Conejo Valley Community Concert & Jazz Bands’ Summer Concert, a Family Affair

by Laura Moss

McKagan directing

McKagan at the helm. Photo: Laura Moss

This summer’s performance of the Conejo Valley Community Concert & Jazz Bands at the Agoura Hills Performing Arts Education Center will be a family affair for director Matt McKagan. McKagan’s wife, Rachel, and daughter, Sarah, will be joining him on stage, performing on flute and trombone, respectively. In fact, family ties seem to be a common theme in the band this year.

“Community bands are not uncommon, lots of cities have community bands, but nothing like this” said McKagan, “They are just a fantastic group of people.”

Guest Artist Kenny Ellis is a friend of McKagan’s and the husband of flutist, Laura Ellis, and the father of saxophonist, Adam Ellis. Clarinetist Margaret Geesen performs alongside her trumpet playing daughter, Olivia, as does French horn player Julie King and her saxophonist son, Jeffrey. Then there are siblings Benjamin Zacuto on trumpet and his brother, Jeremy, on trombone.

“Many of these parents played in school but had a rekindled interest by seeing the program here lead by Matt McKagan,” said King. “They are joined by many of his former students, so oftentimes you see members of the family in the group playing together. Where else would you get an opportunity to do that?”

Matt McKagan

“Community bands are not uncommon, lots of cities have community bands, but nothing like this” said McKagan, “They are just a fantastic group of people.”

The CVCC is open to all local musicians, currently ranging in age from 13-90, who love to perform, said McKagan. There are about 70 members in the concert and jazz bands, and they perform in the Agoura Hills and Westlake Village areas. “There is no audition required,” said McKagan, also music instructor at Lindero Canyon Middle School. “And members come from all over the Conejo Valley, all ages and all abilities.”

The band was started by Harry Leff about 30 years ago, said Nick Newkirk, recreation supervisor for the City of Agoura Hills. “We are doing a lot of things that the audience will like, such as show tunes [Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and South Pacific] and, of course, everyone loves jazz, but Matt McKagan is doing things that people will enjoy and recognize. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere,” he said.

Tuba players Christopher Racer and Rob Woolley sit in the back row of the group. Racer first played at the retirement concert for Agoura High’s Mr. Mosley and had such a good time, he stuck with it. Woolly had McKagan as his student teacher during his junior year at Agoura.

Larger Band

At 90, Roger Lamanna (second from the left, second row. “This band I enjoy a lot,” said Lamanna. “I get a big kick out of playing the clarinet.”

At 90, Roger Lamanna, is the senior member of the group. “This band I enjoy a lot,” said Lamanna. “I get a big kick out of playing the clarinet.” Lamanna is a very active nonagenarian who, in addition to performing for seniors in retirement homes, is in the process of developing a jazz talk show for local cable. He is also a professional artist whose works are represented in a number of public and private collections. “Every day is an adventure for me,” he said.

“We are doing a variety of music,” said McKagan, “The concert band is mainly doing music from musicals. The jazz band will be doing more of a rock set.

“I went through our music library and tried to choose music that would suit our soloists, singer Kenny Ellis, and saxophonist Vincent Trombetta III.”  Friends since high school, Trombetta will be performing “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the clarinet, the only non-jazz piece the soloists will be performing.

The show takes place July 20. “There is limited seating, only about 650 spots available,” said Newkirk.

For more information, go to 91301.org.

“Matt is such a strong asset to our community by not only teaching our kids but also by bringing together neighbors and friends through the love of music,” said King. 


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