Berklee Heats Up the Red Sea

Danielle Cruz
August 1, 2007
Berklee faculty members Dennis Montgomery III, Donna McElroy, and Robynn Amy in Tel Aviv.
A sunrise over the mountains of Jordan.

As the sun sets over the mountains and the temperature cools from a sweltering 104 degrees Fahrenheit to a slightly more bearable 98 degrees, the city of Eilat comes alive. Once night falls, the sprit of life sounds throughout the city as musicians take the stage at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

This past August marked the 20th anniversary of the festival, celebrating r&b, jazz, Latin jazz, fusion, and other musical genres. Located on the southern tip of the Negev Desert, the Red Sea Jazz Festival has been the biggest festival in Israel for two decades, playing to almost 70,000 people, while more than 10,000 celebrated performers have graced its stage with their presence.

Each year against the backdrop of the Eilat mountains and the Red Sea, 20 talented ensembles from around the world get together to celebrate the classic and ever-evolving genre of jazz. This year, Berklee had the pleasure of partaking in the festival, clinics, and jam sessions on our yearly trip to our Berklee International Network (BIN) partner school, Rimon School of Jazz. Berklee faculty Larry Monroe, Robynn Amy, Donna McElroy, Dennis Montgomery III, and Scott DeOgburn, as well as some of our own Berklee students, participated in these events.

"This year's collaboration of the clinics with the festival was a great experience," said Larry Monroe, vice president of Berklee International Programs, who taught a bebop ensemble. "Each faculty member was given 40 minutes to perform at the festival and only six hours to rehearse. I was impressed at how well-versed and serious the students were about the execution of the pieces. This factor allowed me to teach like a coach—to stand on the sidelines and watch the students play."

Israeli student Danny Ori, who also performed at the festival with his group Fourward Quartet, found the Red Sea Jazz Festival to be great exposure for his group and "an inspiring place to play." "The event is Israel's largest jazz festival, hosting some of the world's biggest names (Bireli Lagrene, Chris Potter, Incognito), so it was great exposure for my group," he said. "As an Israeli musician, I felt that the crowd was much warmer and more receptive than in the usual Tel Aviv scene."

As well as hosting these great musicians, the jazz festival also held a special tribute concert for John Coltrane's 80th birthday, featuring his son Ravi Coltrane. After a four-day celebration of international sounds, Berklee had the pleasure of bringing this memorable event to a close by sharing the unique talents of the college's participating faculty. The performance was an impressive reminder of how fortunate this school is to have such tremendous talents reverberating within its walls. We were fortunate to engage in this international experience in Israel and look forward to spreading Berklee's passion for music farther across the lands and deeper into the souls of people from all walks of life with our only international language: music.

Danielle Cruz, an International Programs student employee, is a voice principal majoring in music education.