance.

SM: What do you mean by that? 

TS: So every piece of music by Duke Ellington is an act of resistance against this, the stuff he was dealing with every day, the racist, demeaning degrading systems and behaviors of his fellow citizens. And it was not just an act of resistance, it was an act of love. It was resistance through love, right. So, as Duke is writing these beautiful pieces of music, he’s letting people know, hey, I’m here, you’re not keeping me down. It really is something that to me is quite remarkable; Duke’s understanding of color and form and beauty and just humanism, he was a universal humanist. 

TF: In your position as VP of education at Jazz at Lincoln Center, what was the transition like for you from thinking locally, to managing an organization working across the globe?

TS: I hate sports analogies, they’re stupid, but I’m gonna make one anyway. It’s like the difference between a passing game on a running game in football, you have to do both. The transition wasn’t tough for me, because I’ve always thought kind of bigger than… because I just thought, hey, I’m right. Why won’t more people do this?

SM: I know you’re not the biggest fan of Digital Learning. Do you see any positive in it? 

TS: Look, I am a fan of all types of learning, you know, reading a book by yourself, listening to some music. The digital space has allowed us to be connected. We sold almost 30,000 tickets last year for swing university during the pandemic 30,000. We never did more than 1600 in a good year. So from 1600 to 30,000, I’ll take that. But ultimately, I want those people to go out and experience live music. Because we’re never going to be replaced as musicians by robots. We don’t want to lose touch with our humanity. There’s a big upside to digital learning. But ultimately, I want that digital experience to inspire you enough to go out and hear some live music. Maybe you’ll catch Sammy Miller and The Congregation in a town near you.

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