John Sasso Leaves A Rich Musical Legacy

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One of the most influential talents in the long history of drum corps left us last week when John Sasso passed away. If it can be said that the activity has a “greatest generation”, surely he is to be counted in that category. Anyone present at a drum corps performance over the past 40 or so years has witnessed some of his legacy.

As an arranger he had few peers, and his charts rank with the finest ever scripted for the medium. John enjoyed the respect of masters like Ken Norman, Truman Crawford, Hy Dreitzer, Joe Genero, Ray Baumgardt and so many others, but it was as a teacher that he will be best remembered. The Garfield Cadets, Sunrisers, St. Catherine’s Queensmen, George Washington Carver, the Wanderers, St. Lucy’s Cadets, LI Kingsmen and dozens of others enjoyed the benefit of his guidance.

His students like John Arietano, Wayne Downey, Ray Fallon, Steve Buglino, Ted Sasso, Bob Murphy, Ken Soper and Dennis Dewey count among the finest instructors of the past several decades, and by virtue of their work, John’s musical DNA permeates countless drum corps today.

Learning his craft from legends like Bill Hayes (Queensmen, Blessed Sacrament, Caballeros, et al.) and Jim Donnelly (Xavier High School, St. Vincent’s, Skyliners…etc.), he passed that knowledge to others who went on to work with champion calibre groups like the Cadets, Anaheim Kingsmen, Skyliners, Hurricanes, Bridgemen, Crossmen, Bushwackers, Sunrisers, Bluecoats, Santa Clara Vanguard, Blue Devils, 27th Lancers, Westshoremen, Madison Scouts, Chicago Cavaliers, Freelancers, Reading Buccaneers, Hawthorne Caballeros, Colts, LI Kingsmen, Boston Crusaders, Mandarins, Seneca Optimists, Yokohama Inspires,… and a host of others.

John may be the only instructor to win two National Championships on the same day, when the Sunrisers and St. Lucy’s Cadets took home the American Legion titles in the Senior and Junior divisions in New Orleans in 1968.

He was among the first to bring truly “professional” standards to drum corps brass playing when he studied with Joe Singer, Principal Horn of the NY Philharmonic under Bernstein, applying those techniques directly to the horn lines he was instructing, long before anyone else had those insights.

It’s no co-incidence that today’s finest brass instructors emulate that approach. Many of them were either taught by John or played his music. Still more received instruction from his students. Virtually all of them were touched by his talents in some way.

When Isaac Newton was praised for his great accomplishments, he said, “I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

In the arena of Drum Corps, John Sasso was indeed a giant whose influence will be felt for a long time to come, and even those who didn’t know him owe him great respect.

Posted by on Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017. Filed under Current News, DCA News, FrontPage Feature.