On a Good Note

By 
Lesley Mahoney
February 21, 2008
Students who earned honors at Berklee's 40th annual High School Jazz Festival perform at the end of the day.
A winning band performs at the High School Jazz Festival.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

They had 18 minutes to make a lasting impression, to distinguish themselves from their peers. And at the end of the day, nearly 50 bands did just that, earning top honors for their performances in Berklee's 40th annual High School Jazz Festival.

All told, more than 200 bands performed and 3,000-plus participants joined in—hailing from all six New England states and as far as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

For organizers, this year's festival was a standout. "This was the best festival Berklee has produced, both in terms of the bands attending and because we introduced a new and tremendously well-received element: a live critique of each ensemble's performance immediately after the performance by a top-notch Berklee faculty member," said the festival's executive director Lawrence Bethune, Berklee's vice president for student affairs/dean of students. "The day is much less about competition and much more about education, and this immediate feedback provided useful education to the students and directors."

Band directors loved this new addition, according to Bethune. "They liked the fact that it gave them immediate feedback to take home that day in addition to the written critiques they receive later."

The critique component evolved from an element that was incorporated the year before; sometime after last year's festival, Berklee sent a professor to each winning band's school to host a clinic on the topic of the school's choice. "That was so well received that your executive committee that runs the festival wanted to build on that," Bethune said.

Looking ahead, the festival's executive committee is considering offering a clinic to several other bands that don't win, likely to be selected through a lottery system.

In addition to the high school students' performances, Berklee faculty and students wowed attendees with performances and clinics, such as drum clinics with alumni Terri Lyne Carrington and John Blackwell. "The concerts by student groups led by faculty Greg Hopkins, Dennis Montgomery, Phil Wilson, and others were also amazing. It was just a great day," said Bethune.

For Justin Garrett, a freshman trumpet player from Hutchinson Central Technical High School in Buffalo, New York, it was his first time competing in the festival. "I'm a bit nervous but confident because [band director] Mr. [Ben] Boyer has taught us well and we'll play our best today," he said before his band competed.

Birgitt Boschitsch and Brendan Salazar, juniors at Princeton High School in New Jersey, thought their band performed well in the competition. Boschitsch, a flute player, said watching other participants helped her school. "It was good to see other bands. It helped us step up our performance," she said.

Salazar, who plays the contrabass clarinet, appreciated the atmosphere of the festival. "It's such a great experience," he said. "It's definitely mind-opening, especially for musicians trying to get to the next level."

Though they're not sure whether they will pursue music in college or professionally, Boschitsch and Salazar were emphatic that they are enjoying making music now and couldn't think of a better way to immerse themselves in such a vibrant jazz scene, surrounded by others who share their love, than the High School Jazz Festival.

Read the full list of this year's winners in the High School Jazz Festival section of our website.