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Spring concert in honor of Frank Sacci will fund WHS scholarship in his name

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Friends, bandmates and colleagues of Frank J. Sacci will gather at Watertown High School in May for a concert that will fund the establishment of a scholarship in the name of the renowned Northern New York band leader.

The Frank Sacci Instrumental Music Scholarship concert on May 31 is being co-organized by Canton resident and 1973 WHS graduate Keith A. Shult.

“We want to show him how much we care about him and how much we are indebted and grateful to him,” said Mr. Shult.

Mr. Sacci, 84, is facing some serious health issues. He spends winters in Florida and returns to his home in Copenhagen each spring.

Mr. Sacci, who nearly 50 years ago formed the Frank Sacci Big Band, retired in 1989 from Watertown High School as music director after teaching music at the school for 25 years and earning its concert band scores of awards.

“Literally thousands of young musicians began their love affairs with music under the tutelage of Frank Sacci,” said Watertown High School principal Leslie E. Atkinson, an alumna of WHS .

Mr. Shult was one of those musicians who was influenced by Mr. Sacci.

“He changed my life,” said Mr. Shult, who recalled being a junior at WHS and committed to going to college to study wildlife management “or something like that and going into the sciences.”

“But I was interested in music and was always doing something musical,” he said.

Late in his junior year, he asked Mr. Sacci: “Can I try playing the trumpet?”

“He gave me an old, beat-up trumpet, a book and gave a couple of lessons and he sent me home for the summer,” Mr. Shult said. “By the time I came back, I was so in love with it that I jumped right into first seat (trumpet) in the concert band. Frank was kind of shocked. In my senior year, I went crazy with it.”

Mr. Shult auditioned at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music and was accepted.

“And there went the sciences,” he said.

Among the degrees Mr. Shult received are a master’s degree in music education and elementary education from Crane. He also received a certificate of advance study in education from St. Lawrence University, Canton, and attended Hartt Conservatory of Music, West Hartford, Conn., where he was a trumpet performance major.

The 30-year veteran of public and private school teaching is an avid singer and actor and fronts his own small jazz combo, the Keith Shult Quetet. “Sometimes we are quartet — others a quintet,” Mr. Shult said, explaining the ‘quetet’ name.

He and his wife, Sara, operate K&S Music Studio in Canton.

In 1973, Mr. Shult joined Mr. Sacci’s big band.

“I played for a good 10 years before I went away for a number of years,” Mr. Shult said.

He returned to the north country about a decade ago and rejoined the band.

“The personnel has come and gone but Frank has always kept the band going,” Mr. Shult said.

a north country classic

The Frank Sacci Big Band specializes in classic swing from the big band era and acts like Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington.

Mr. Sacci and his orchestra have performed in and around Watertown and the north country at gala events and have performed at the summer Concerts on the Waterfront series in Sackets Harbor since its inception 30 years ago.

Mr. Sacci created the Jefferson Community College Wind Ensemble in 1990 and the JCC Orchestra in 1991. He retired as director of both in 2007.

Mr. Shult said that Mr. Sacci is well respected on the national and state level and is well known for his work as a judge and adviser with the New York State School Music Association.

Mr. Shult has contacted alumni band members who were conducted by Mr. Sacci. Some of them haven’t played in 40 years but they plan to dust off their instruments to perform at the May 31 scholarship concert.

“My goal is to have up to 200 people in the concert band,” said Mr. Shult, who will conduct and emcee the concert.

All of those musicians won’t fit on stage, so he plans to put some musicians in the pit area and others in the auditorium’s balcony, if needed.

He anticipates that Mr. Sacci will attend.

“I want the man to be there to know how much everybody cares,” he said.

He also hopes that “friends, peers, fellow teachers and students” of Mr. Sacci will attend the concert.

first award on june 28

Mr. Sacci was born in Albany and attended Fredonia State University College, graduating in 1957. He earned his master’s degree from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

His first teaching job was for Adams High School, in 1957, and he then spent three years at Clayton Central School, earning his master’s credits along the way.

“Regardless the genre — he was as much at home with classical as he was with jazz — Frank Sacci was a master of his art and Northern New York was his grateful beneficiary,” said Mrs. Atkinson.

She said the first scholarship in honor of Mr. Sacci, to be administered by the Watertown High School music department, will be awarded on June 28 at the high school graduation.

the details
WHAT: Frank Sacci Instrumental Music Scholarship concert
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Watertown High School auditorium, 1335 Washington St.
COST: Free, but donations will be encouraged
OF NOTE: Keith A. Shult, co-organizer of the concert, is seeking musicians who have played with Mr. Sacci to join the concert. If interested, contact him at kasvirga@yahoo.com or call him at 854-5683.
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