Springfield native Todd Stoll drawn back as leader of the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra

When Todd Stoll left Springfield following graduation from North High School in 1981, he didn’t look back. Until recently.

Stoll’s educational path took him to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he had planned to study medicine and become a doctor. But when a classmate reminded him of his love for music, Stoll couldn't deny it. He told his parents he wanted to be a trumpet player; while they didn’t object, they did offer some advice.

“(My parents) encouraged me to pursue education so I could ‘feed myself,’” says Stoll.

Turns out, Stoll’s parents – also educators – were on to something. Stoll now serves as the vice president of education for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.

While Stoll’s love for music was instilled in him as he grew up in Springfield by attending concerts and participating in the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, it wasn’t until he met jazz legend Wynton Marsalis at a performance in 1986 that he fell in love with the genre. At the time, Stoll was a student at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

“I had amazing music teachers when I was a kid,” Stoll says. “John Smarelli instilled in me a passion, and every day in my job I have something from John Smarelli in my head. I was really well positioned, not just musically, but philosophically. Smarelli prepared me, as did the others, but Springfield really spurred my love for music …hearing my teacher play concerts with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) … there was music all around us in Springfield back in the day. It was very natural to me.”

Following the death of his parents, Stoll says he did not return to Springfield much as it was the “city of his youth.”

“Everybody has to reconcile themselves with their home,” he says. “Something happens in adulthood where you just reconcile yourself with home. With me, that was five years ago.”

Five years ago, while visiting Springfield, Stoll met his now fiancée, who moved to New York with him. The couple travel regularly between the two cities allowing Stoll to also direct the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra (SSJO) which he established in 2019.

“I thought, ‘this is my hometown, what can I do?’” says Stoll who later met up with SSO conductor Peter Stafford Wilson in New York and pitched the idea of a jazz orchestra as part of the SSO.

“He poked holes in the idea so we could make it successful,” says Stoll. “We went back and forth for months before meeting with the SSO. This process took a good year, maybe more, to put together.”

Stoll says Jazz at Lincoln Center – and Stoll himself – believes that jazz is an American art form that can speak across generations, socioeconomic differences, and racial divides, although the symphonic arts tend to not be very diverse.

“For the arts, it’s all grass roots,” says Stoll. “And as big as Jazz at Lincoln Center is and as big as our reach is … the truth is, it’s local, it’s a town like Springfield where (jazz) has real meaning; connecting with people and musicians and an audience … it’s really more like fellowship than entertainment.”

Stoll says jazz music has the ability to cross barriers and make people feel good about the lives they lead.

“There is a spiritual depth that I feel is important to communities the size of Springfield,” he says. “(Jazz) can cross more barriers than any other type of music. We call it ‘all levels of human discourse’ from the least sophisticated to the most sophisticated. We try to have entry points for people with jazz.”

Stoll, who also founded the Columbus (Ohio) Youth Jazz Orchestra in 1991, says education is also a key element for the SSJO; the group hopes to have a local high school band open for their spring concert and host free workshops and clinics for students.

This Saturday, Oct.16, the SSJO will present Nothing But The Blues in the John Legend Theater – located in the former Springfield South High School – with special guest vocalist Christopher McDole. Tickets can be purchased here.

Stoll says the location represents one of the first integrated high schools in the state.

“There are a lot of things around diversity, inclusion and representation in entertainment that are very interesting with jazz,” says Stoll. “Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday – all were great civil rights activists in their own element.”

Stoll says Nothing But The Blues could not be more appropriate at this moment in history.

“Blues is the part of jazz that is persistent optimism in the face of challenges,” he says. “It’s going to be a fun concert. The music is diverse, it’s not just all one style. Everybody will find something interesting that they can take home with them.”

Stoll says on at least three of the pieces the SSJO will perform in Nothing But The Blues, the original recordings include Springfield residents.

“Springfield has very deep and serious jazz roots,” he says. “Music is the art of the invisible, and jazz is the invisible made spiritual. It’s a really interesting opportunity and feeling.”

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.