Monterey's High School Musical

Brenda Pike
July 31, 2008

When the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation Jazz Orchestra came to Berklee in July, four of its members weren't just getting the opportunity to record in Berklee's Studio A and perform at the Berklee Performance Center. The high school students were also catching a preview of their future Berklee experience. Two of the performers will enroll at Berklee in the fall, and two will attend Berklee's Five-Week Performance Program this summer on full scholarship as part of Terri Lyne Carrington's hand-picked Jazz Workshop Ensemble.

For future freshman Hailey Niswanger, Berklee is a very familiar place. The saxophonist's band competed in Berklee's High School Jazz Festival, where Niswanger garnered awards for her performance. She then attended Berklee's five-week program twice. "I made a lot of connections, a lot of friends here," she said. "You meet people from all over the world, and that's what's great about this school."

Many of the orchestra's 22 members have attended a summer program at Berklee, and quite a few former members have gone on to attend the college. Former members who are now Berklee students were often popping into the rehearsals to say hello. "It's been like a family reunion," said Rob Klevan, director of jazz education for the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The orchestra is composed of the most talented high school musicians in the country. "They're playing the most cutting-edge repertoire-difficult stuff. But they're handling it very well," said band director Paul Contos. Some of the performers auditioned for the group when their schools performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and some sent in audition tapes. Many already know each other from other honor bands, so there's an instant camaraderie. "It was pretty much a determined friendship sort of thing," said bassist and five-week student Mike Gurrola. "I've heard most of the guys, so I knew who I was going to be playing with. I think you have to get used to it as a jazz musician, because half the time when I get to a gig I haven't played with the drummer."

The orchestra came to Berklee fresh from performances at the North Sea Jazz Festival-the world's largest jazz festival. There they got to rub elbows with musical luminaries such as Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, and Christian McBride (who will play with the band at Monterey in September).

The group's visit to Berklee is an example of the ongoing partnership between Berklee and the Monterey Jazz Festival. Each year the festival awards one student attending the college the Jimmy Lyons full-tuition scholarship, and four of Berklee's finest students perform at the festival as the Berklee Monterey Quartet. As this year's orchestra shows, it's a fruitful relationship for both sides.