Taft Jazz Festival

2024 Taft Jazz Festival - Featuring brad leali - april 6

Since 2017, the Taft Band Program has been proud to host a local Jazz Festival here in San Antonio, TX for both middle and high school jazz programs. The Spring 2023 festival will take place on Saturday, April 6th at William H. Taft HS. All performing groups will receive audio comments from all judges, and a recording of your ensemble, in addition to discounted tickets to the host concert for participating students. 

We are thrilled to announce this year's guest artist for the host concert- Mr. Brad Leali, famed saxophonist and extordinary educator!

“His solos are sparkling and Cannonball Adderley influenced" (Evening Standard, London). “Saxophonist Brad Leali was among the most soulful and exciting I’ve heard recently” (New York Times). With a unique style and sound, which echoes the influences of his past, Brad Leali is one of the most notable saxophonists of current times. A native of Denver, Colorado, Brad was raised in the Baptist Church. In addition to gospel music, he spent countless hours listening to the music his parents played (Coltrane, Cannonball, Bird, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Nancy Wilson). It’s no wonder that at a very young age, he was able to combine gospel, jazz, and R&B into his playing.

Leali received a bachelor of arts degree in music education from the University of North Texas in 1989, where he played with the world-renowned One O’Clock Lab Band. Upon graduating, the Harry Connick, Jr. Orchestra immediately recruited him. In his tenure with the orchestra (1989-1994), Brad was the lead alto saxophonist and the musical director. During this time, they toured the world and the orchestra recorded two highly acclaimed CDs (Blue Light, Red Light [1991], When My Heart Finds Christmas [1993]).

By invitation of Frank Foster, Brad then joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1995 (later under Grover Mitchell, 2003). During his years with the group, the Basie band was a two-time Grammy award-winning orchestra. It was one of the greatest musical learning experiences he’d ever had. Working with older musicians only deepened his appreciation of the importance of this music. Spending time one-on-one with the likes of Joe Williams was unforgettable in these formative years. During his time as one of the top jazz musicians in New York City, Leali was a staple in legendary jazz venues like the Village Vanguard, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Iridium, and Birdland. He also has performed in Lincoln Center in the orchestras of jazz legends Nancy Wilson and Benny Golson.

Brad’s desire to pay it forward and help keep jazz alive led him to earn a master’s degree from Rutgers University in 2005. He was quickly appointed as Director of Jazz Studies at Texas Tech University. While there, several scholarships were established in his name, including the “Brad Leali Endowed Jazz Scholarship.” In 2008, Brad joined the esteemed University of North Texas (UNT) faculty as Professor of Jazz Saxophone, where he directs small group ensembles and teaches jazz performance fundamentals and jazz saxophone. As the recipient of the UNT Creative Impact Award in 2014, Brad was recognized as a distinguished faculty member for his outstanding contributions as an educator who perpetuates the value of creative development and performance.

Brad Leali has also had a prolific recording career. His first solo recording was Priority Soul! in 1998 on the New Jazz Renaisssance Recordings label. In 1999, the Count Basie Orchestra won a Grammy award for Count Plays Duke with Leali receiving his own nomination for his solo work on the classic Billy Strayhorn composition, "The Star-Crossed Lovers." His discography also includes Live in Europe (Brad Leali Quartet, 2004); Brooklyn Soul Organization (also produced by Leali, 2004); the critically acclaimed Maria Juanez (2006), which features his own compositions and an eighteen-member jazz orchestra; and DA’s Time (Brad Leali-Claus Raible Quartet, 2008) on the TCB label. Leali’s numerous television appearances include local news programs, “NBC’s TODAY,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” BET, and the “Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas Special.” He performed annually for many years as part of the Kennedy Center Honors program. Leali also performed at President Obama’s inaugural celebration “We Are One.”

While Brad continues teaching at UNT, he frequently performs, tours, and records. He also enjoys working as a guest artist, clinician, and adjudicator at other educational institutions. Brad has had a long-time endorsement with Keilwerth Saxophones and D’Addario Reeds. He currently tours with Lyle Lovett & His Large Band (2013-present).


Entries for the competition must be postmarked by February 1st. The entry fee is $275.00 for each band which will include professional recording services for your band. All participating bands get a discounted ticket rate of $10 per ticket for participating student performers and directors. Additional tickets will be on sale for $15 each for non-performers who would like to attend the concert. 

The Festival goes throughout the day and is free and open to the public. The ticketed host concert and awards ceremony begins at 7:30 PM and features our guest artist.

Payment is available online through card payment, or an automatically generated invoice for PO or check payments. Please make all checks payable to Taft Raider Band Boosters.

Mail payments to Attention: Taft Raider Band Boosters, 11600 Culebra Rd. San Antonio, TX 78253.

For questions, please contact Mr. Greg Mills at gregory.mills@nisd.net