Young Berklee Artists Dazzle Monterey Jazz Fans

Pianist and vocalist Sarah McKenzie
Pianist and vocalist Sarah McKenzie
Rob Hochschild

Since 1996, bands comprising Berklee students and recent grads have been featured on the stages of the Monterey Jazz Festival. It’s part of the Berklee Presents initiative that provides opportunities for up-and-coming artists to test their mettle in the real world.

At the September 2014 festival in Monterey, CA, a quintet led by pianist and vocalist Sarah McKenzie ’14 featuring saxophonist Daniel Rotem ’13 and current students Andrew Marzotto (guitar), Tabari Lake (bass), and Rodney Rocques (drums), completely captivated the audience with their initial set. The buzz they created drew scores of new fans to their show the following evening at the festival’s Coffee House Gallery venue.

After the performance, Rob Hayes, Berklee’s vice president for external affairs and Berklee Presents, commented, “They were remarkable. They played beautifully together.” Sitting in with McKenzie’s group and with an all-star high school band was Berklee student saxophonist Emery Mesich, the winner of the Jimmy Lyons Scholarship. The full-tuition award is jointly sponsored by Monterey Jazz and Berklee, and presented annually.

Australian-born McKenzie has previously toured with Michael Bublé, Chris Botti, and John Patitucci. She won in the Best Jazz Album category at the 2012 ARIA Music Awards—the Australian equivalent of a Grammy. She recently recorded her second album and is planning appearances at European festivals later this year.

The closing act of this year’s edition of the festival was Michael Feinstein, the leading performer and exponent of the Great American Songbook. Already familiar with McKenzie prior to the festival, he said, “I think she’s fantastic. She gives me hope for the future of our music.”

Rob Hochschild is Berklee’s director of communications.