Berklee College of Music Hosts Annual High School Jazz Festival
by Jack Delea on Friday, February 24th, 2017
On February 11th, 2017, Berklee College of Music hosted its annual High School Jazz Festival at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. According to the Berklee College of Music website, the festival hosted 127 schools and a total of more than 5,000 people attended. In this festival, Milton Academy’s most advanced jazz group competed against other jazz groups from across the country.
Former Berklee president Lee Eliot Berk, along with a planning team and the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators, created the festival in 1969, originally named the New England Stage Band Festival. The first annual high school jazz festival included only 21 participating bands. Now hosting nearly 200 bands and thousands of students each year, it includes a mix of big bands, small ensembles, and vocal groups.
At the festival, bands perform and compete before Berklee faculty, who provide written critiques. Those faculty members also judge bands to determine the winners of Berklee summer program scholarships. Bands can come in all sizes and makeups; some are big with ten or more standard jazz instruments, while others are small combos with three to nine instrumentalists. There are also vocal groups with four or more singers and a rhythm section. Groups are given 18 minutes to perform their selections. In terms of repertoire, Berklee states that music may be chosen by the group’s director and must have a clear and direct jazz influence.
Competition results were quickly posted and announced by the end of the day at the festival. Princeton High School won first place for both the first large ensemble class and the first small ensemble class, while Burlington Township High School won first place for the first vocal group class. Other award winners included The Rivers School and Trinity School. Milton’s own Peter Duke (I) won the Outstanding Musicianship award for the S2 class.
At the festival, the Berklee administration also announced the winner of the seventh Annual Herb Pomeroy Jazz Composition/Arranging Contest. Ethan Moffitt was awarded for his original jazz composition and was given a full scholarship to Berklee’s 5-Week Summer Performance Program.
The winner of the John LaPorta Jazz Educator Award, created in conjunction with the Jazz Education Network, was awarded to Rob Klevan of Pacific Grove, California. LaPorta helped shape the Berklee curriculum through his critical role in the early stages of formal jazz education. Berklee and the Jazz Education Network give this award to outstanding jazz educators who provide distinctly effective jazz education, displayed through their students’ skill.
While the festival largely focused around the competition, classes, jam sessions, and concerts were also held for the attendees. Violinist and composer Mimi Ramson, dubbed a “dazzling…violin phenom” by The Boston Globe, held a “Funkestra” workshop for students. The 99th Army Band performed, along with the Maggie Scott trio and Berklee’s City Music High School Academy All Star Band, a group for children in underprivileged communities. Students also had the opportunity to take tours of the Berklee campus between sessions or concerts. The day closed with a concert by the competition winners.
The Berklee High School Jazz Festival is an excellent opportunity for school jazz programs and individual students to showcase their skills to experienced and professional musicians, become comfortable with a competitive setting, and learn from masters of the craft. Students from across the country flock to the festival, which gives groups opportunities for competition as well as chances to meet other musicians. While Milton’s ensembles did not take home any awards, jazz students were able to share their talents with renowned jazz instructors and develop stronger connections in the jazz community.
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