Sam Scamacca

Sam Scamacca

BMHOF Class of 2001

Salvatore J.”Sam” Scamacca was an influential musician and music educator who devoted his life to his passion for music.

Born in Buffalo on July 19, 1926, Scamacca was the eldest of eight children. According to a story by Elena CalaBuscarino in Forever Young, he had a close relationship with his mother and with her guidance growing up the young musician learned discipline, patience and devotion and applied it to his career. 

The story said he had been playing since he was 11 years old. Scamacca began playing clarinet in elementary school with encouragement from his father, and he later picked up the saxophone. After Scamacca’s high school years he began to work at Curtiss-Wright in 1944, riveting airplanes during the day and playing music in nightclubs six nights per week, to bring in income for his family.

In 1945 Scamacca was drafted into the Army, but returned home after being accidentally shot in the leg in basic training. Upon returning home he joined a friend at Ithaca College, where he studied classical clarinet while still playing jazz sax at night. 

At Ithaca, Scamacca learned a variety of instruments from brass to piano, with vocal method training as well. According to Spree, he graduated from Ithaca in 1949 with a music education degree and began performing vaudeville. 

His career picked up as he began touring with the Russ Carlisle Band as a solo clarinetist. Scamacca traveled on the road for awhile before he ended up in Michigan teaching English and music for two years.

Even though teaching wasn’t a part of his goals growing up, he found it in his music career. Scamacca returned to Buffalo and taught music at Sedola's Music on Grant Street while playing at the Town Casino and Baffo’son nights and weekends. 

He continued working as a substitute teacher at Ellicottville, then finally ended up teaching music in Lafayette High School from 1956 to 1990. Scamacca would recruit his students who whistled in the hallways and turn them into horn players. Soon enough he was leading students in an orchestra and a jazz combo.
“I thought of myself as a motivator,” he said in an interview in The Buffalo News. 

Scamacca’s music and teaching career spanned about 70 years. Some of his students turned into notable musicians, including Don "Red" Menza, Bobby Militello, Ronnie Foster, Gary Mallaber, Ernie Corallo, Joe Ford and Junnieh Booth.

"He was Buffalo music, without him there, nobody would be anybody. He taught all those guys. He's the kingpin," said Gary Lee, co-author of "
Don't Bother Knockin' . . . This Town's A Rockin, in The Buffalo News. 

In the year before he died, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown proclaimed a day in his honor. The Queen City Jazz Society gave him its Tom Lanphear Award.

Scamacca died on Oct. 31, 2006, after battling cancer. He was 80. In the wake of his death came a number of tributes: “I'm glad I got to play with you one last time last summer at the Elmwood Lounge,” said sax player Larry Covelli, a contemporary who has played with Woody Herman, Chuck Mangione and Louie Belson. “You sounded great, Man. My children also remember you as the music teacher at Lafayette.”

Bandleader and sax player Jim Tudini said, “The lessons learned over 40 years ago from Mr, Scamacca guide me today. His influence makes me a better person, husband, father, friend, educator and musician. His positive, reassuring feedback made all in his care feel that they could accomplish what ever they set out to do. Mr. Scamacca will be missed but his legacy lives on.”

Buffalo Spree
The Buffalo News

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