Jazz/Rock Ensemble Performs at Berklee Festival
On Saturday, January 26, the Hopkins Jazz/Rock Ensemble traveled to Boston, Massachusetts for the annual Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Festival.
Along with nearly 200 other bands from around the country, the Jazz/Rock ensemble played three songs for a judge’s panel and audience of renowned jazz musicians.
Last year was the ensemble’s first-ever participation in a competitive music festival. Jazz/ Rock Conductor Chris DeVona explained why the ensemble returned this year: “[Jazz/ Rock] had a great time last year and it was a nice experience. We got a lot of feedback from the adjudicators and clinicians that work with us at the festival and we took strategies back to Hopkins and our rehearsals for the rest of the year.”
Returning for the second year, the group was able to enter this year’s festival with more confidence and ease. “Jazz/Rock improved so much after another year of playing together and knowing what the judges were looking for,” said Sophie Cassarino ’20.
Unlike a typical Jazz/Rock concert, the festival features a panel of judges, who score their performance, and a clinician, who offers critiques and suggestions. While baritone saxophonist Arthur Masiukiewicz ’20 said that “the judges were not intimidating and are just there to observe,” pianist Henry Fisher ’20 noted how “[the judges’] scrutiny added a degree of pressure to the performance.”
The festival and anticipated feedback from the judges was the culmination of months of individual practice and ensemble rehearsals. Fisher explained: “We’ve been working on the same five or six songs for most of the term, with performances at concerts and Assembly scattered throughout.”
DeVona chose the songs for performance based on both a criteria from the festival and his own knowledge of the ability and talent of Jazz/ Rock. DeVona said, “[the ensemble had] to prepare a swing chart, a more traditional chart, and a slow ballad. We also had to perform a variety piece, so we chose a Latin piece called ‘Puente Arriba’ by Robert Skiles.” Jazz/Rock also performed “Misty” by Erroll Garner and “Giddy Up” by Rich Hirsch.
Many members of Jazz/Rock enjoyed the upbeat and swinging tune of “Puente Arriba.” Auxiliary percussionist Jacob Ragaza ’22 liked the song’s “groovy Latin feel and fantastic soloists.” Guitarist Connor Davis ’21 agreed: “It really displays the talent and precision of the ensemble, and it also shows off some incredible soloists.”
Trumpeter Felipe Perez ’22 also said “Puente Arriba” was his favorite song: “It begins with an excellent trumpet solo from Sophia Colodner ’19 and goes on present a lively and intricate tune scattered with solos from all across the ensemble.”
Jazz/Rock gained 29 points over last year’s score and Steven Broun ’21 won the Judge’s Choice Award from the Hopkins ensemble.
Beyond Jazz/Rock’s own performance, the festival offered the opportunity for Hopkins musicians to interact with other ensembles and jazz musicians from schools all over New England. “It was great to play with so many talented musicians at such a well regarded event. All the bands are all so incredible, and I learned so much about music just by watching them play,” said Davis.
Others also enjoyed the festival as a bonding experience for the group. Alex Schuster ’20 said, “When we weren’t performing, we went to watch other bands perform and spent time with each other as a group. The festival was a perfect opportunity for us to see what other high school bands are like and to become closer as an ensemble.”
After the festival, members of Jazz/Rock hope to echo the energy and passion from Berklee in their upcoming performances. Trumpeter Alex Weisman ’20 said, “Going forward, Jazz/Rock can take what we learned at the festival—both from our own performance and from listening to other ensemble—and apply it to our pieces and rehearsals. I’m excited to see what the rest of the year brings!”