Berklee in Washington

  Singer Liz Longley and guitarist Johnny Duke perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in May.
  Photo by Jenavieve Varga
  The Roy Guzman Quintet from the left: Michael Sachs, Mark Whitfield Jr., Roy Guzman, Greg Chaplin, and Billy Buss
  Photo by Rob Hayes

Over the past half-decade, Berklee students have performed regularly in our nation's capital. Blues Alley, Twins Jazz, the Smithsonian Institution, the Voice of America, Sirius XM Radio, the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts each have presented some of our finest young musicians in programs of various genres.

In May, Berklee was represented at the Kennedy Center, our country's national palace of music, dance, and theater, by incandescent singer/songwriter Liz Longley '10 and her band.

How do music students get to play contemporary music on a main stage in our country's national concert hall? The answer is the Conservatory Project. Each year, the Kennedy Center invites the top American conservatories and music colleges to present one performance of their choosing. The theater and all the production are provided free of charge through the good offices of Target Corporation.

Over the past six years, while other schools have performed primarily classical music at the Conservatory Project, Berklee has presented bluegrass, jazz quartets, country, "jazz grass," and a 10-piece salsa band. To hear webcasts of Berklee's six Conservatory Project shows, click here.

This year, Liz Longley got the chance to perform in the Kennedy Center's annual event. A few months after being chosen as one of only a handful of songwriters who got to work with John Mayer during his October residency, Longley was invited to play at the Terrace Theater. Mayer raved about Longley's songs and voice, and rightfully so. The packed audience hung on her every word. Longley's smart, intuitive band-Jake Cohen (drums), Johnny Duke (guitar), and Derek McWilliams (bass)-provided her music with a gorgeous envelope on stage.

In June, another Berklee group, the Roy Guzman Quintet, went to Washington to play several venues as part of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. Guzman, a guitarist, has in his own quiet way taken Berklee by storm. He has won both the Jimi Hendrix award, presented to our top guitarist, and the Billboard Endowed Scholarship, which goes to top upperclassmen entering their final year at the college. Guzman's quintet includes Billy Buss (trumpet), Greg Chaplin (bass), Michael Sachs (saxophones), and Mark Whitfield, Jr. (drums). They will also represent the college at George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival.

During their three days at the Duke Ellington Festival, the band played its heady, long-form compositions in a radio concert in Sirius XM studios, performed to a packed house at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage (also available as a webcast), and played three rousing shows at the hopping V Street nightclub and bookstore known as Busboys & Poets. Washington has proved a hospitable venue for Berklee's touring students. Could a White House performance be in their future? Stay tuned.


Rob Hayes is Berklee's assistant vice president for public information.