By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Marlborough native Sarah Hanahan has avidly studied music since third grade when she got a saxophone from her drummer dad as a Christmas gift. Now residing in New York City, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in jazz studies at the Julliard School.
As a child, she and her father watched DVDs of big bands featuring acclaimed jazz drummer Buddy Rich. Her interest in jazz was sparked and she became mesmerized by saxophones.
“Even as a young kid, I thought the saxophone was so cool – the way it looked and sounded,” she recalled. “I always felt really connected specifically to the alto saxophone, which is what I play now.”
While attending Marlborough High School (MHS), Hanahan was encouraged by now-retired instrumental music teacher and band leader Gary Piazza. He directed her as a budding saxophonist in MHS Jazz Ensemble as well as drum major with MHS Marching Panther Band.
“Gary knew I was serious about music and always pushed me to grow,” she said. “He was really supportive and made me believe in myself, too.”
Under Piazza’s direction, she performed with MHS Jazz Ensemble four consecutive years at Boston Esplanade’s Hatch Shell. The students appeared there after earning Gold Medal ratings at district and state band festivals presented by Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education.
“I remember being on the Hatch Shell’s big stage and thinking that I’m going to do this for my whole life,” Hanahan recounted. “I felt so confident about that.”
On weekends throughout her senior year, she also played lead alto saxophone with New England Conservatory Prep Youth Jazz Orchestra in Boston and performed concerts at its Jordan Hall.
“I was fortunate to have opportunities to get a little taste of what was to come in college and after,” she said.
Upon graduating from MHS in 2015, Hanahan was awarded a full scholarship to study at the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz within Hartt School of Music (University of Hartford). Concurrently, she gigged at Connecticut and New York clubs and festivals, often with her band.
During her college senior year, she began touring with NYC-based Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra. Its website describes them as “extremely talented and versatile musicians who just happen to be women.”
The Sarah Hanahan Quintet was voted 2019’s Best Jazz Band by readers of the weekly newspaper CTNow, published by Hartford Courant.
She graduated from Hartt School with a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies in 2019. Soon afterward, she relocated to NYC.
“2019 was a great year,” Hanahan noted.
Last fall, she performed in “The Second City and Kennedy Center’s Jazz Comedy Experiment” in NYC and Washington, D.C. The show consists of five musicians including Hanahan and pianist-composer Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz. They’re joined by five improv-comedy actors.
“Everything is improvised and the shows are hilarious,” Hanahan explained. “We’re playing and cracking up at the same time. It’s been a big lesson for me to have everything improvised.”
Although pandemic restrictions canceled some performances of this show and several other gigs, her new music education venture is on schedule in a city that she greatly appreciates.
“I love living in NYC,” Hanahan declared. “There are so many fantastic musicians to meet, be friends with, and go hear play. Pre-COVID-19, I’d go out and hear music almost every single night. You can’t do that anywhere else in the world.”