High School Jazz Fest Turns 42

  From the left: Cecil Adderley, Berklee's chair of music education; Take Note Award winner Bianca Sanchez; and Darla Hanley, Berklee's dean of professional education
  Photos by Phil Farnsworth
  From the left: Guest clinicians Eric Miyashiro '84, Abraham Laboriel Sr. '72, and drummer Peter Erskine perform with the Crescent Super Band at the March 13 High School Jazz Festival

In 1969, Berklee's High School Jazz Festival debuted with a mere 21 bands. Now in its 42nd year, the event is the largest competition of its kind in the United States. On March 13, at Boston's Hynes Convention Center, more than 3,000 students representing 200 schools from as far away as California traveled to Boston to compete for $175,000 in scholarships to attend Berklee summer programs. All ensembles were adjudicated by a panel of Berklee faculty members and received verbal and written critiques of their performance that included advice on song choice, arrangement, rhythm, and feel.

As in past years, the festival included clinics from world-renowned visiting artists. This year, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis '89, bassist Abraham Laboriel Sr. '72, drummer Peter Erskine, and trumpeter Eric Miyashiro '84 were on hand to work with participants. Students were also treated to performances by the Crescent Super Band from a nationally renowned performing-arts high school in Utah; the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra; the Berklee Global Jazz Institute ensemble; and the college's City Music All-Star, Salsa, and P-Funk ensembles. New to this year's festival was Band Slam, a noncompetitive, anything-goes showcase for students who play styles other than jazz, including rock, r&b, and hip-hop.

Another new addition was the Berklee College of Music Take Note Award, which recognizes innovation in contemporary music education. Bianca Sanchez, a music teacher at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, was named the first recipient of the award, which was presented by Darla Hanley, Berklee's dean of professional education. In her acceptance speech, Sanchez encouraged teachers to think outside the box by incorporating technology and contemporary music into their curriculum.

After the competition, students, band directors, and festival-goers filled Veterans Memorial Auditorium to hear the Crescent Super Band play with guest artists Marsalis, Laboriel, Erskine, and Miyashiro. A highlight was an incendiary electric bass solo by Laboriel that warmed up the crowd for the awards presentation. Students cheered as the festival's executive director, Lawrence Bethune, announced the winning ensembles and students from the day's competition. A winners showcase concert followed.

Bethune, who has taken part in all 42 festivals, said this year's was possibly the best to date. "The energy at this festival was kicked up a few notches by the amazingly vibrant performances of the students and clinicians. And the new Band Slam room was on fire with the most diverse musical genres I have heard in a while."